For most of his presidency, Donald Trump has wielded remarkable power over CEOs: They dare not cross him publicly, lest he attack their companies and cause needless headaches, or worse.
But the spell is lifting. Trump held a vaccine bragfest at the White House on Dec. 7, where he took credit for scientific breakthroughs that have nearly brought two coronavirus vaccines to market, in record time. The White House invited the CEOs of those two companiesâ€”Pfizer and Modernaâ€”who chose not to attend. Before Trump lost his reelection bid, that sort of snub would have infuriated Trump and probably triggered retaliation on Twitter. Maybe Trump would have ordered antitrust or pharmaceutical regulators to make trouble for the companies. But this time, not a peep from Trump about the disloyal CEOs.
General Motors recently abandoned a Trump effort to prevent California from setting its own fuel-economy standards. The Trump administration tried to force California to lower its standards in 2019, and California sued in opposition. GM initially joined the Trump administrationâ€™s legal case, in a kind of dÃ©tente with Trump, who had attacked GM throughout his presidency over foreign plants and other issues. On Nov. 23, GM CEO Mary Barra said GM would switch sides in the suit. It now backs Californiaâ€™s right to set higher standards, with other automakers expected to follow. Trump didnâ€™t protest.
Another 166 CEOs, including the heads of Mastercard, Visa, BlackRock, Blackstone, MetLife and Goldman Sachs, have called for Trump to end his pathetic effort to overturn Joe Bidenâ€™s presidential victory and show â€œrespect for the democratic process.â€ Trump crony Steve Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone private equity firm, says Biden won and â€œthe country should move on.â€ The Business Roundtable, representing dozens of additional CEOs, congratulated Biden on his victory all the way back on Nov. 7.
Trump still has five-plus weeks in office, but heâ€™s as lame as any duck who limped out of office after failing to win a second term. CEOs donâ€™t fear him anymore, or feel a need to appease him to protect their companies. This is a step back toward more normal relations between the government and corporate America, earning a MEDIOCRE grade on this weekâ€™s Trump-o-meter, the third highest.
Economic data out this week would merit a worse grade, on their own. New filings for unemployment insurance jumped by 137,000, to 853,000. Weekly unemployment claims have been trending down since the end of July, but economists expected the trend to reverse as coronavirus infections surge and more business shutdowns become necessary. Unemployment claims are still more than four times what was normal before the pandemic, and they could signal that the economy is once again losing jobs instead of regaining them.
Economists expect conditions to worsen rather than improve during the next few months. Â Most think Congress needs to inject new stimulus spending into the economy as a bridge to the wide rollout of vaccines, perhaps by the middle of 2021. Trump seems to have checked out on the economy he used to be so proud of, spending the waning days of his presidency railing about, well, you know. He lost, but wants everybody to think he won. That game is ending.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including â€œRebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.â€ Follow him on Twitter:Â @rickjnewman. Confidential tip line:Â firstname.lastname@example.org.Â Click here toÂ get Rickâ€™s stories by email.