In American politics, the next election is all that matters. Despite the Republicans’ big win in November 2016, US President Donald Trump’s ability to pass legislation still depends on what congressional Republicans expect to see happen in the November 2018 midterm election. Owing to a major shift in public sentiment in the past few months, many Democrats are now convinced that they will win seats, and potentially reclaim control of the House of Representatives.
One can already see grassroots activism gaining momentum in congressional districts that would not have seemed competitive just five months ago. For example, in California’s 45th district (in the traditionally conservative Orange County), University of California, Irvine, law professor Dave Min is taking on the incumbent Republican, Mimi Walters. This past November, Walters was reelected with 58.6% of the vote, but her district favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by two percentage points.
This kind of House seat can easily flip to the Democrats in 2018, if a candidate like Min can persuade voters that Walters is out of touch – and too close to Trump. So Min has highlighted Walters’ support for Trump’s attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), as well as her backing for his broader budget-cutting agenda. Moreover, her positions on many social issues seem quite distant from those of her constituency.
This Labor Day we could join those speaking out against Donald Trump’s many hypocrisies, chief among them the preposterous notion that he represents the American worker. We could point out that he is further dividing an already divided country, turning to Wall Street tycoons as his key economic advisors, advocating for the elimination of health insurance coverage for the poor in favor of tax cuts for the rich, rolling back overtime regulations, abandoning requirements that investment agents focus on the interests of the retirees that hire them, and appointing a Education Secretary who attacks public education, teachers, and their unions.
We could go on, but a better approach is to lay the foundation for what will need to be done in the post-Trump era, whenever that arrives, to repair the damage, regain the trust of workers, and unify employers, unions, government leaders, and all who share the responsibility for shaping the future of work. We can do so by laying out a positive vision and strategy built around a simple narrative: a new social contract for work capable of meeting the expectations and obligations that workers, employers, and society in general hold for work and employment.
And things could get worse. If we don’t turn the digital revolution into an opportunity to increase the number of good new jobs it could offer, the gap between the haves and have-nots will grow. If we let this happen, the legacy we will leave for our children and grandchildren is a lower standing of living and the prospect of more violence.
The good news is thanks to innovations happening around the country we can see how a new and more inclusive social contract might be built.
President Donald Trump has vowed to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. through new policies and regulatory reform. But this effort faces a strong headwind: In all walks of life, human employment is being challenged.
Many manufacturing jobs have been replaced by robots. Meanwhile, drivers are on their way to being displaced by driverless cars, tax professionals by software, and much more.
Recently Trump turned his attention to the financial services industry, signing two directives aimed at repealing portions
But regulatory change isn’t likely to repel the march of the robots that is transforming the financial services business. FinTech — the finance industry equivalent of robots in manufacturing — is too far along for that. If future investors and consumers of financial services begin to trust FinTech platforms as they have done in retail and travel, then fewer humans will be working in finance.
As an expert in organizational communication and leadership, I saw the dismissal of the councils as a dramatic and important moment in the relationship between top business leaders and the president. But does it spell the demise of the often difficult partnership between President Trump and corporate America?
A permanent breach?
CEOs like Merck’s Ken Frazier rightly voted their conscience when they began to abandon Trump’s American Manufacturing Council and the Strategic and Policy Forum. Frazier, the first to resign, said he felt “a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”
The Wall Street Journal, however, was quick to point out that many companies have stopped short of saying they would refuse to work with the White House in the future.
Indeed, despite the heated rhetoric, one thing is clear: Corporate America wants and needs to work with the administration, while the president benefits from a healthy relationship with America’s CEOs.
So if they both need each other, the question becomes how this increasingly tenuous relationship will play out.
“Sensemaking,” one of the four leadership capabilities, is the ability to make sense of what is happening in the greater marketplace and discern emerging changes and patterns. In the era of President Trump, business leaders and CEOs need to shift their sensemaking skills into high gear. Along with that, they may have to exercise Improvisational Leadership skills in the Trump universe.
CEOs, like the rest of the country, are faced with the challenge of making sense of Trump’s policies and actions, but his favorite method of communication – Twitter – sows chaos not clarity. Typically, when CEOs or leaders want to convey an important message, they talk to key stakeholders, convene a meeting, or give a nuanced speech to build relationships and foster buy-in with targeted audiences. A tweet has no eye contact, nod, smile, or handshake. A tweet’s brevity can foster confusion because it has no context.
Tweets by the president singling out specific companies with thumbs up or down can rattle markets, precipitate boycotts, unnerve CEOs and boards, and affect stock prices – if however briefly.But even if they dislike Trump’s tweets, many business leaders are encouraged by the president’s attitude about rolling back regulations; his comments about reducing taxes are music to their ears. However, a reflexive decision to placate or ingratiate oneself to any powerful figure, even the President, may prove to be a big mistake. Trump may be gone in four years, or even sooner, but your customer and client base will be with you for decades.