business news in context, analysis with attitude

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon yesterday used an internal memo to the company’s employees, a note that subsequently was released to the media, to criticize President Donald Trump for not “unequivocally rejecting the appalling actions of white supremacists.”

McMillon wrote Monday night - following the violence perpetrated by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend - that Trump’s original comments blaming “all sides” for the violence “missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together.”

On Monday, Trump named the neo-Nazis and white supremacists for the violence, which McMillon said “were a step in the right direction and we need that clarity and consistency in the future.” However, McMillon’s comments came before Trump’s Tuesday press conference in which he appeared to once again grant equivalence to both sides, arguing that there were “many fine people” on both sides.

The white nationalist marchers in Charlottesville carried tiki torches and weapons while chanting anti-semitic and racist slogans, all to demonstrate against the removal of a state of General Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederate army during the Civil War. Those slogans included “Jews will not replace us,” and “blood and soil,” a phrase used in Nazi Germany.

Trump also used Tuesday’s press conference to suggest that Lee, who led an armed rebellion against the United States government, was the same as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who helped to create that government.

According to the Washington Post, McMillon and Walmart did not subsequently comment on Trump’s Tuesday press conference.

Walmart has said that McMillon plans to remain on Trump’s economic advisory council.

In the wake of the Trump administration’s response to the Charlottesville violence - which resulted in the death of one woman at the hands of a white supremacist - a number of business executives have resigned from manufacturing advisory council, including Kenneth Frazier of Merck, Brian Krzanich of Intel, Kevin Plank of Under Armour, Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, and Richard Trumka and Thea Lee of the AFL-CIO.

The New York Times reports this morning that PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi is under pressure from some circles to resign from the presidential advisory council on which she serves because of Trump’s remarks.

And, the Times wrote, “The departures represent a rare spectacle in which prominent executives are looking for ways to pull back from an American president who campaigned, and won, partly on the strength of his pro-business stance. This has created an unusual calculus: Whether or not to stay on as advisers to a president, a role that traditionally is a coveted position with little to no attendant risk.”
KC's View:
I’d bet that it won’t be long before McMillon and Nooyi resign from their councils, simply because they won’t be able to abide the symbolism of standing by a president who is now seen in many quarters as being sympathetic to a segment of society that is largely - and rightly - reviled for a hateful and bigoted belief system. They won’t be able to stay in part because this will violate their own sense of decency and justice, but also because their companies’ stakeholders won’t be able to stomach it.

One of the interesting things about this situation is how people publicly identified as being part of the white supremacist/neo-Nazi/KKK demonstrations may be at risk of losing their jobs.

According to MarketWatch, “At least one alt-right marcher has already been fired by his company for reportedly attending the march; he worked as a cook for the Berkeley, Calif., hot dog chain Top Dog.”

The story notes that while employees are protected from being fired because of discrimination related to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, some experts believe that they can be legally terminated if they make statements or financially support causes with which their employers disagree.

I have to admit to being a little troubled by this, if only because it also would mean that people who oppose the white supremacist movement also could be fired. But … it is hard to imagine wanting someone working for me who held views that people of color are somehow inferior to them just because of their skin color. Or their religion.

We’re in scary, uncharted territory here, folks. And I suspect it all is going to get uglier before it gets better. The New Yorker had a story online yesterday noting that a survey of national security experts done five months before Charlottesville concluded with a consensus that there is a 35 percent chance that the US will have a second civil war.