It’s un­mis­ta­kab­ly true. It star­ted al­re­a­dy a few ye­ars ago, in 2016, when Pa­y­Pal can­ce­led plans to open a glo­bal ope­ra­ti­ons cen­ter in North Ca­ro­li­na in res­pon­se to a law rest­ric­ting trans­gen­der bath­room rights. In 2018, af­ter the mass school shoo­ting in Flo­ri­da, Wal­mart and Dick’s Spor­ting Goods vo­lun­ta­ri­ly rai­sed the age for gun sa­les des­pi­te NRA op­po­si­ti­on. Ame­ri­can com­pa­nies then inc­re­a­sing­ly bac­ked chan­ges to ad­d­ress cli­ma­te chan­ge, even at a cost to their own bu­si­ness. These we­ren’t on­ly words; they were real ac­ti­ons.

In 2021 the trend mush­roo­med. On Ja­nu­a­ry 6th, as the sie­ge on the U.S. Ca­pi­tol Buil­ding in Was­hing­ton, D.C. was un­der­way, the Na­ti­o­nal As­so­ci­a­ti­on of Ma­nu­fac­tu­rers con­dem­ned those who sup­por­ted it and cal­led for Pre­si­dent Trump’s im­me­di­a­te re­mo­val from of­fi­ce. A few months la­ter, in res­pon­se to se­ve­ral U.S. state’s new re­qui­re­ments to rest­rict vo­ting, ma­jor cor­po­ra­ti­ons de­noun­ced the laws as de­sig­ned to im­pe­de mi­no­ri­ty vo­ters. More than 100 bu­si­ness le­a­ders then par­ti­ci­pa­ted in an on­li­ne mee­ting to dis­cuss what ac­ti­ons they should take for si­mi­lar an­ti-vo­ting bil­ls being con­si­de­red ac­ross the count­ry.

When the guil­ty ver­dict in the Ge­or­ge Floyd mur­der trial was an­noun­ced, many Ame­ri­can com­pa­nies made pub­lic sta­te­ments in sup­port of the Black Li­ves Mat­ter mo­ve­ment and in fa­vor of stron­ger steps to end ra­ci­al disc­ri­mi­na­ti­on of all ty­pes. These were not ty­pi­cal cor­po­ra­te po­li­ti­cal is­su­es like ta­xes or pol­lu­ti­on cont­rols. These were strong mo­ral stan­ces about po­ten­ti­al­ly cont­ro­ver­si­al po­li­ti­cal views exp­res­sed in clear and cer­tain terms.

Ame­ri­can com­pa­nies, big and small, are stan­ding up for Ame­ri­can ide­als: de­moc­ra­cy, jus­ti­ce and equ­al tre­at­ment. In es­sen­ce, Ame­ri­ca’s bu­si­ness com­mu­ni­ty is de­man­ding that the Uni­ted Sta­tes be­co­me bet­ter for eve­ry­o­ne, not just for bu­si­ness.

Why? And why right now?

Not too long ago it see­med that U.S. bu­si­ness, es­pe­ci­al­ly big bu­si­ness, stood on the op­po­si­te side of such is­su­es. Obs­ce­ne we­alth and a pa­ro­dy 1950s-es­que white va­lu­es had be­co­me com­mon­ly ac­cep­ted in Ame­ri­ca. Poo­rer non-whi­tes and their prob­lems were nui­san­ces to ig­no­re. What chan­ged that?

It isn’t just a ge­ne­ra­ti­o­nal thing. Yo­un­ger pe­op­le may be more prog­res­si­ve, or at le­ast more ac­cep­ting of di­ver­si­ty than ol­der ge­ne­ra­ti­ons, but the far right isn’t exact­ly a ge­ri­at­ric crowd. So it’s not on­ly age. Some po­li­ti­ci­ans say that U.S. bu­si­ness is ca­ving in to a mass cons­pi­ra­cy that will rise against them if they don’t look left-le­a­ning enough. A more mo­de­ra­te view is that com­pa­nies are just trying to “look cool” in the mo­ment with no real in­ten­ti­on to fol­low up or take ac­ti­on bey­ond to­day’s slo­gans.

At the op­po­si­te end of the spect­rum, ot­hers be­lie­ve that cor­po­ra­te Ame­ri­ca has un­der­go­ne a spi­ri­tu­al awa­ke­ning. They say we are about to en­ter a new world of be­ne­vo­lent and mo­ral com­mer­ce. That view nai­ve­ly ig­no­res how the same com­pa­nies ha­ven’t said a thing about their me­die­val la­bor po­li­cies or that they don’t pay anyw­he­re near their fair share in ta­xes. It’s wish­ful thin­king that doing the right thing will be­co­me bu­si­ness-as-usu­al in the Uni­ted Sta­tes any­ti­me soon.

The real re­a­son for the Ame­ri­can bu­si­ness com­mu­ni­ty’s re­cent stand is more mun­da­ne than any of these exp­la­na­ti­ons: bu­si­ness is good when the na­ti­on has sta­bi­li­ty and pre­dic­ta­bi­li­ty, not dis­rup­ti­on or chaos. Ame­ri­can bu­si­ness – along with the rest of Ame­ri­ca – tried a shake-things-up ap­p­ro­ach for four ye­ars to see how that would work. It didn’t, with Mr. Trump’s unp­re­dic­tab­le out­bursts, ab­rupt chan­ges in po­li­cies, per­so­nal pee­ves against cer­tain com­pa­nies, as well as im­mig­ra­ti­on bans and a trade war that hob­b­led many in­dust­ries. The elec­ti­on chan­ged much of that, and the new Bi­den ad­mi­nist­ra­ti­on is jus­ti­fi­ab­ly very po­pu­lar even among bu­si­nes­s­pe­op­le, but the count­ry re­mains pre­ca­ri­ous­ly di­vi­ded by po­li­ti­ci­ans see­king to per­pe­tu­a­te dist­rust and hate.

So bu­si­ness fi­nal­ly said “enough is enough”. CEO’s have plen­ty of po­wer, mo­ne­ta­ry and ot­her­wi­se, bols­te­red by court ru­lings that pro­tect bu­si­ness in­te­rests far bey­ond what is re­al­ly ne­ces­sa­ry. Bu­si­ness le­a­ders are now using their po­wer to step up and be the adults in the room. That shouldn’t come as a surp­ri­se to any­o­ne…. ex­cept ap­pa­rent­ly to po­li­ti­ci­ans in Was­hing­ton.


How has Washington reacted?

Was­hing­ton’s res­pon­se so far has ran­ged from co­mi­cal to con­fu­sed, and just plain non-exis­tent.

Re­pub­li­cans war­ned bu­si­ness to stay out of po­li­tics, while inexp­li­cab­ly ex­pec­ting their cam­paign cont­ri­bu­ti­ons to con­ti­nue una­ba­ted. Prog­res­si­ve De­moc­rats re­main skep­ti­cal of eve­ryt­hing cor­po­ra­te, sha­ring their con­cerns via pro­fit-ma­king so­ci­al me­dia plat­forms on their new I-pho­nes de­li­ve­red by Ama­zon. Neit­her side has of­fe­red an en­ligh­te­ned res­pon­se to cor­po­ra­te Ame­ri­ca’s new­ly found voi­ce. The Bi­den Ad­mi­nist­ra­ti­on has re­mai­ned most­ly si­lent, avoi­ding pub­lic en­ga­ge­ment ex­cept for some pri­va­te phone cal­ls from White Hou­se staf­fers and a few low-key tar­ge­ted mee­tings.

What’s up with that? Why do­esn’t the Pre­si­dent ins­te­ad bold­ly and bro­ad­ly emb­ra­ce the sup­port of Ame­ri­can bu­si­nes­ses for the ide­als and “the soul of Ame­ri­ca” that he so ar­dent­ly cam­paig­ned for? He could then add a clear call for bu­si­ness to act upon their words, to si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly line up sup­port for eve­ryt­hing el­se he wants to do. C’mon, sei­ze the mo­ment!


Tom A. Lip­po is a Fin­nish-spe­a­king Ame­ri­can la­wy­er. Edu­ca­ted at Ya­le, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Jy­väs­ky­lä and Stan­ford Law School, he is the foun­der of FACT LAW, an in­ter­na­ti­o­nal law firm es­tab­lis­hed in 1985. FACT is the first law firm with of­fi­ces in both Fin­land and the Uni­ted Sta­tes. Tom has been a la­wy­er in Was­hing­ton, DC ba­sed on Ca­pi­tol Hill for ne­ar­ly 40 ye­ars.