Is it any benefit to us that American business knows the country better than the president?

American business is attuned to America as it is, not as President Trump wants it to be

Published October 27, 2018 10:00AM (EDT)

 (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP/Carolyn Kaster)

Donald Trump sees the world as it was in 1980. Whether it is kowtowing to the Saudis as if America was still dependent on its oil, or regarding alliances in the context of a pre globalized world where the links between the interests of your allies and your own could vary substantially;  Trump’s worldview is best described as myopic.

But what is more striking still, is that at home Trump doesn't recognize that Americans are not moving toward his narrow “nationalist” vision but rapidly moving away from it.  In fact, the president is so out of step that even America’s globalized corporations are more attuned to how the U.S. has changed during the past 38 years than Donald Trump. While not the leaders of that change on a social level, America’s globalized corporations surely have not been bystanders.

Just take a look at what has happened during  the last six month. While the Trump administration works with the Saudis to escape culpability  for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, practically all of America’s international banking elites have cancelled their trips to the Saudi-lead global financial conference. Then there is Harley-Davidson, Inc., “the American Brand” that announced to the president’s great displeasure that it will move some production offshore because of Trump’s new tariff policies.  While American Airlines, Inc.  and Frontier Airlines asked the Federal government not to transport separated immigrant children on their airlines.

And there were the PRIDE parades held across America sponsored by companies such as Microsoft Corporation , Whole Foods Market Inc., The Dow Chemical Company, The Walgreen Company, and General Electric Company.  And then there was the clearest signal of all, Disney–ABC Television Group firing Roseanne Barr, an action which no one at parent company The Walt Disney Company got fired for. The firing of Roseanne Barr was more obvious then any political poll that the so-called Trump base and the Trumpian view of America not only represents a minority of Americans but also a thin minority at that.

Corporations rarely aim to determine and uphold moral standards, but they almost always go where the market is. And in exercising that market prerogative, the globalized American consumer corporation, with its need to market and produce across the globe, has become a new political power within America. Indeed, it is possibly the most powerful force challenging Trump’s anti-globalization, nativist rhetoric.

Of course there is FOX News that makes part of its profits off of the niche markets by appealing to the Trump base. But in reality although FOX’s noise component is huge, it is debatable how long their political clout can survive against the increased power of the globalized corporation.  

The actions by Harley, American Airlines, and Disney were just the latest and most public demonstration of corporations’ political clout. The 2017 race for the United States Senate seat in Alabama that pitted eventual winner Doug Jones against Roy Moore delivered a clear victory for globalization in a state where the word ‘globalization’ is anathema. Not only did Jones back NAFTA (an economic win-win for Alabama), but he constantly hammered on the fact that Moore's extremely conservative social stances would drive away international automobile manufacturers from continuing to operate in Alabama and cause them to question whether they should set up additional plants there.

What candidate Moore failed to realize was that globalization — and specifically, the international manufacturing supply chain — had successfully begun to supplant Alabama’s plantation culture. As of 2016, Mercedes-AMG GmbH, The Hyundai Motor Company, Honda Motor Company, Ltd., and Toyota Motor Corporation had plants in Alabama providing over 57,000 jobs.  In addition 1.7 million automobile engines were produced in Alabama, both for domestic use and export, and so transportation equipment hs supplanted cotton, as Alabama’s number one export (in fact cotton is no longer in the top ten).

Another example is in North Carolina, where globalized mores won the battle over more regional and traditional views. The state legislature in March 2016 passed the so-call “bathroom bill,” which blocked the Obama Administration executive order for transgender bathrooms. In response to this action, major corporations and organizations that were planning investments or activities in North Carolina put their actions on hold. The Associated Press had calculated that the legislature’s bathroom bill would cost the state of North Carolina more than $3.7 billion in business revenue. PayPal Holdings, Inc. dropped plans to build a facility that would have added an estimated $2.66 billion dollars to the state’s economy, and Deutsche Bank AG dropped plans for an expansion that would create 250 jobs in the Raleigh area. Adidas AG — which was planning to build its first U.S. sports shoe factory in High Point, North Carolina — moved the site of its plant south to Atlanta, Georgia, and the National Basketball Association boycotted the state, usually a favorite host for playoff games.

The actions and threats by consumer corporations not to do business in North Carolina forced the legislature to reconsider their position. On March 30, 2017 — almost a year after the original bathroom law went into effect — a new law was passed and signed by the governor that rescinded most of the so-called original bathroom bill, also known as HB2. The forces of globalization had trounced regional cultural values.

Globalization-derived international social media has become the new Greek chorus of corporate and brand status, a new political power. The globalized market and the importance of the brand have given the American globalized corporation not only a veto power over extreme nativism but a vision of what is happening in America much clearer than Donald Trump’s mean-spirited myopia.  And although the North Carolina legislature surely represented a local constituency with local values, the size of that constituency, like the true fan base for Roseanne Barr, does not represent how America has evolved or where it is going.

By Edward Goldberg

Edward Goldberg is a professor of international political economy at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and author of "The Joint Ventured Nation: Why America Needs A New Foreign Policy." His new book, "Why Globalization Works for America: How Nationalist Trade Policies Will Lead to Ruin" will be published this winter by Potomac Books. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardGoldberg.

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