Donald Trump’s private and political career has been colored by several accusations of blatant racism, but it was the President’s recent defense of white supremacists and neo-Nazis that forced CEOs to finally distance themselves from the administration.
Two White House panels, staffed with CEOs of top companies, were abruptly disbanded on Wednesday by President Trump, whose hand was forced by several high-profile resignations in the wake of the President’s reaction to the racist violence in Charlottesville, Va.
The CEO of the mining company 3M, Inge Thulin, and Campbell’s soup CEO Denise Morrison announced they were leaving Trump’s Manufacturing Advisory Council on Wednesday morning. They were the seventh and eighth business leaders to step down from the panel since the attack in Charlottesville on Saturday.
Trump reacted by nixing the council and a parallel body, known as the Strategic and Policy Forum, whose members issued a statement on Wednesday, affirming their opposition to racism and bigotry.
“As our members have expressed individually over the past several days, intolerance, racism and violence have absolutely no place in this country and are an affront to core American values,” the group wrote.
Trump tweeted in response: “Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!”
Three members of the forum had already resigned prior to the events in Charlottesville. Following Trump’s Muslim travel ban, former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down. Tesla chief Elon Musk and Disney CEO Bob Iger left later after Trump announced his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.
This latest exodus was prompted by the President’s apparent defense of white supremacists and neo-Nazis who rallied in Charlottesville over the weekend. Their demonstrations featured a Tiki torch-lit gathering at the University of Virginia that led to violent attacks against students and Black Lives Matters counter protesters. Friday night’s event also featured chants of, “Jews will not replace us!” and “White lives matter!”
A Planned rally on Saturday was called off by police following white supremacist clashes with leftist organizations and anti-fascist blocs in the streets of Charlottesville. Later that afternoon, an individual who participated in the rally with the fascist group Vanguard America sped his car into a group of counter protestors, injuring 19 people and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
Trump responded to the events Saturday by immediately blaming the violence on “many sides.” He later, on Monday, clarified his remarks, reading from a teleprompter: “Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”
But during a Tuesday press conference, Trump reverted back to giving cover to the white extremist movement. “Not all of those people were white supremacists,” he said of individuals who rallied under white power organization and Nazi flags over the weekend.
“I do think there’s blame on both sides,” the President went on to say, equating antifa with rightwing extremists. “You look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides and I have no doubt about it.”
“You had some very bad people in that group,” he said of far-right protesters. “You also had some very fine people on both sides,” he claimed.
Trump also used the term “alt-left” in his press conference, a smear created by right-wing ideologues like Sean Hannity, and signal boosted by prominent liberal Democrats to shut down leftist criticism.
The now-disbanded advisory councils were set up to formulate policy solutions to stimulate American manufacturing and create jobs, but met on only a few occasions. They primarily provided President Trump with photo-ops with US business leaders.