Thursday, January 05, 2017

Trump's Reign of Fear - brought to you by Twitter

At the risk of turning this into a Trump blog, it's difficult to throw over the opportunity to comment on Donald Trump's use of Twitter for matters of state, and to browbeat companies into toeing the line.
The guy has not yet moved into the White House and already he is pulling strings and forcing hands. And he is doing so almost exclusively through those whiny, low-brow tweets he is so well-known for. Twitter, that grand repository of the throw-away, off-the-cuff, shallow and ill-considered remark, is perhaps the ideal medium for Trump. But it just seems so wrong for affairs of state and world politics, so inappropriate, and so lacking in gravitas. In short, so unpresidential.
But it looks like Trump, who has already shown himself to be a master of the senseless run-on sentence in verbal debates, is going to continue using Twitter as his main medium of communication. Because, like like it or not, he is also a master of the 140-character character assassination, and a single angry tweet from the President-Elect, however nonsensical or factually incorrect, could costs a company millions or even billions of dollars, as has already been demonstrated. Because of this, and because tweets are necessarily so public, his victims are having to take notice and to respond in some way. Their responses thus far have mainly been marked by pusillanimity and acquiescence. Thus begins Trump's Reign of Fear.
So, what have we seen so far?
  • Ford Motor Company, despite an attempt to defend itself when Trump tweeted that it was about to "fire all their employees in the United States" during the election campaign, has since let Mr. Trump take credit for a decision to keep a plant in Kentucky, even though it was not actually planning to move it to Mexico anyway. (For what it's worth, Trump has also tweeted against Toyota, a non-US company, for their audacity in choosing to manufacture in Mexico...)
  • In response to Trump's public threat to impose a punitive tax on General Motors if it chose to produce its Chevy Cruze model in Mexico and not the USA (as would be their legal right), GM was very restrained in its gentle tweeted correction about its actual Cruze operations.
  • Japanese telecom company Softbank Group allowed Trump to take some credit for its decision to bring tens of thousands of jobs to the USA, even though the investment was in the works well before the US election.
  • Likewise, Carrier Corp, which has also come under Mr. Trump's Twitter crosshairs, was quite deliberate in giving Trump a "perceived win" when it agreed to keep some jobs in the United States.
  • Aerospace giant Boeing Co took a $1 billion hit to its stock value after Trump tweeted that its costs for the new Air Force One jet were out of control and that the order should be cancelled, but the company still went out of its way to appease the President-Elect, partly in an attempt to avoid any further damage (their share price has mainly recovered), and partly perhaps also to ingratiate themselves with him in the hopes of gaining a separate contract in competition with Lockheed Martin (whom Trump had also called out over its costs).
Basically, corporate America is running scared of the petulant Donald Trump, and is doing everything possible to stay on his good side, even if that means crawling obsequiously on all fours. This is obviously not how things should be, but the immediate instincts of these companies may not be all that bad: many crisis consultants are advising that the best way of dealing with an unstable bully like Trump is actually to gently correct his facts, and to offer him some easy victories to keep him happy.
Personally, I don't see how this can be a good idea in the long run - all it does is vindicate and reward his bad behaviour, and which responsible parent would ever do that. The very fact that we are treating him like a spoilt child in the first place is bad enough (he is the President-Elect for God's sake!), but then to have to humour him for fear of reprisals is even worse.

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