The CEO Is the Message on Trump and Charlottesville

shutterstock_609074549There probably isn’t a single American CEO who’s not quivering right now, wondering if he or she is going to have to make some kind of statement about President Trump’s strongly expressed conviction that both white nationalist groups protesting the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Va., and counter-protesters, were to blame for the violence this past weekend that left one person dead and many injured when a car plowed through a group of counter-protesters.

The list of CEOs who fear the president likely includes even those business executives who announced this week that Trump’s unwillingness to initially condemn the motivations behind the white nationalists’ protests had led them to resign from the president’s American Manufacturing Council (Kenneth Frazier of Merck, Brian Krzanich of Intel, Thea Lee and Richard Trumka of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturing and Kevin Plank of Under Armour resigned from the council). Yesterday, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon risked the president’s ire when he sent a letter to company employees saying the president “missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together by unequivocally rejecting the appalling actions of white supremacists.”

There’s no easy way out for CEOs. If you criticize this president, he will attack you. If you remain silent, you may be perceived as being in alignment with him regarding Charlottesville or too timid take a stand.

We all saw this moment coming. We all knew that eventually brands and, in particular, CEOs, would reach a point where they would have to react publicly to a statement or action taken by an unfiltered president who is supremely skilled at lashing out at critics. Unfortunately for CEOs right now, silence is also a strong message.

Senior communications pros, take notice: Your CEO needs you. This is your moment to step up and become a true strategic business adviser to your top executive.

UPDATE: President Trump said in a tweet at 1:14 p.m. on Aug. 16 that he was disbanding the American Manufacturing Council and the Strategy and Policy Forum.

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI