The peaceful transfer of power has been called the the bedrock of American democracy, so it would seem that CEOs who affirm their support for the exercise are simply describing the normal state of affairs. However, nothing has been normal during the term of U.S. President Donald J. Trump. The president appears determined to cling to power by de-legitimizing the general election, making it all the more important for business leaders to speak out and defend the principles for which thousands of Americans have fought and died.
According to most constitutional experts, an incumbent president who refuses to concede has very few options.
However, one of those options could prove crippling, at least in the short term. As stipulated by a 1963 law, the General Services Administration is tasked with processing the documents that provide the president-elect’s transition team with resources and access to high-level personnel, including access to the Department of Defense. In particular, the law requires the GSA to “ascertain” the winner of the election before setting the wheels in motion.
This obscure law explains why Trump and his allies have relentlessly peppered the national conversation with accusations of voter fraud and other irregularities during the general election, despite having no evidence in hand.
So far, all of Trump’s legal actions have failed their tests in court. Nevertheless, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.S.) and other top Republicans have persisted in arguing that Trump has the right to contest the election in court.
In support of this argument, Graham has reportedly donated $500,000 to finance Trump’s legal actions in several states, and the overwhelming majority of Republican legislators in Congress have refused to acknowledge Joe Biden as the president-elect.
In addition, on Monday evening, reports surfaced that U.S. Attorney General William Barr has issued an unprecedented, blanket authorization for U.S. attorneys to pursue “substantial allegations” of fraud. Barr stipulates that the authorization only extends to “clear and apparently-credible” allegations, but the vague language and the mere fact that he has taken this highly unusual step only lend further credibility to an incredible line of argument.
While all this appears to be an exercise in futility, it is far from a harmless tantrum or public relations stunt. The cumulative result is that Trump and his allies have provided GSA chief Emily Murphy with support for declining to ascertain that Biden is the president-elect, at least until after the Electoral College meets on Dec. 14.
With the COVID-19 pandemic reaching a new level of crisis and the economy still struggling for a foothold, any further delay in the peaceful transfer of power will hobble the incoming Biden administration at a time of national crisis and bring more misery to millions of American households, while providing Trump and his allies with an ongoing platform for falsely and fraudulently claiming victory in the general election.
According to multiple reports, pressure on Emily Murphy to start the transition process has already begun to build, and that is where the voices of business leaders could have a profound impact on the course of the nation in the coming days and weeks.
If the pressure does increase, several Wall Street firms may take credit for being among the first to speak out.
That should come as no surprise. As a group, America’s bankers profess to act in the interests of the nation, and support for active duty military and veterans is typically a key element in the community relations strategy of many financial institutions.
As more data from voting patterns in the general election become available, bankers may also feel that a previously solid Republican voting block — U.S. military voters and their families — has soured on the president’s policies and behaviors, providing a cushion of support for others to speak out on behalf of the peaceful transfer of power.
If the final general election numbers bear that pattern out, it may be partly due to the president’s persistent, but false, claim that voting by mail is inherently fraudulent. After all, active duty military and their families are routinely stationed far from their permanent homes, are frequently reassigned, and often vote by mail.
The president’s false accusations about mail-in ballots raised the alarm among military advocates in the run-up to the general election. In September, a nonpartisan election reform organization called RepresentUS launched the Count Every Hero campaign aimed at ensuring participation among military voters.
Reports have also begun to surface that veterans are angered by the attacks on mail-in ballots. On Nov. 6, the Associated Press cited several military veterans who vigorously pushed back against the president’s claim of fraudulent votes by mail, including one who voted in his home state of Florida throughout a 30-year military career spanning positions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany and different assignments in the U.S.
In one case that has grabbed the media spotlight, Trump sympathizers have reportedly submitted a list of 3,000 Nevada voters accused of casting their ballots illegally while living out of state, including active duty military and their families.
At least one person on the list, a military spouse, has pushed back publicly and pointed out that the list includes residences on Hill Air Force Base, located just across the Nevada border in Utah, as well as civilian addresses. Nevada is also home to Nellis Air Force Base, among other military facilities.
Bank of America is one financial institution that has focused on veterans' services, and earlier this week the firm’s CEO Brian Moynihan made it clear that there is no justification for Emily Murphy to withhold ascertainment from President-Elect Joe Biden.
Moynihan spoke at the opening of the company’s high-profile Future of Financials 2020 virtual conference on Monday, and he congratulated Biden and Harris on their successful campaign.
Among other comments, Moynihan also emphasized that there is important work to be done for the sake of the nation, stating: “We look forward to working on the big problems that face the world.”
Goldman Sachs is another firm that focuses on veterans' services in its corporate citizenship profile, and CEO David Solomon posted a message on social media emphasizing the need to protect and restore the nation as the COVID-19 crisis intensifies. “We are ready to engage as [Biden and Harris] confront the important challenges of tackling the pandemic and rebuilding the economy,” he wrote.
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon echoed that sentiment in a statement on Nov. 7, when the Associated Press issued its official call on the results of the general election. “We are a stronger country when we treat each other with dignity, share a commitment to a common purpose and are united to address our greater challenges,” Dimon said.
Taken together, these statements render a clear message that the good of the nation outweighs Trump’s personal desire to retain his hold on the office. That message may not convince a significant number of Trump’s supporters. However, it has already resonated with top business leaders, even before election day.
If snap polls from the Yale University Chief Executive Leadership Institute’s virtual CEO Caucus in September are any indication, Emily Murphy will be hearing from many more business leaders in the days to come.
“A majority of the business leaders gathered for the Chief Executive Leadership Institute’s virtual CEO Caucus on Sept. 23 gave President Donald Trump a failing grade on his response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Yale School of Management reported, citing a figure of 55 percent for the attendees who gave the president a failing grade of "F.”
“An even larger majority of 84 percent of the group said that the administration’s response to the crisis had hurt their businesses; similar majorities said that the U.S. response is worse than other industrialized nations and that the government response had increased the number of deaths in the U.S,” the School of Management added. “Seventy-seven percent of the business leaders said they would be voting for Joe Biden over Trump in the November election.”
In the runup to election day, many business leaders advocated for change and took action to support voting rights, including making safe places for in-person voting available and providing employees with time off to vote.
Now election day has come and gone and a historic number of votes have been cast, but President Trump openly defies the foundation of American democracy. The hard part lies ahead, and more business leaders must speak up and take aggressive action to defend the peaceful transfer of power.
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Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.