Last night, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank announced his decision to step down from President Trump’s American Manufacturing Council. Kenneth Frazier, CEO of the pharmaceutical company Merck, had done the same earlier that day, and just a few hours later, Intel’s Brian Krzanich followed suit. Today, Alliance for American Manufacturing president Scott Paul resigned from Trump’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative.
Their departures are a response to Trump’s statements about the violent protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, which began when white nationalists, members of the Ku Klux Klan, and neo-Nazis gathered to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. The rally drew counter-protesters and turned deadly when a member of the original protest drove a car into a line of vehicles, leaving one counter-protester dead and others injured. In his initial remarks, Trump condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides,” drawing immediate backlash for his failure to call out white supremacists specifically. Trump amended his response yesterday, saying that “racism is evil,” but his earlier equivocation was enough to send executives running.
In the hours before he officially left the American Manufacturing Council, Plank said, via Under Armour’s Twitter account, that “there is no place for racism or discrimination in this world.” The tweet drew dozens of replies encouraging him to step down from the council. When Plank did, he didn’t mention Charlottesville specifically, focusing instead on the message that “Under Armour engages in innovation and sports, not politics.”
Business executives have been leaving Trump’s various councils in moments of public outrage since the start of the administration. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who resigned from the company in June, stepped down from Trump’s economic council in February in the wake of his travel ban. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, departed two advisory councils after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement.
Merck’s Frazier addressed Charlottesville much more directly in his statement on Monday, writing: “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.”
Frazier described cutting ties with Trump as “a matter of personal conscience,” but for many corporate executives, it’s also a matter of averting an image crisis and losing customers. That’s particularly true at a time when consumers are boycotting companies that don’t represent their values en masse, or at least filling social media with bad press.
Responding to the wave of resignations from his council, Trump tweeted today: “For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!”
Executives at large felt the need to address Trump’s stance on the Charlottesville protests, including Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, who posted an open letter on the company site Monday.
“As we watched the events and the response from President Trump over the weekend, we too felt that he missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together by unequivocally rejecting the appalling actions of white supremacists,” McMillon wrote. “His remarks today were a step in the right direction and we need that clarity and consistency in the future.”
That was yesterday. At an afternoon press conference today, Trump was once again blaming “both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville.