by Michael Marx
Implementing the Trump Silver Linings Playbook
Once we have defined our demands, the traditional protocol is to send a letter to the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies with these demands. The letter needs to have broad sign on from leading environmental, labor, women’s, equity/justice, health, faith, investor, and other groups. It needs to give them a 30 day deadline to publicly send a return letter signed by the company CEO agreeing to these exact demands (not their watered down version). After the deadline we sort companies into good guys and bad guys. Non-respondents go on the bad guys list. Then we publicize the results, name leading targets in key industries, and unleash advocacy and shareholder groups ( along with their millions of activist members), and finally the masses, which are looking for concrete ways to impact this administration. This is a perfect campaign for groups like Indivisible to embrace as a complement to their Tea Party congressional strategy. It also fits with strategic priorities of the Sierra Club, 350.org, NAACP and many others.
There are a number of reasons to focus on corporations as a way to control Trump. First, they will be more responsive to public pressure than an egotistical narcissist who interprets huge opposition rallies as a testament to this disruptive power. A president who fabricates and believes his own fake reality isn’t a rational decision-maker to target. CEOs are. They have to minimize risk. Second, the political center, which we need to convert, listens to the voice of corporate leaders, not us. Thanks to 30 years of dark money from the Koch Brother’s network, conservative foundations and their advocacy groups have convinced our center right opponents that “government is the problem and corporations freed from regulation are the solution.” That frame has brought us Donald Trump. , but it has also created the potential for us to make a brilliant aikido move (i.e., using their strength against them) whereby large and small corporations everywhere stand up publicly and say “We need government, but not Trump’s form of government.”
Will corporations commit and change their behavior? There is a rich marketplace campaign history to suggest they will. Starting with the Reagan Administration and its threat to environmental and social progress, many progressive advocacy organizations shifted their strategic focus to the marketplace to become in effect the regulators of corporate behavior. Dozens of successful corporate campaigns ensued. Gallo (immigrant worker conditions/pay), Nike (Sweatshops), Mitsubishi (Rainforests), The Home Depot (Old Growth Forests), Staples (Appalachian Forests), Victoria’s Secret (Boreal Forests), Kimberly-Clark (Boreal Forests), McDonalds (Animal Rights), Dell Computers (Recycling/Toxic waste), Apple Computer (Recycling/Toxic waste), Citi Bank (Coal plant funding), Bank of America (Coal plant funding), Walmart (Everything), Cargill (Palm Oil), Kellogg’s (Palm Oil), and a host of other major corporations were the subjects of successful consumer, shareholder and markets campaigns. These campaigns played a major role in starting and growing the Corporate Social Responsibility Movement.
What made these campaigns successful is a number of factors. Companies realize that much of their capitalized value is a function of their brand strength. They cannot risk being associated with outrageous social and environmental practices that arouse the anger of their customers. Even companies with unfamiliar brands who supply branded retailers can become a liability when their corporate customers are publicly attacked and held responsible for their suppliers’ practices. These campaigns were especially successful when multiple advocacy organizations would triangulate on a company. Some would focus on their customers, some focus on their employees and the universities from which they recruit, some focus on their shareholders, and still others focus on excluding them from government procurement. This experience is the blueprint for a ‘Trump Silver Linings Playbook.’
We need to move quickly to counter Trump’s aggressive agenda. Congress is poised to rollback 20 years of social and environmental progress. It will soon be debating an appropriations bill that intends to eviscerate the EPA, the State Department, Department of Energy, and possibly the Department of Education and Housing and Urban Development. Radical conservative officials need to hear opposition from the major corporations. They need to see the negative campaign funding consequences of voting with Trump on these key issues. They need to see that the “priests” of the true religion of America-capitalism-are actively preaching against Trump’s and Republicans’ radical and immoral social and environmental agenda.