Analysis

Why America's CEOs are terrified of President Trump

Trump's first two weeks in office have sent "fear rippling through corporate boardrooms from Silicon Valley to Wall Street"

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"The phone calls flew back and forth among the nation's top chief executives over the weekend, all asking the same question," said Andrew Ross Sorkin at The New York Times: How to respond to President Trump's executive order on immigration? Even as a storm of popular protest grew, most of corporate America found itself playing a tense game of wait-and-see. A handful of tech executives, like Google's Sundar Pichai — himself an immigrant from India — were quick to criticize the order; Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz even pledged to hire 10,000 refugees. But most executives "sought safety in numbers," holding back until their rivals or peers made the first move. And when CEOs did speak out, "few took shots directly at Trump." Corporate leaders felt caught between a rock and a hard place, said Bess Levin at Vanity Fair. On the one hand, they don't want to stay silent and risk angering their employees or suffering consumer boycotts. But they also fear the "possibility of stock-tanking Twitter tirades from the president if they speak out."

Trump's first two weeks in office have sent "fear rippling through corporate boardrooms from Silicon Valley to Wall Street," said Ben White at Politico. Although many executives remain hopeful that the first full-time businessman to become president will usher in the deregulation and lower corporate taxes that he promised on the campaign trail, they are alarmed by the new administration's "erratic approach to policy." Firms with complex, international supply chains have been startled by Trump's talk of new border tariffs, and exporters who had hoped for more market access in Asia "see those hopes fading" with the rapid abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. "And just about everyone is afraid of saying anything publicly that could provoke presidential ire." Some firms even appear to be recycling jobs announcements to get on Trump's good side, said James Peltz and Natalie Kitroeff at the Los Angeles Times. Since Election Day, companies like Walmart, Sprint, and General Motors have vowed to add or keep jobs in the U.S. Some of the announcements came after executives visited Trump Tower, "and the implication was clear: Trump's power of persuasion, or his threats to make the companies' futures more costly," had prompted big investments in domestic jobs. But in several cases, the added jobs had already been planned and even previously announced. That didn't stop executives from allowing Trump to take credit, hoping to "curry his favor."

The politics of the travel ban are changing executives' calculus, however, said Spencer Jakab atThe Wall Street Journal. The companies that have spoken out most forcefully are those that are most affected, like tech companies that rely on foreigners with cutting-edge skills. But plenty of other industries — from retail to finance to Big Pharma — depend "heavily on overseas customers and also foreign government regulators," and they worry that perceived closeness to the White House and its more controversial policies could eventually "invite formal and informal retaliation" abroad. Still, plenty of CEOs remain optimistic, said Gillian White at The Atlantic. They're willing to give Trump the benefit of the doubt for a little while longer, "even if they can't be certain how it will all shake out."

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