Business leaders must show moral conviction – and that means quitting US President Donald Trump's advisory councils

Julian Harris
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Business Leaders Meet With President Obama At The White House
Ken Frazier, pictured centre, resigned from Donald Trump's American Manufacturing Council this week (Source: Getty)

A number of top chief executives have quit US President Donald Trump's advisory committees since he entered the White House at the start of the year.

Tesla boss Elon Musk and Disney's Bob Iger stepped down earlier in the summer in protest at the White House stance on climate change, with Iger also clashing with Trump over the President's aggressive opposition to migration.

More recently, Merck chief executive Ken Frazier was followed by Intel's Brian Krzanich, Under Armour's Kevin Plank, and Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, who have all resigned from the American Manufacturing Council this week following Trump's feeble response to white supremacist rallies in Virginia over the weekend.

Several other companies have quietly separated themselves from such panels, for example by not replacing representatives when they move to another firm.

However, many execs of big public-facing businesses remain on Trump's advisory councils, a fact that led former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers to ask yesterday: "I sometimes wonder how they face their children."

Read more: George Soros's investment firm is betting on Trump to fail

Summers has a point. The world of business does not operate in a moral vacuum. Trade and enterprise are a core part of everyday human existence and, indeed, central to an ethical system that seeks to distribute resources in the most beneficial way possible. Too often, company bosses are unreasonably scared to speak out on matters of what's wrong and what's right.

It was possible, back in the early months of this year, for representatives on Trump's councils to argue that they were simply trying to steer the new administration in a more sensible direction. Any such success would benefit America as a whole, they said, and potentially help their own companies in the process.

Such arguments look futile now, especially in light of last night's extraordinary press conference. The President continues to indulge in the most astonishingly unpresidential behaviour one can imagine. His response to Frazier's resignation was to impulsively attack the Merck boss on Twitter. Via the same medium, Trump yesterday retweeted a right-wing conspiracy theorist, before lashing out at the "grandstanders" who have resigned from his councils.

This is not a President who is prepared to listen to the balanced, rational advice of an advisory panel; and this is not an administration capable of passing any substantial programme of reforms, which makes the aim of influencing its direction even more futile.

There is also little sign that pandering to Trump is of benefit to shareholders. Merck's stock has climbed since Frazier's resignation, with markets increasingly brushing off the Twitter outbursts of a seemingly bored and impotent President.

As the White House continues its weekly oscillation between farce and disgrace, the remaining executives on Trump's advisory councils should take a look in the mirror and ask what good is coming from their ongoing presence on these panels.

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