December 21, 2020
The end of non-stop tweets opens space for new ideas, new voices
I was scrolling through my Instagram feed the other day and came across a cartoon in New Yorker magazine. The drawing is of a father reading a bedtime book to his daughter and the caption reads: “And from that day forward, not everything was about Donald J. Trump.”
The cartoon brought a smile to my face but also hope that the new occupant in the White House will focus on the pressing issues facing our country and rely on experts and facts to make decisions. Every new administration has priorities that bring opportunities and challenges to businesses, associations and other organizations. First and foremost, President Biden has to make sure the nation can escape from the brutal grip of the deadly pandemic. His economic recovery includes investments in green energy, providing more loans to small businesses, and forgiving student-loan debt.
But the changing of the guard this time also represents something bigger than a new political agenda. It represents, as the cartoon suggests, a chance for others to make their voices heard and make contributions and for business and government to collaborate on solutions.
No matter what side of the political aisle you’re on, we can all agree that the mercurial Trump and his non-stop tweets were all consuming the last four years. Even if you tried to ignore him on Twitter, the media covered every word because he was the President of the United States after all.
No one was seemingly spared from the president’s public criticism, not even businesses and CEOs. Even though he was a businessman for most of his career, Trump didn’t hold back against his fellow corporate chieftains, especially if they disagreed with him.
Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, for example, was the first executive to step down from one of Trump's business advisory councils after the president blamed "many sides" for the violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Within minutes, Trump attacked both Frazier and Merck. He tweeted: "Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!"
Companies were in a constant state of anxiety because they were afraid if they took a stand contrary to the president they might get attacked from the White House or face a barrage of negative online comments from his supporters. Sparring with POTUS was a losing battle. As one Fortune 500 company told Axios, “We’d rather minimize the damage.”
With the new administration, there will be room in the marketplace for other ideas. It’s fair to expect that the next president will be more conventional in his communications and relationships with business.
Biden’s call for unity and his plan to re-engage with the world are opportunities for CEOs to think about what their companies stand for and what lessons they have learned from pandemic and the social unrest after George Floyd’s death. It’s a good time for them to consider how they build stronger companies with deeper engagement as we put an incredibly difficult year behind us.
Companies may already be taking cues from the president-elect. Earlier this month, more than 40 companies, including Amazon and Intel, sent a letter to Congress and the president-elect in support of the U.S. rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement. The companies called climate action a “business imperative.”
The diversity of Biden’s picks for cabinet posts and other executive positions also sends a message. Corporate America appears to be listening. A coalition of some of the biggest companies in America have announced that they have raised $100 million for OneTen, a startup that will focus on training Black candidates for jobs in corporate America.
Merck’s Frazier is one of the startup’s founders.