Six days after the Capitol riot, it seems unlikely that President Donald Trump will be removed from office before the end of his term, either by the invocation of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment or by conviction in the Senate.
But Trump is already facing a stranger, more wide-ranging, and deeply 21st-century form of public punishment. The president has been canceled by corporate America. Several major companies—including some of the largest tech corporations and sports organizations in the world—have effectively silenced, censured, and removed the president and his “Stop the Steal” followers from their marketplaces.
Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter have blocked the president’s social-media accounts. Apple, Google, and Amazon have stopped hosting Parler, a social-media alternative that’s become popular among Trump devotees. The PGA has cut ties with Trump’s National Golf Course in New Jersey. Stripe has stopped processing payments for the Trump-campaign website. Reddit has banned the r/DonaldTrump subreddit, Twitch has disabled a streaming channel associated with him, Shopify has terminated stores affiliated with him, YouTube has announced that it will remove all channels that post videos questioning the outcome of the election, and TikTok and Pinterest are removing posts with hashtags like #stormthecapitol and #StoptheSteal. Meanwhile, several companies, including the chemical corporation Dow, have announced that they will not donate money to anyone who objected to the certification of the presidential vote.
This is how the president’s term ends—with the GOP dithering and CEOs swashbuckling, spared by the “deep state” but impeached in the free market. This business celebrity who pledged to drain the swamp will face no real consequences or accountability in swampy Washington, only to have his bullhorn muffled and political cult kneecapped by the business community.
These extraordinary events raise several questions. First: Why now? Well, you won’t get very far by assuming that corporate America randomly and spontaneously grew a conscience in the past 100 hours. Their decisions followed a unique attack on the seat of government. What’s more, they appeared after Democrats won unified control of government in the special Senate elections in Georgia and after Congress certified Trump’s electoral defeat. In other words, corporate America didn’t punish the powerful; it punished a lame-duck president at the nadir of his power.
Then there is the question of propriety: Does the punishment of media blackout fit the crime of attempted insurrection? Several people with no fondness for Trump—including ACLU lawyers and German Prime Minister Angela Merkel—have expressed misgivings about Twitter’s decision to kick the president off its platform. Meanwhile, Trump’s supporters on Fox News are comparing his tweet ban to Kristallnacht, the Nazi ransacking of Jewish businesses in 1938.
But let’s not get carried away. American businesses are not exercising their corporate veto power over some controversial-but-ordinary presidential behavior. The facts on the ground are straightforward: A lame-duck president provoked a violent rebellion against the Capitol that left several people dead. Even judged against the heightened bar of Trump’s abnormal presidency, this moment is surpassingly awful and unusual. It deserves an equally unusual response, and it got one.
Corporate America’s collective cancellation of the president raises one more question: How did America’s businesses become so political?
In the past few years, the U.S. electorate has become more polarized as Washington has become more sclerotic. This imbalance creates a surplus of angry political energy looking for somewhere to land beyond the do-nothing halls of Washington. It has found fertile ground in corporate America. Political inaction has helped turn companies into political actors. For example, after the school shootings in Parkland, Florida, Congress passed no new laws on gun control. But Delta and United Airlines canceled their discount benefits with the National Rifle Association, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, and Kroger pledged to restrict firearms sales.
Corporate America is running so far to the left of the GOP because both corporations and parties try to win the future. Corporations win the future by appealing to consumers, while parties win the future by appealing to voters. At this moment in U.S. history, younger Americans and college-educated Americans have moved sharply left, while Republicans have come to represent an older, whiter, less-educated American cohort that has moved sharply right. In response, companies have followed their customers and employees to the left, and the GOP has followed its base to the right.
Conservative politics and corporate politics are being pulled apart at the moment. But if you squint, you can see that they both operate by the same principle. Call it audience capture. The companies trying to appeal to consumers and employees are courting the opinions of younger workers, who are moderate or lean left. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is subject to the whims of its members, who still overwhelmingly support the president. In the absence of actual courage, too many American elites are left acting precisely as cowardly or as bravely as their consumer demographic allows them to be. Now there’s a motto for the 21st century: Pick your audience wisely, for you will become it.