(Image: Walmart CEO Doug McMillon)
Walmart CEO Doug McMillon took a potentially life-saving step during a third-quarter conference call on Tuesday when he emphatically congratulated Joe Biden as president-elect. In a normal world such a statement would be, well, normal. However, in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, this simple acknowledgement of fact could make all the difference for millions of Americans who are suffering — and dying — as the result of what many say is President Donald Trump’s failure to lead.
Well over a million new COVID-19 infections have been reported in the U.S. since Election Day on Nov. 3. The death toll is mounting, and that makes a swift, seamless transfer of power all the more imperative. The Biden administration will have to make up for a full year’s worth of federal inaction by the time he takes office on Jan. 20, 2021.
Nevertheless, Trump continues to undercut the transfer of power by continuing to lie about the results of the 2020 election. His false claim of victory is no mere tantrum or exercise of ego. Nor is it simply an attempt to con more money from his supporters, as some have alleged. By claiming victory, Trump also provides powerful cover for his appointed director of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy, to continue blocking the Biden transition team from access to resources and high-level personnel.
Tthe Trump campaign and its allies have also brought dozens of lawsuits attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which further strengthens the shield of support around Murphy. Trump’s high-profile allies in government, like U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), also contribute to the shield by asserting that the Trump team has the right to pursue legal claims in court.
With the health — and life — of millions more at stake, business leaders can make a difference by affirming Biden’s status as president-elect in no uncertain terms. Nevertheless, many leading CEOs have yet to speak up. Among those that have, some agree with the argument that Biden is not really the president-elect until the last Trump lawsuit has been thrown out of court.
None other than U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue set the tone on Nov. 7, the day that the Associated Press formally tapped Biden as the top vote-getter. Within hours of the AP report, Donohue issued a statement that hinted at the urgent need for an efficient transfer of power. However, he also undercut his own words by emphasizing that it is “important to complete the election process by fully counting every vote and resolving any disputes.” On Thursday, however, Donohue followed up with a bolder statement to Axios, referring to Biden as president-elect and arguing President Trump "should not delay the transition a moment longer."
Last week, Fortune reporter Nicole Goodkind also noted that two other influential business groups, the National Association of Manufacturers and The Business Roundtable, issued statements along those same lines.
That is why McMillon’s words can make all the difference.
On Tuesday, Fortune reported that McMillon chose to conclude his opening remarks on Walmart’s third-quarter call with these words: “Congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden … we look forward to working with the administration and both houses of Congress to move the country forward.”
That’s it. That’s all it takes. Apparently the effort is too great for many executives, but Goodkind’s prior reporting in Fortune indicates that more may follow in the Walmart CEO's footsteps.
In a Nov. 13 report, Goodkind noted that 24 of “America’s top CEOs” had met earlier “to discuss the possibility of current President Donald Trump’s refusing to leave office.” The upshot of that meeting was to agree that “the president had a right to pursue legal action around the election.” However, the CEOs also reportedly agreed on an important qualifier: The legal activity could “grind through” as long “it doesn’t hurt anything.”
If more than a million more COVID-19 infections and an overwhelmed healthcare system don’t count as hurting anything, it is difficult to see where U.S. business leadership gets its moral compass. “Corporate social responsibility” are just three hollow multi-syllable words strung together unless business leaders speak up.
On the plus side, at its earlier meeting, the group reportedly agreed that “they may take public action collectively and privately put pressure on their Republican congresspeople to speak out” if the peaceful transfer of power is threatened.
According to Goodkind’s information, the same group of two dozen CEOs is meeting again on Nov. 20 to “discuss whether further action is necessary.” Trump’s own lawyers are deserting his ship, which may help stiffen their spines.
Business leaders have faced one crucial test after another during the Trump administration. They have passed some and failed others. Their actions in support of voting rights may have contributed to a Joe Biden victory, but Election Day did not end the battle. With the COVID-19 death rate topping 1,000 Americans daily, this last, final test is the biggest one yet.
Image courtesy of Walmart
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.