Business Versus The Coup

A project I’ve been working on with a friend–a project unrelated to this blog– recently required me to think about the definition of bigotry–racism, anti-Semitism, etc.

Here’s what we came up with:

the belief that identity trumps individuality and behavior—the belief that people who share a skin color or religion share essential characteristics that distinguish them from “us.” It is a worldview that fails to see people as people—individuals who deserve to be approached and evaluated as individuals.

I think that description fits more situations than the tribal conflicts our project is addressing. Humans have a deep-seated need to categorize the world, to find shortcuts to understanding our social environment, and when taken too far, those shortcuts all too often harden into stereotypes.

Take the widespread stereotypes of “big business.” Many commenters to this blog clearly accept the notion that the people who manage America’s large corporations are focused on shareholder returns and the bottom line to the exclusion of the common good. There are plenty of reasons for the wide acceptance of that belief, but–just as with other prejudices–it overlooks the complexity and individuality of the group being characterized.

That brings me to the article that prompted this discussion.It began:

The CEOs started calling before President Trump had even finished speaking. What America’s titans of industry were hearing from the Commander in Chief was sending them into a panic.

It was Nov. 5, 2020, two days after the election, and things weren’t looking good for the incumbent as states continued to count ballots. Trump was eager to seed a different narrative, one with no grounding in reality: “If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” he said from the lectern of the White House Briefing Room. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”

The speech was so dangerously dishonest that within a few minutes, all three broadcast television networks spontaneously stopped airing it. And at his home in Branford, Conn., the iPhone belonging to the Yale School of Management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld began to buzz with calls and texts from some of the nation’s most powerful tycoons.

The CEOs of leading media, financial, pharmaceutical, retail and consulting firms all wanted to talk. By the time Tom Rogers, the founder of CNBC, got to Sonnenfeld, “he had clearly gotten dozens of calls,” Rogers says. “We were saying, ‘This is real—Trump is trying to overturn the election.’ Something had to happen fast.”

The article describes the subsequent deliberations of a group of 45 CEOs representing nearly one-third of Fortune’s 100 largest companies. They heard from a colleague of Sonnenfeld’s, a historian of authoritarianism, who told them that in countries where coups have been attempted, business leaders have been among the most important groups in determining whether such attempts succeeded. “If you are going to defeat a coup, you have to move right away,” he told them. “The timing and the clarity of response are very, very important.

The group agreed on the elements of a statement to be released as soon as media organizations called the election. It would congratulate the winner and laud the unprecedented voter turnout; call for any disputes to be based on evidence and brought through the normal channels; observe that no such evidence had emerged; and insist on an orderly transition. Midday on Nov. 7, when the election was finally called, the BRT immediately released a version of the statement formulated on Zoom. It was followed quickly by other trade groups, corporations and political leaders around the world, all echoing the same clear and decisive language confirming the election result.

Timothy Snider, the authoritarianism scholar , believes the CEOs’ intervention was crucial.

“If business leaders had just drifted along in that moment, or if a few had broken ranks, it might have gone very differently,” he says. “They chose in that moment to see themselves as part of civil society, acting in the defense of democracy for its own sake.”

The issuance of the statement was not a one-off; the group came together again to push back on Trump’s effort to overturn the results from Georgia, and again in the wake of the January 6th insurrection.

The lengthy article is worth reading it its entirety; it provides a nuanced history of business’ relationship with the GOP, and describes the reasons that relationship has been withering. For his part, Sonnenfeld believes a new generation of business leaders understands that doing well requires a stable democratic society; they want to do well by doing good.

Not all businesspeople, of course. But stereotypes rarely, if ever, describe all members of a group–a point worth remembering.


  1. While some of the big corporations made a public announcement that they were pulling funding from the crazy party, they shortly resumed making contributions. And somebody keeps buying all that air time at Fox. who might that be? The insurrection is not yet over and they are funding it

  2. Sheila you are are spot on with this commentary. Most podcasts I listen to about businesses is that they are leaning in the direction of doing more for society as a whole and not just for the bottom line. Investors are taking a deeper look at where there money is going and CEOs and boards are listening. The only way President Trump was going to ein was through the courts. Even the mypillow guy was fooled by a tech company into voter fraud and vote manipulation and it didnt take much.
    The real problem I see is the massive push to categorize groups through stereotyping. It does destroy relationships, friendships and curb the ability to reach accrues the aisle and talk. We are worried about extremism and it appears to be on the rise. I feel upset fir the poor in tjis country with the extreme measuresvto kill the pipelines. Last year I paid $35 to fill my tank tjis year its $48. Poor economic desicisions hurt those with the inflation issues. Corporations are giving in food banks providing individuals clothes and food. The low interest rates to finance the poor economic secisions by our government which has funneled an extra $7 trillion dollars over two Presidents has killed the ability of thevpoor to keep up with inflation. People dont understand fiscal conservative economics. A conservatism that wants to be compassionate but also responsible has a argument for reaching across the aisle

  3. Patmccc:
    I believe Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc still supports Indiana’s personal contributors to that doonboggle on Jan.6. Unless the company has withdrawn support (anyone prove me wrong?) I continue to spread that info.

  4. Well, bravo to these CEOs for getting fearful over authoritarianism – that’s quite extraordinary. (notice the use of sarcasm)

    That’s like the group of CEOs who came out against racism as being bad for society. We could spend all day taking polls of CEOs who think this or that, but what do their actions say, and are they serious?

    This is the same issue with our political class; they say plenty to voters, but once behind closed doors, do something entirely different.

    Real-life example: the most existential threat to humankind is climate change. The negative consequences of doing nothing are astronomical. Yet, all the “leaders” were invited to COP26 and reported they’d done nothing. Activists were locked out. However, the largest contingency of COP26 was lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry.

    That’s how serious our oligarchy and politicians are about thee #1 threat to humanity.

    Taking it one step further, Abby Martin asked Nancy Pelosi why the Pentagon’s CO2 figures are exempted from the US’s climate statistics (they account for more CO2 emissions than ten countries). Nancy’s answer was word salad.

    Abby is a great investigative journalist. An independent who asked a question the journos working for Oligarchy-controlled media couldn’t ask-would never ask-are barred from asking. That is why the PR team was flown in. Polish up the program with white paint. 😉

    Don’t forget, the oligarchy behind the right-wing posse are mostly privately owned wealth and can do as they please without hearing from a board of directors voted on by shareholders.

    You have to look beyond the CEOs who are responsible to the board and shareholders. So who are the shareholders is the key?

  5. Yeah, well big corporations, and almost all businesses, in this country require stability above all else. To them, Donald Trump’s behavior was a wagon full of nitroglycerin bouncing along on a rocky road. Stability means the profits keep coming. Stability means the stockholders don’t panic. They give not a damn for society, democracy or the people of any ethnicity.

    Corporations are only interested in preserving their view of the status quo. They knew Trump was a raving lunatic for years. What scared them is that he would start dictating market favors to the slavering masses of his followers, and that mass would grow into something THEY couldn’t control.

    With regard to stereotyping and ethnic definition, I once again revert to Rebecca Costa’s very insightful book, “The Watchman’s Rattle”. It explains so much. Sheila, if you continue with your side project, this book should be required reading for your group…in my opinion.

  6. “The CEOs started calling before President Trump had even finished speaking. What America’s titans of industry were hearing from the Commander in Chief was sending them into a panic.”

    If they were seriously in a panic, was it that they could lose money, or were they concerned about the survival of the Republican party, or the total destruction of democracy, Rule of Law and the Constitution for all Americans? Why was this not national – and international – news on all forms of media where it would reach voters and where their fears would have meaning? Where are the mega millions coming from that Trump is still reported to be dragging into his party support?

    Watch what they do (did NOT do after their phone calls); not what they said in the shadows and behind the scenes where they had no meaning or attempt to end Trump’s continuing power and control over Republicans and their clueless voters.


    Today’s blog is another prime example of Sheila Kennedy providing information we would otherwise never be aware of.

  7. Una, the Indiana Farm Bureau is not a company but rather a 501(c)(5) tax-exempt organization made up of dues-paying members. They use that money to fund two political action committees and they may be the single most powerful lobbying organization in Indiana. One of their aims is a pure version of a “right-to-farm” change to the Indiana Constitution which essentially exempts farmers from any and all liability for anything they do if it’s related to farming. It could also be argued that it would exempt them from all Indiana laws…but not likely federal laws.

    They’re trying to sell this as nothing more than good public policy to keep family farms healthy but the fact is that it’s a direct appeal to our legislature and unsuspecting voters to ditch the rule of law for a specific interest group. You simply cannot get much more oligarchic and authoritarian than that. As recently as this year, working with the 2nd most powerful lobby, the construction industry, they managed to get SB389 passed, which eliminated all state laws regulating the use of land designated by the IN DNR as wetlands, which comprise 80% of all wetlands remaining, and which is less than 15% of wetlands that were here before settlers arrived. Wetlands are crucial to environmental health – they filter rainwater before it re-enters rivers and aquifers where we get our drinking water and they store billions of tons of harmful C02 that is warming our atmosphere.

    I find some comfort in learning that at least some CEO’s saw TFG’s coup attempt as real and existential to the interests of their shareholders and took swift action to resist it. But I don’t believe for a minute that there aren’t other business interests working in the opposite direction. Especially back home in Indiana.

  8. QUESTION !!!
    How do we citizens maintain and sustain the pressure on big business to tell and support the truth?????

    Increasingly, big business looks like it is sitting on the fence on a host of issues.

  9. The constant talk of bigotry and hate is making me think about our fundamental attitudes. I know it doesn’t quite match with this blog, but I need to explain and get people’s responses.

    Fundamentally, I want policies and government that works to help the world and its humans, ALL its humans, and all the rest of the natural world we enjoy and on which we all depend. With regard to the humans, I prefer to focus especially on those who need the help the most. So, I lean pretty far left compared to the GOP. I find libertarianism baffling, as it seems so incredibly selfish to me.

    I apply this to people who vehemently disagree with me exactly as much as to those who agree. I see the the GOP (and others who disagree) as opponents, but not enemies. I hold no special ill-will towards them. Sometimes I actually feel bad for them, as it seems they have been misled so thoroughly by their own biases and their chosen media. To my mind, they miss a lot of the good and wonder of the world due to these biases. I would never wish harm or violence on them. They should benefit as much as anyone else from the policies I want.

    More and more, though, it appears those opponents don’t feel similarly. It feels like they NEED me to lose, and violently. It seems they desire me to be hurt if possible. For an example of evidence, just look at the death threats being received by GOP members who voted for the infrastructure bill. No matter that it’s a bill that is good for everyone–and I say that even as I’m disappointed you guys didn’t get all you really needed from it–they are incensed to the point of death threats and violence because they perceive it to be a “win” for Biden’s agenda. For another, consider the guy at the Charlie Kirk rally who wanted to know “when do we get to use our guns?” Not “have to”, but “GET to!” And there are so many other examples.

    (Note: Trump epitomizes this need to beat the opponent. It’s not a win unless someone loses, and hopefully badly. But he didn’t create this. I think Trump won in 2016 partly because he _satisfied_ this need more than any other GOP candidate.)

    So, why is this? Can it simply be that the world is moving too fast and some people can’t handle the pace of change? Is it related to religious biases or dogma? Is it related to education? What are the biggest factors, do you think?

    We are all together just the human stewards of a teeny, tiny (and quite wonderful) blue planet floating through the deadly vacuum of an uncaring universe. How can we not see beyond the petty to what really matters? Truly, I find it incomprehensible.

  10. Your definition is a start….but is lacking the extra something that makes “bigot/Bigotry” Negative and Objectionable….Try looking at the etymology….It’s a French loan-word originally….

    bigotry (n.)
    “obstinate and unreasonable attachment to a creed or opinion and intolerance of others,” 1670s, from French bigoterie “sanctimoniousness,” from bigot (see bigot).

    It’s the “holier-than-though-ness” and unwillingness to tolerate difference that does it….

    I suggest one ALWAYS check a Dictionary or two to see what words mean…i.e. how they are commonly USED in conversation today before going-off on one’s own tangential defining expeditions….

    Otherwise we risk creating “jargon” specific to our own discourse and NOT common “legal tender” for ordinary communication…. Lawyers do that ALL the time…. 😉 and look where that gets them….

  11. It seems to me that those CEOs were acting in their own best interest. If they thought for a moment that they might just prosper under a Trump regime they would have let ‘er rip. They all know him and they know that he is as corrupt as they come. More than that, they know just how petty he is. That is bad for them individually and collectively. The question I have is, what happens the next time, when it’s someone more polished?

  12. So…polls show that folks overwhelming think big corporations are too powerful and that they and their execs don’t pay enough taxes. Do they “care”? They continually “virtue gesture” about discrimination.

    Peggy and others had it right…it is just like the stock market…they don’t like chaos/uncertainty which The Former brought. That gets in the way of crushing competition and rolling in the bucks.

  13. I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that we are biologically programmed, as a species, to see threat in differences, which can only be overcome with the application of the higher faculties, quite literally in different parts of the brain. The amygdala is easily stimulated, but it can be overridden by the prefrontal cortex, the thinking part of the brain. Over time, with repeated effort, it becomes easier, almost reflexive, but initially, it’s difficult. There is evidence that overriding the amygdala requires more energy. I’m taking this entire perspective from Robert Sapolsky’s lectures at Stanford (on YouTube), which have been condensed in his book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.

    By the way, low blood sugar will make us “conservative” and/or mean, especially for appellate judges, regardless of ideology. Read the book for more details.

    The bad news is that these issues will always be with us. The good news is that we can learn to overcome them.

  14. Jeffrey, “So, why is this? Can it simply be that the world is moving too fast and some people can’t handle the pace of change? Is it related to religious biases or dogma? Is it related to education? What are the biggest factors, do you think?”
    I think that all of the issues you cite, are relevant. Religious biases, and dogma jump out as the most important of the issues, as they
    inform, or dis-inform, the rest. The dogma need not be religious dogma, but the dogma, the concept that some people are worth less than
    “us,” whoever the heck the “us” is. Moving too fast? Yes, too many people can not cope well with the idea that the hegemony they have
    wrangled is coming apart. Sheila, please excuse my stereotyping, but, it is the very CEO class that made those nice noises, that sent
    so many jobs oversea, that led so many people to feel, and be left out, that they were such easy pickings for the crazies to recruit.
    thank you Peggy, as that is the “dogma” I referred to, above.
    If the CEO noises helped to tamp down Trump’s attempt at his biggest manipulation yet, manipulation being the lifeblood of his being,
    that is a wonderful thing, but yes, follow the money; who the heck IS funding the Faux News commercials? It was recently said that if
    Murdoch were to be applying for citizenship, now, he’d be seen as a terrorist. Can his citizenship be revoked?

  15. As the definition of bigotry–racism, anti-Semitism, this seems good to me.

    “the belief that identity trumps individuality and behavior—the belief that people who share a skin color or religion share essential characteristics that distinguish them from “us.” It is a worldview that fails to see people as people—individuals who deserve to be approached and evaluated as individuals.”

    But what is lower case ‘r’ religion? How about an assumption of power? Traditionally it’s been about behavior on earth that will defeat death but more generalized it appears to me to mean what can I (we) do on earth while we’re here in order to get the highest power possible to give us what we ultimately would like.

    What the liberal religion wants is freedom from bigotry-racism. What the authoritarian capitalist wants is the wealth created by others. What rural American wants is to unwind changes over the last few decades that has obsoleted their culture as central to the country.

    The Democrat political party appeals to liberals. The Republican Party is an alliance between authoritarian capitalists and rural America based on propaganda from the Foxhole.

    It is literally a test of our Constitution as the foundation of our government and our identity around the world. Will it be sustained? Can it be?

    We no longer know.

  16. I like the proposed definition of bigotry. History has taught me that the short cut often taken is one which demonizes the “other”, turning them into an enemy.

    I heard of a CEO who took a major pay cut so that each employee would earn $70,000 per year. He decided to take care of the workers because he had more than enough money to do so.
    I often listen to the neuroscientists as I seek to understand human behavior and biases. One of the assertions they make is that the human brain is geared towards short term gratification.

    Perhaps that is why so many corporate leaders often fail to take the long view as did Native Americans. Native Americans thought about how their actions would affect their descendants 7 generations from the present one. They took the long view. Corporate leaders are caught up in the reports of quarterly profits as are the board members.

    The global corporations and fossil fuel industries have been resistant to moving into alternate sources of energy for decades even though they knew about global warming and the need to sustain the ecological diversity of the earth. As a whole,they have failed to take the long view. Instead they have lulled most of us to remain in our consumptive comfort zone.

    We too are geared toward short term gratification. If each person really wanted to change corporations, we would have to spend less on stuff we don’t really need, maybe even time saving devices like microwave ovens. Future generations may well be forced to adopt a minimalist life style which we used to call voluntary simplicity. That is a very hard life style to maintain because I have noted that economic forces in our capitalist society turn luxuries into necessities. The poor then become more marginalized i.e. rural communities often do not have good access to the internet.

    So we need to stop buying into “spend more, save more” and start buying into “spend less, save more”. We need to start the discipline with spending that supports the long view, not short term gratification. Yours truly included.

  17. I wrote before the election that if Trump won corporate America would back away from him – and why? Because his drive for authoritarianism might destroy the authoritarianism corporate America enjoys. I’m with the Peggy and Vern school of thought, i.e., corporate America doesn’t take stands on public issues unless they figure such will redound to their benefit as measured by their profit and loss statements, or if so, on rare occasion.

    Big businesses are our current authoritarians. With K Street lobbyists, tax lawyers who write the IRC to suit their wishes, campaign funding for compliant politicians, and with ownership of the media to label objectors as socialists, they are in charge of America, and their Election Day hysteria as described by Sheila is, I think, a reflection of why they are against a would be dictator who would challenge their lofty perch in the order of things.

    I would like to be wrong with such analysis and instead conclude that big business has become a good citizen willing to share the fruits of a more regulated capitalism, but history forecloses any such departure from reality. Greed is a formidable opponent.

  18. I am probably indulging in some me-too-ism, but
    I do like your definition of bigotry–racism, anti-Semitism, etc.

    As for stereotypes, I should point out that if humans didn’t make generalizations, we’d stifle new knowledge and spend a heck of lot of time making the tiniest decisions. The trick is to be able to modify your perceptions based upon the individual circumstances and/or people that you are dealing with.

    I must admit to having a low opinion of big corporation CEOs, but allow that there may be some good ones out there. However, those that were worried about Trump, as others have said, were not worried about the country, but about the stability they need to stay in business. A Trump might decide he wants to own a high tech company and set the DOJ against Zuckerberg and bully the Board into appointing his daughter as CEO.

    As I often point out, contrary to propagandists for Ford, he didn’t raise wages so that his employees could afford the Model T, but rather because they were quitting in droves soon after being hired.

    I also put some blame on culture and law. In my younger days, you bought stock in a company you liked and sold it if you stopped liking it. Then in the ’80s, it changed,; you bought more stock if the company didn’t behave as you liked and took over, even ousting the founder and raiding the pension funds.

    Also, in those days, corporations were supposed to provide a “good return on investment” and could have other goals. Many corporations were involved in sustaining their home communities, patrons of the arts and such. That changed too. Now, it’s “maximize profits” and shareholder value is the ONLY metric allowed.

    That environment, under those rules, attracts rather self-centered, ruthless sorts who want to become mega-rich (rich is no longer good enough). So, perhaps we have stacked the deck.

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