… just one among multiple offenses against his company.
I’ve been thinking about the apparent disparity between Trump’s supposed success as a businessman and his totally screwed up performance as our President. How could he succeed in business doing the things he has done to our nation. Thus I was primed by John Cassidy’s headline in the New Yorker, If Donald Trump were a CEO, he’d probably be fired today. I immediately thought in concrete terms. If Trump were CEO of Coca Cola and had a cozy relationship with its main competitor, Pepsico, would Trump now still be CEO?
I started to write the story but then read Cassidy’s full article. So, with apologies to Cassidy, I’m going to translate his narrative into my Coca Cola and Pepsico story. Other than for changing names and some roles, the writing is Cassidy’s.
Donald Trump has built his political career on his reputation as a successful businessman, so it seems fair to assess his recent performance as President as if he were a C.E.O. running Coca Cola. The report card isn’t pretty. Indeed, if Trump were the chief executive of a public company, the firm’s non-executive directors probably would have been huddled in a crisis meeting on Tuesday morning, deciding whether to issue him a pink slip.
In such a corporate scenario, the board members would likely decide they had no choice but to oust Trump to protect the reputation of the company and prevent further damage. During the past week, he has twice messed up monumentally, doing grave harm to his own credibility and undermining the company’s reputation around the world. And these were just his latest mistakes. During his four months in the corner office, Trump has repeatedly shown that he is patently unsuited for the position he holds, and he has also demonstrated a chronic inability to change the way he operates.
It was bad enough when, this time last week, he fired one of the company’s most senior compliance employees, James Comey, and then went on television and contradicted the official version of the dismissal, which his deputy, Mike Pence, and others had stated publicly. Not for the first time since Trump took over, the firm’s public-relations department was left scrambling, and Pence was sorely embarrassed. Trump’s subsequent outbursts on Twitter, in which he appeared to threaten Comey, only made a bad situation worse. The entire episode confirmed the impression that Trump puts his own interests, and his personal grievances, ahead of his duties to the company.
But that wasn’t the nadir. On Monday we learned, courtesy of a blockbuster story in the Washington Post, of another big blunder on Trump’s part. The day after he canned Comey, Trump revealed some of Coca Cola’s trade secrets to senior executives from a key rival, Pepsico, which only last year did all it could to sabotage one of Coca Cola’s key product launches. Just how much damage Trump’s indiscretions have inflicted on the company isn’t yet known. But it’s clear that he was guilty of a serious breach of trust, and another stunning error of judgment.
Since he was chosen as C.E.O., last November, it has been one thing after another. But, partly because stock in the company has risen despite it all, most of Coca Cola’s senior executives and big shareholders have until now stayed loyal to Trump. On Monday, however, there were signs of dissension in the ranks, with some people in the company registering alarm at what is going on at the top.
“Obviously, they are in a downward spiral right now, and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” Bob Corker, who helps lead Coca Cola’s Tennessee division, said after the Washington Post story appeared. “The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating … a worrisome environment.” Susan Collins, a widely respected company veteran from the firm’s Maine office, told reporters, “Can we have a crisis-free day? That is all I am asking.”
Perhaps the most worrying sign for Trump came from Coca Cola’s corporate headquarters, in Washington, D.C., where Paul Ryan, the company’s head of product development, who is widely regarded as a key Trump ally, expressed concern about the latest turn of events. While not referring to Trump directly, Ryan said in a statement that “protecting our company’s secrets is paramount.”
That ends Scriber’s editing.
So here is the question: Would the real Coca Cola company stand by a CEO who gave trade secrets to it’s main competitor?
Cassidy winds up.
To be sure, I am stretching the corporate analogy here—Ryan said “our country’s secrets,” not “our company’s secrets”—but it brings out an important point. Most major corporations wouldn’t put up with Trump-like behavior. They have well-established rules and procedures for dealing with a C.E.O. who has gone rogue. If a firm’s board of directors sees the boss acting erratically and seriously undermining the firm’s long-term interests, it can step in and find a replacement. (At the very least, it can issue a reprimand and launch an internal inquiry to find out what has gone wrong.)
Politics doesn’t work like that, of course. More than sixty million Americans voted for Trump, and removing him from office would be a monumental undertaking. In light of Trump’s disclosures of classified information to Russia, some legal experts argued on Monday night that Congress could impeach him for violating his oath of office, in which he pledged to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States”—but that seems a long way off. Despite the latest statements from Ryan, Corker, and others, the G.O.P.’s leaders have come nowhere close to publicly supporting such a move.
On Tuesday morning, Trump took to Twitter and sought to defend himself. He didn’t deny that he had given classified information to the Russians. Instead, he pointed out that, as President, he has the right to declassify secrets, which is true. He also said he did it for “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against isis & terrorism.”
This wasn’t how the Washington Post framed the story: the newspaper reported that Trump, in his meeting last Wednesday with Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, appeared to “be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat.” Quoting an unnamed U.S. official who had knowledge of the exchange, the story quoted Trump as saying, “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.” That is our President, and our C.E.O.
In our respective narratives, Cassidy and I see Congress as the Board of Directors. But many of the Coca Cola Board has been bought out by Pepsico. The remainder are afraid of Trump or are acting to protect their own Board memberships. Thus we cannot count on the Board to do the things that are best for the
For more along those lines, consult Tom Friedman’s op-ed on what we shareholders must do in the absence of a responsible Board of Directors, It’s Chicken or Fish. Here are snippets.
Since President Trump’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey, one question has been repeated over and over: With Democrats lacking any real governing power, are there a few good elected men or women in the Republican Party who will stand up to the president’s abuse of power as their predecessors did during Watergate?
But we already know the answer: No.
The G.O.P. never would have embraced someone like Trump in the first place — an indecent man with a record of multiple bankruptcies, unpaid bills and alleged sexual harassments who lies as he breathes — for the answer to ever be yes. Virtually all the good men and women in this party’s leadership have been purged or silenced; those who are left have either been bought off by lobbies or have cynically decided to take a ride on Trump’s Good Ship Lollipop to exploit it for any number of different agendas.
It has not been without costs. Trump has made every person in his orbit look like either a “liar or a fool,” as David Axelrod put it. So call off the search. There will be no G.O.P. mutiny, even if Trump resembles Captain Queeg more each day.
That’s why the only relevant question is this: Are there tens of millions of good men and women in America ready to run and vote as Democrats or independents in the 2018 congressional elections and replace the current G.O.P. majority in the House and maybe the Senate?
Nothing else matters — this is now a raw contest of power.
So I have two requests of my readers. As an exercise, convert Friedman’s paragraphs above into the Coca Cola vs. Pepsico narrative. Second, then behave as responsible shareholders and vote Trump and his sycophants out at the next shareholder meeting in 2018. Trump is not good for business, so give him the boot.