Dear America’s Business Leaders:
I am writing you because it will soon become clear that you’re going to need to do a job that you’ve never thought of doing before: saving the country from a leader with a truly distorted view of how the world works and the role America should play in it.
There is no Republican Party today to restrain President Donald Trump’s worst instincts. Save for a few courageous senators, the GOP has melted into spinelessness. The mainstream media can expose misbehavior, but can’t veto legislation. The Democrats control no levers of power. And Jared Kushner couldn’t even stop the Steve Bannon-led White House from issuing a Holocaust Remembrance Day decree that deliberately omitted any reference to Jews.
The only group whom Trump has some respect for, who can get access to him and who can maybe counter the malign ideological instincts of Bannon & Co. are the likes of Bill Gates, Tim Cook, Jeff Immelt, Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, Jamie Dimon, Mike Bloomberg, Elon Musk, Indra Nooyi, Ginni Rometty, Dennis Muilenburg and Doug McMillon.
Sure, if Trump executes on his promises for deregulation, infrastructure and tax reform, your companies will enjoy a quick sugar high. But if you listen to what Trump and Bannon are saying, their vision of America and the world is unlike anything you business leaders have encountered.
They are playing with, and happy to dispense with, big systems – like NAFTA, the World Trade Organization and the European Union – that drive so much of the global economy. They believe things that are provably wrong – that the majority of job loss in America is from Mexicans and Chinese, when in fact it’s from microchips and computers, i.e., improved productivity.
Yes, some things are true even if Trump believes them: Islam does have problems with gender and religious pluralism, and integration in Western societies. Ignoring that is reckless.
But some things are true even if liberals believe them: that America has integrated Muslims better than any European country, because we are a melting pot. And making Muslims part of our community at home and our alliances abroad – rather than treating them as permanent aliens – has made us safer since 9/11. Ignoring that is dangerous.
And while we’re talking dangerous, why are there record numbers of migrants flooding out of sub-Saharan Africa, the Mideast and Central America, trying to get into Europe and America? Two big reasons are droughts and population explosions. And what do Trump and Bannon propose? Ignoring climate change and halting U.S. government help with family planning in the developing world.
Nothing is connected in their world. Everything is just a box to check or wall to build.
The Washington Post quoted Bannon as saying that he and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general nominee, were at the center of Trump’s “pro-America movement” that was “poorly understood by cosmopolitan elites in the media. … What we are witnessing now is the birth of a new political order, and the more frantic a handful of media elites become, the more powerful that new political order becomes itself.”
When someone tells you he is giving birth to a “new political order” in America, be afraid. Yes, the acceleration in technology and globalization has particularly benefited higher-skilled knowledge workers in the West and lower-skilled rising middle classes in Asia. And, yes, it did squeeze middle-skilled workers in the West, who were more vulnerable to outsourcing, algorithms and automation. More needs to be done to help them.
If Trump is simply out to negotiate better trade deals for America and get our allies to share the burdens of defending the free world more equitably, God bless him. That can be a win for our workers.
But I fear that Bannon is manipulating Trump into a more messianic mission – that his “new political order” is not just about jobs, but culture, an attempt to recreate an America of the 1950s: a country dominated by white Christians, not “cosmopolitans”; where no one spoke Spanish at the grocery store; where America’s biggest CEOs weren’t named Satya or Sundar; where every worker could have a high-wage middle-skilled job; and where trade walls and the slow pace of automation meant you didn’t have to be a lifelong learner.
If that’s where Trump is going, it will take us to a dark place. The way we lift American workers is not by building higher walls, but rather stronger communities – where business, philanthropies, the local school system and local government forge adaptive coalitions to enable every worker to engage in lifelong learning and every company to access global markets and every town to attract the smart risk-takers who start companies.
That is exactly what is happening in America’s best communities, and the job of government is to scale it, and the job of big business is to defend it. So don’t be fooled by a Trump sugar high; your businesses will thrive only if America is the country that prepares itself and its workers to live in a world without walls, not one that goes around erecting them.
This is the “new political order” we need and that you must defend. You ignore this mission at your – and our – peril.
Thomas L. Freidman is a New York Times columnist.