Monday, August 21, 2017

Too Few

In "Fareed's Take" on Sunday, Fareed Zakaria both slammed politicians and applauded the nation's "military brass" for their remarks on the events in Charlottesville, Va. In between, he remarked

Business leaders meanwhile are still among the most respected and envied people in America today. They run vast organizations, get paid on a scale that makes their predecessor from just 25 years ago look middle class and live in a bubble of private planes, helicopters and limousines.

In other words, they have all the wealth, power and security that should allow them to set standards and, well, lead. Instead, for the most part, business leaders have also been cowards, most of them surely think Trump is a charlatan, a snake oil salesman.

In the past, many chose not to do business with him because they believed he was unethical. Others were initially amused by his candidacy, but regarded his rhetoric on trade, immigration, refugees as loathsome. And yet, almost none of them spoke out against him.

Few even distanced themselves from him after he blamed many sides for the violence in Charlottesville. Had Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier not resigned from one of Trump's advisory boards, it's unclear whether others would've spoken out.

And even then some jumped ship only when it became clear there was really no alternative, after Trump doubled down on his initial comments.

America once did have more public-minded elites, but they came from a small clubby world, the Protestant establishment. Not all were born rich, but they knew they had a secure place atop the country.

They populated the country's boardrooms, public offices, and its best schools. This security gave them greater comfort in exercising moral leadership. Today, we have a more merit-based elite, what is often called a meritocracy.

It has allowed people from all walks of life to rise up into positions of power and influence, but these new elites are more insecure, anxious, self-centered. Politicians are likely to be solo entrepreneurs, worried about the next primary or the fundraiser.

CEOs live with the constant fear that they might lose their jobs or their company might lose its customers in an instant. They may not think they have the luxury to be high-minded, but they do. They are all vastly more secure than most people in America or in human history.

The Washington Post seemed to have uncovered this self-assuredness when last week it reported

Three fundraising giants decided to pull events from President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach on Thursday, signaling a direct blowback to his business empire from his comments on Charlottesville’s racial unrest.

The American Cancer Society, a high-dollar client at the club since at least 2009, cited its “values and commitment to diversity” in a statement on its decision to move an upcoming fundraising gala. Another longtime Mar-a-Lago customer, the Cleveland Clinic, abruptly changed course on its winter event only days after saying it planned to continue doing business at Mar-a-Lago, a leading venue for charitable events in the posh resort town.

The American Friends of Magen David Adom, which raises money for Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross, also said it would not hold its 2018 gala at the club “after considerable deliberation,” though it did not give a reason. The charity had one of Mar-a-Lago’s biggest events last season, with about 600 people in attendance....

At least seven other groups that frequented Mar-a-Lago — including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in New York and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami — have announced in recent months that they would choose other venues, citing reasons such as political differences and security hassles.

It's admirable that these outfits have gotten religion but the obvious question remains: why did it take them this long?

In a classic Friday night news dump, late on June 16 the White House released a 98-page financial disclosure form in which

One marquis property showing income gain is the Palm Beach resort called the Mar-A-Lago Club, which Trump calls his southern White House and it doubled its initiation fees to $200,000 in January, weeks before Trump took office. The disclosure form includes reported income of $37.2 million for the Florida resort, up sharply from $29.8 million in the prior year’s report.

Trump has hosted foreign leaders such as Xi Jinping at the resort, further blurring the lines between politics and Trump Organization profits. In the five months he has been in office, Trump has visited Mar-a-Lago on 25 days and his golf clubs in Florida and in Virginia, outside Washington, on 31 days.

Corporations and non-profits taking their business to Mar-a-Lago, while not the threat to national security of mainland China and others shoveling money to the President of the United States of America, are getting something in return. Now that some have decided against enriching a President whose willingness to display his bigotry has inspired a new generation of fascists, the American public needs to know who and what are contributing to the Donald J. Trump Slush Fund.

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