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Tina Casey headshot

Why Is Corporate America Still on the Fence Over Failed Insurrection?

By Tina Casey

Republican Party leaders have been digging in their heels to defend members of Congress who reportedly aided and abetted the violent insurrection of January 6, as well they might. After all, the reputation of the entire Republican Party is at stake. Corporate leaders, however, are under no obligation to let anyone off the hook. After all, the whole corporate social responsibility movement is all about accountability, right?

Corporate leaders are beginning to hit white supremacy where it hurts

A growing number of corporate leaders have taken action against the insurrectionists. They have temporarily suspended, or in some cases permanently halted, donations to the 147 Republican members of Congress who objected to the Electoral College vote of January 6.

The Republican objectors are widely seen as supporting former President Donald Trump’s months-long effort to overthrow the results of the 2020 Election. Evidence is emerging that several of the objectors may have played a more active role in the invasion of the Capitol Building, as well.

The failed insurrection was an almost exclusively white effort, and it did not suddenly pop up on January 6. It spun out in the months leading up to and following Election Day, echoing the white supremacy movement courted by the former president. That provides responsible corporate citizens with yet another compelling reason to distance themselves from Republicans allied with former President Trump.

Respect for law enforcement officers is another corporate social responsibility angle in play. Some businesses have fired employees who were with the crowd that marched on the Capitol Building, whether or not they appeared to have had an active role in the violence that claimed the life of one police officer and injured more than 100 others.

In another indication that corporate America is distancing itself from the failed insurrection, reports have surfaced that Republican job seekers who have the Trump administration on their resumes are having a difficult time finding new employers.

Those reports appeared months before the insurrection, and the events of January 6 certainly have not helped former Trump appointees in the job market.

Where’s the accountability?

These actions have had some impact - but not nearly enough. Even as the House delivered an article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday evening, prominent Republican officials have turned up the heat on their members.

Earlier this week, The Hill reported that “allies of former President Trump are waging an intense pressure campaign aimed at convincing GOP senators to vote against his conviction in next month’s impeachment trial.”

The weapon of choice is simple: anyone who votes to convict will face a primary challenge in the next election cycle.

“The message is directed not only to red-state GOP senators who might be thinking of moving the party away from Trump, but to GOP leaders who might want to break with the president after a pro-Trump mob ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6,” added The Hill.

Some Republican Party leaders are not even waiting around for the Senate to vote.

In Arizona, for example, Republican Party leaders reelected Trump supporter Kelli Ward while censuring Cindy McCain (widow of former Senator John McCain), former Senator Jeff Flake and Governor Doug Ducey for criticizing Trump.

The Associated Press observed that “they show the party’s foot soldiers are focused on enforcing loyalty to Trump, even in the wake of an election that saw Arizona inch away from its staunchly Republican roots.”

The AP also noted that Republican leaders have issued a challenge to the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in the House. The challenge sends “an implicit message of what will come to GOP senators who vote to convict.”

Even high-ranking Republicans in Congress are vulnerable. Wyoming representative Liz Cheney, for example, is the third-ranking Republican member of the House, due to her position as Chair of the House Republican Conference for the 116th Congress. Nevertheless, she faced a barrage of public criticism from high-profile Republicans after voting to impeach Trump.

In the wake of the insurrection, what took you so long?

Trump supporters may win the impeachment battle but lose the war, as suburban women and other key voting blocs abandon the Republican Party.

That’s all well and good, but the failure to enforce accountability after the insurrection has consequences for the entire nation, not just for one political party.

Observers of violent movements have said that an unpunished coup simply becomes a training exercise for the next coup. The U.S. has already had far too many such lessons in its long history of unpunished white violence perpetrated on people of color.

White supremacists finally breached the color line in 2016, when a group of armed thugs overran the Malheur federal wildlife refuge in Oregon and were permitted to occupy it for six weeks.

Still, the lesson wasn’t learned. Coddled and encouraged by Trump all throughout his term in office. white supremacists trained and organized for a more ambitious coup, one against the entire U.S. government - and they came within inches of succeeding.

That brings up the question of why it took so long for corporate America to remove Trump’s supporters in Congress from the money tree.

Victor Ray, an assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies at the University of Iowa, brought up that point earlier this week, in an article published by Harvard Business Review.

Ray noted that the same companies that supported the Black Lives Matter movement last summer also continued to support Trump’s allies in Congress at the same time.

“But through activities ranging from serving on advisory councils to donating to politicians (or political parties) who echoed Trump’s dog whistles, many businesses simultaneously supported a president who campaigned and governed on a platform of racial grievance,” Ray wrote. “This highlights the fundamental contradiction between these companies’ pursuit of profit and their commitment to racial justice: Many U.S. businesses showed they are willing to profit off of racial inequality - or even support policies that entrench racial inequality - until the political costs of doing so were judged to be too high.”

Next steps for corporate social responsibility and diversity hiring

The January 6 insurrection was a direct, existential challenge to the very concept of corporate social responsibility. Due to their role in supporting and promoting Trump and his allies in Congress over the years, U.S. business leaders now bear direct responsibility for the consequences.

That lesson may take some time to sink in, but in an interesting twist, Microsoft has inferred that diversity hiring may provide a path forward.

Like several other top firms, Microsoft suspended all of its PAC activity in the immediate aftermath of January 6. That may seem to be nothing more than a weak demonstration of “both-siderism” rather than an ethical judgement against Republicans in Congress.

However, last weekend Microsoft clarified that the PAC suspension may have been just a first step toward enforcing accountability.

Last weekend, the company publicized the transcript of a January 21 message from Microsoft President Brad Smith to employees in which he emphasized how the PAC system opens doors, regardless of party affiliation. Nevertheless, Smith also stated that the racist nature of the January 6 insurrection could not be ignored.

He began his address by acknowledging that that the attack on the Capitol had a deeper significance for non-white employees.

“I think it was even more difficult, say, for our Black and Jewish employees, given the hateful symbols that were on display. This has obvious implications for the future donations of the PAC,” he said.

Microsoft has stated that it will make a final decision on February 15, presumably after the Senate renders its verdict on Trump’s role in the insurrection.

Given Smith’s emphasis on diversity at Microsoft, it is difficult to see how the company - or any other corporate leader - could continue to support Republicans who foster and validate white violence.

Image credit: The National Guard/Wiki Commons

Tina Casey headshot

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.

Read more stories by Tina Casey