Donald Trump’s delayed reaction to the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi shows how the US president’s “America First” campaign is shifting the government’s role towards a more pragmatic, rather than moralistic, approach to global affairs.
By contrast, some major investors and businesses are filling the gap by taking over the role of moral compass. Many, for example, withdrew from Saudi Arabia’s recent investment conference in protest.
The dramatic example of the Khashoggi case illustrates how rising nationalism and political polarisation forces politicians to oscillate between making good on populist campaign promises (such as winning on trade) and upholding moral principles and traditional party identities. Meanwhile, the private sector has been quick to jump into the fray concerning social and environmental issues, responding to a clear societal demand.
One potential explanation for this phenomenon comes from the political philosophy of majoritarianism – the idea that governments follow the majority view when it comes to making laws and designing policy. But this fails to account for the growing polarisation of opinion that can be seen in the US and elsewhere.
Further compounding the issue is that recent views do not perfectly match traditional policy positions. The resulting tribalism creates an “us versus them” environment where longstanding political views are tossed aside to get easy wins. For example, contrary to Trump’s protectionism, free trade used to be a staple of Republican ideology and so did fiscal conservatism, but this has been undone by tax cuts which are causing the deficit to soar.
Increasing market value
We all recognise that with every decision we make, there is a group of people that are not going to agree with us. But you must define your core purpose for being. We stand in the interest of something greater than just making money.
Of course, brand activism often goes hand-in-hand with increased market value. As a result, it is seen by many as a proactive and strategic decision to boost reputation and appeal to customer demographics.
Of course, not all companies are liberal. Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based arts-and-crafts chain, advocated for an exemption from a law that requires no-cost access to contraception as part of the Affordable Care Act. It won the case in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the company could be exempt on religious grounds. Another prominent example is the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A, which has donated large sums to anti-gay rights groups.