Is The U.S. Ready For The Business Backlash?

02/07/2017 09:44 am ET | Updated Feb 08, 2017

“Hell has no wrath like a business scorned.”

By Michael Appell

When America’s ship of state runs aground, who will send out lifeboats to carry us to a safer shore? A new Trump iceberg looms each day, and Americans are rightfully worried about whether national panic will ensue, or whether an influential player will surface to rescue our drowning polity.

Polarized and ineffective politicians won’t get the job done. Nor will a non-profit community that lacks the focus and resources to fight back on the required scale. The news media – part news, part entertainment – has become part of the unfolding story. At best, the press can only be part of the solution.

No, this crisis is different. This time, American business, acting as business, in the name of their profits, their reputations, and their desire to operate in healthy communities – will turn the tide and save the day.

During previous crises in American life - the Joseph McCarthy era in the 1950s and the Nixon era in the 1970s - American business sat on its hands. Not this time. We can already see the telltale signs of a shift that will blunt Trump and ultimately remove him from power. I call it the Business Backlash.

Because it is evolving slowly and often out of sight of the media, business activity is not getting the attention it deserves. Too often, business is only cited for its negative influences. Goldman Sachs makes an easy target for many, but they’re only one company in the vast landscape of American business. Much critical work is taking place out of sight, out of earshot. The Business Backlash is a slow-speed revolution that will not be televised.

Here are the top 10 reasons why business will dump Trump and lead to his eventual demise:

1. SURPRISES – Big or little, business does not like surprises. The stock market does not like surprises. Donald Trump is the king and queen of surprises. Don’t expect markets to stick with him if they can’t see clearly down the road.

2. REGULATION – Markets rose on the hope that regulations would be eased. Now it is clear that, as in all matters regulatory, the devil is in the details. Trump is not a details guy. The manner in which he signed executive orders related to immigration is a chilling reminder of what can happen when no one bothers to read – or write – the fine print.

3. SUSTAINABILITY – Al Gore signaled last week that the sustainability movement is here to stay. Why? Because he knows that the business case has been made countless times. Simply put, sustainable products, services and business strategies can lead to greater corporate profitability. Check out GE’s Ecomagination or Unilever’s Sustainable Living platforms if you want to see some multi-billion dollar proof points. Business is moving rapidly toward a paradigm shift that management guru Peter Drucker prophesied more than 55 years ago when he declared that, “Every single social and global issue of our day is a business opportunity in disguise.”

4. TRADE – Most successful American companies view themselves as global companies. They have staked everything on the (mostly) free flow of trade – including intellectual property. A tariff-based economy or a “wild west” trade scenario will crush everything these companies have been building for decades. Business won’t stand for it.

5. ACCESS – When Tim Cook or Bill Gates or Warren Buffett want to talk to Trump or any state governor, they’ll find a way to do it. Ditto for Jeff Immelt and lots of CEOs you’ve never heard of.

6. TRANSPARENCY ― China has discovered how hard it can be to have an information economy without the free flow of information. American companies in hundreds of nations around the world base their business decisions on data from government and related sources. They won’t accept information blackouts and poor reporting forever.

7. COMPETITION AND HUMAN CAPITAL – Companies cannot stay competitive without great people guiding their work and fulfilling their ambitions. This is true at every level within every company. Immigration policies that punish companies by limiting their ability to build human capital will not last. Just this week, 97 tech companies — including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook — filed a joint court brief opposing Trump’s executive order on immigration.

8. DEMOGRAPHICS – When Georgia, Indiana and North Carolina passed laws that discriminated against the LGBT community, business leaders called state governors and their voices were heard. Companies not only need LGBT workers – and black and Hispanic and Asian ones ― they need a truly diverse workforce in order to be competitive. In a world that often appears leaderless, companies understand that shareholders and stockholders alike want them to stand up for principles that lead to greater inclusion. Despite societal pushback about political correctness, business schools are already training students for a world that demands diversity.

9. SCIENCE IS REAL – Business depends on government to fund and promote robust science and technology endeavors. A government that denies the importance of science or seeks to truncate its work will not be tolerated for long.

10. BUSINESS GETS IT – Companies understand that we live in a world that is not only interconnected, but also tightly interdependent. The global economy is a spider web that can’t be dismantled with a few executive orders. Markets will fight back against any effort to stifle global networks.

It’s true that some actors in key industry sectors – Big Pharma, investment banking, fossil fuels – may play along with Trump. They will help him to stay afloat for a while. But the overwhelming tide of commerce is moving against him.

Just as sound communities need healthy businesses in abundance, healthy businesses cannot operate in failing communities. The Business Backlash will pressure Trump and his cronies to take corrective medicine or find a way to replace them. This will be good for business and, ultimately, for our country and the world.

Michael Appell is a senior lecturer and assistant director of the MBA in Nonprofit Management program at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

CONVERSATIONS