CEOs: Time to Call Mitch and Save America

An Open Letter to America’s CEOs:

Have you considered this question yet? You really should:

How much shareholder value will be destroyed if the United States is seized by a massive general strike after defiant Republican lawmakers in swing states bulldoze the Electoral College into handing Donald Trump a second term?

This is where the arrows are pointing. You have one month. Pay attention. A general strike will dwarf the George Floyd protests. Transportation networks will be blocked. Service workers will walk out. Autoworkers will close assembly lines. Teachers will not teach. Ordinary citizens who danced in the streets a week ago will reject business as usual and shut down major cities for as long as it takes. Moms will show up with their kids. Many of your own office workers will not be at their desks. They might gather outside your headquarters and at your retail outlets and maybe at your homes. You cannot rule out targeted boycotts.

No justice. No peace.

Why will this happen? You are watching the President, Cabinet members, and Republican leaders employ Soviet tactics to obliterate trust in our election process. This is the required groundwork for an Electoral College power play. Republican-controlled legislatures in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Georgia will have all the flimsy justification they need to vote out rival slates of electors and send them to Washington in defiance of the slates submitted by their governors.

Although some legal commentators reject this possibility, federal law [3 U.S.C. § 2] appears to leave one door ajar: “Whenever any State has held an election for the purpose of choosing electors, and has failed to make a choice on the day prescribed by law, the electors may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as the legislature of such State may direct.” What constitutes failure to make a choice? This is why I used the term “bulldoze the Electoral College” in my question to you. Ask yourselves: Did Senator McConnell faithfully fulfill his responsibility in the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, or did he bulldoze?

If legislatures choose to cry foul and declare a failure to make a choice, this country will almost certainly descend into an unprecedented crisis that will play out in the streets long before petty legalisms are adjudicated in the Supreme Court. Do you think MoveOn, Indivisible, the ACLU, the AFL-CIO, Moms Demand Action, and Black Lives Matter will remain silent? Do you think Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg and Oprah Winfrey and Taylor Swift will remain silent? Social media will explode. All hell will break loose. John Adams and John Lewis will be invoked.

Millions of Americans will refuse to sit idly while a presidential election result is overturned in a banana republic-style putsch. There is every reason to believe counter-protesters will show up in force. Some will have guns. We’ll again see Border Patrol and Bureau of Prisons anti-riot forces with pepper spray. Business as usual will cease. It won’t be limited to our shores. Democracy means something to people everywhere. Sympathy protests and boycotts will emerge in Europe first, then spread, putting your international sales at risk. Markets will shudder. And it will be the perfect time for Russian, Iranian, and North Korean hackers to throw big wrenches into the Internet.

You have the power to stop this right now.

You are the primary underwriters of the Republican Party. To a great extent, your PAC money sustains the party. Your money allows Senator McConnell to finance his continuing grip on power. You got your big tax cut. What more do you want? All you have to do is make a few calls to your fellow CEOs and to the leadership of your industry associations. Tell your government affairs officers and lobbyists to contact Senator McConnell. He holds the key. Don’t mince words.

“Mitch,” they should say, “we live in a democracy and our companies thrive because of it. We think this nonsense has gone too far. If you don’t calm things down and tell Donald Trump he has to turn the keys over to the rightful election victor, you can kiss our cooperation and our financial support goodbye forever. We don’t want to make your life a living hell, but we sure as hell don’t want an insurrection in this country that will put us on a par with Belarus. This stuff will grind the economy to a halt, hammer our profits, crush our ability to pay workers, and hit our shareholders — right in the middle of a virus surge.”

You could also speak in a language Mr. McConnell understands. Tell him you no longer are guided by the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Tell him the cold hard truth about what his power politics looks like. Tell him that the cult of personality bent on ransacking this country’s institutions needs to end. Tell him that grotesque political cowardice does not become him or any of the Senators in his caucus. Tell him he’s not going to get a dime unless he restores the kind of political stability in the United States that permits nice, uninterrupted corporate cash flow every quarter.

That will get his attention.

We’re not asking you to take a knee. All this could happen on the down low. But you could also have a little spine and buy full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. It was truly heartwarming to see you run ads during the Floyd protests to align your cherished corporate brands with racial justice and brotherhood. Nice. Now, you need to align your brands with patriotism in defense of the American ideal, civic stability, and the democratic process.

If you don’t want to consider what your country desperately needs just to survive, at least go with self-interest. Go with the long-term financial interests of your shareholders. You are about to be hit by massive political tail risk in the streets and in the marketplaces where you operate. You have the power to avert this disaster. Stand up. Fight back.

Ex-financial writer/editor; ex-newspaper journalist in US and France. Opinions are mine alone.