OPINION: Why an unhinged Donald Trump is simply bad for business

It's time for corporate leaders to speak out against the President's racist rhetoric, even if it costs them a dime.

President Donald J. Trump participates in a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

President Donald Trump continues to use racist tropes in his governance of the country, most recently during the House impeachment inquiry on Tuesday when he compared the Ukraine investigation to a “lynching.”

Given that the perpetrators of lynchings were White men, while its victims were typically Black men and women, it is ironic that Trump—who uses racism to appeal to the vilest instincts of his followers—portrayed himself as the victim of Democrats.

Trump’s latest gaffe comes on the heels of yet another unhinged display during a recent rally in Minneapolis. Among many cringe-worthy moments was his insulting characterization of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as a man who was only successful because as former vice president he “knew how to kiss Obama’s ass.”

It’s easy to read between the lines. This is Trump’s not-so-hidden message labeling Biden as an “N-lover.”

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This term is historically an insult for any white person who does not claim his or her superiority to African-Americans, but instead, chooses to admire them. For white supremacists, this labels a white person as a race traitor in an environment which valorizes racism and the belief that whites are superior to all other races. Trump was directly appealing to racist Americans — those who were apoplectic at having to suffer the indignity of having a Black president.

Donald Trump gestures during a speech to supporters at a rally in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Worse yet, Trump has dared to characterize the push for his impeachment as a “lynching.” And there needs to be a public outcry from as many arenas as possible, particularly the business sector.

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During his presidency, former President Barack Obama was repeatedly treated with bias by a mostly white Republican Senate. It is evident that Obama’s election did not turn America into a post-racial mecca, but rather incited resistance among many white Americans.

The staunch resistance to any legislation Obama supported or proposed is an example of racism at its core. While Republicans and Democrats worked together during former President George W. Bush’s presidency, under Obama, Republicans opposed all of his initiatives. This forced Obama to have to use the power of executive action just to enact policy.

Stand up and deliver

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is getting uglier in his quest to rouse his base and ensure his victory. And leaders throughout the country, whether political or business-oriented, need to respond.

Leaders of municipalities need to be on the lookout for upticks in racist violence. Studies issued by the Anti-Defamation League suggests racially-motivated hate crimes are already on the rise in major cities as a result of what they call, “the Trump Effect.” Groups supporting Neo-Nazis and racist skinheads are much more active in states with counties that hosted a Trump campaign rally in 2016 and have only been increasing since.

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Community leaders and elected officials must step-up and condemn Trump’s racism and position it as un-American, un-Democratic, and un-Patriotic. This is nothing more than a slap in the face of our country’s quest for egalitarianism.

Senior business executives need to come out of their high-rise offices, step from behind their lacquered desks and speak out against racism. While CEOs have benefited greatly from Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy, they are also aware that more and more consumers expect them to take stands on political issues.

Leaders in the industry claim to want workplaces where people of color are able to professionally thrive and contribute to the company’s bottom line. This can only happen if managers and peers treat all colleagues fairly and give everyone the opportunity to reach their potential to innovate and succeed.

President Donald J. Trump and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison tour the Pratt Industries plant with Pratt Industries Executive Chairman Anthony Pratt Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Wapakoneta, Ohio. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

They know that they cannot ignore the power of the external environment on their employees. Black Americans, in particular, are subject to overt harassment by whites who lodge complaints against them simply for carrying out activities of daily living. The stories of “Permit Patty” and “Barbecue Becky,” white women who called police on Black citizens for trivial matters that were not even actually offenses, are unfortunately all too commonplace.

Senior business executives need to come out of their high-rise offices, step from behind their lacquered desks and speak out against racism

Even worse, innocent Black citizens are killed by police at disproportionate rates, including the recent police shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson in Fort Worth, Texas and Botham Jean in nearby Dallas. After such violence, Black employees often suffer anxiety and sometimes “call in Black” rather than go to work and deal with their unsympathetic colleagues.

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If corporate executives want to truly lead fairly, then they must use their personalized bully pulpits to speak out against Trump’s unhinged racism. That is, unless they are in alignment with his rhetoric.

A noteworthy exemplar is Kenneth C.  Frazier, CEO of Merck Pharmaceuticals, who quit Trump’s advisory council on manufacturing in 2017 after Trump characterized racists in Charlottesville, VA, who led demonstrations resulting in the death of an anti-racist protester, as “very fine people.” Encouragingly, Merck’s Board of Directors supported Frazier’s decision.

Overt racism is on the rise, from the words of our current President to the actions of neighbors across the country. It is time for everyone, from policymakers to business leaders, to take a stand and finally say, “No more.”

Katherine Giscombe is the founder of Giscombe & Associates, a research and consulting firm, and has done groundbreaking work on issues facing women of color in business. Katherine has a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology and trained at the Institute for Social Research, the world’s largest academic social science survey, and research organization.