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10 Questions That Chief Execs Should be Asking Trump

Top of the list: How do we keep a straight face when you pretend to be an inflation hawk?

Trump smiles
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Donald Trump smiles at supporters at a rally in North Charleston, South Carolina, on February 14.

On the day after the 2020 election, the Business Roundtable, whose membership consists of more than 200 corporate chief executives, congratulated Joe Biden for winning and warned: “While we respect the Trump campaign’s right to seek recounts, to call for investigation of alleged voting irregularities where evidence exists and to exhaust legitimate legal remedies, there is no indication that any of these would change the outcome.” On January 6, 2021, the lobby group took it up several notches, condemning “unlawful efforts to overturn the legitimate results of a democratic election” and calling on President Donald Trump “to put an end to the chaos and to facilitate the peaceful transition of power.” 

Trump paid these admonitions no heed, and now the Business Roundtable has invited him to appear at today’s quarterly meeting. Setting aside the Roundtable’s craven surrender to a man former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan this week declared “unfit for office,” Trump’s appearance might give chief executives an opportunity to educate themselves about the various ways Trump’s program could wreck the economy. But—perhaps anticipating that possibility—the Business Roundtable has moved to make that all but impossible.

Did the Roundtable also invite President Joe Biden? It did. Since Biden will be attending the G7 meeting in Italy, he’ll be represented by his chief of staff, Jeff Zients. But while Zients will be interviewed by some yet-to-be-named CEO, Trump will field questions from Larry Kudlow

A more compliant interlocutor could not be imagined. Kudlow is former chief economic adviser to then-President Trump and now vice chair of the nonprofit America First Policy Institute, Trump’s White House in waiting. For Trump, this won’t be an interrogation. It will be a ritual of purification to persuade hesitant chief executives to support the Republicans’ presumptive nominee—three years, one impeachment$541 million in civil judgmentsfour indictments, and one 34-count felony conviction after January 6. 

If the Business Roundtable were to justify Trump’s kid-glove treatment by arguing he isn’t the man he was on January 6, it would get no argument from me. Pretty obviously, he’s worse.

Even so, the executives won’t need much coaxing. Corporate big shots have been flocking to Trump this spring like cliff swallows to California’s Mission San Capistrano. They say it’s because inflation is too high (it’s fallen to 3.3 percent), or because immigration is out of control (Trump ordered congressional Republicans not to let Biden sign their own immigration bill into law), or, most absurdly, because of (per private equity big shot Steve Schwarzman“the dramatic rise of anti-Semitism” (check out the Anti-Defamation League’s dossier on Trump; it’s as long as your arm).

The real reason these one-percenters are wrestling their consciences to the ground is that they don’t want to lose the 2017 Trump tax cut, which Biden says he won’t renew for anyone making more than $400,000. “I don’t know that anyone really believed he was a threat to democracy,” Point Bridge Capital founder Hal Lambert told Politico’s Sam Sutton. Allow me, Mr. Lambert, to introduce you to J.P. Morgan’s Jamie Dimon (who’ll be in attendance), billionaire investor Nelson Peltz, and Schwartzman. They all, like the Business Roundtable, expressed alarm after the January 6 insurrection. Now they all are resolved to forget it.

Maybe Kudlow will open up the forum to the audience for questions. If so, here are some queries attendees might pitch:

  1.  You’ve called those doing prison time for their role in the January 6 riot “hostages” whom you intend to “free.” You’ve also vowed to use the Justice Department to punish your enemies. American capitalism depends on stability, and stability depends on the rule of law. What can take its place?
  2. You’ve proposed a mass roundup of undocumented aliens, deploying police, the National Guard, and perhaps the military (in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act). Won’t that worsen the labor shortage? The Chamber of Commerce recently said, “Job openings are going unfilled because the U.S. does not have enough workers to fill them.” Over the long term, the birth rate is falling, and in 20 years deaths will outnumber births. We need more workers. Where will the U.S. economy find them? 
  3. You complain about inflation under Biden, but Biden’s a much bigger inflation hawk than you are, if only because he respects the Federal Reserve’s independence. You do not. You griped incessantly, while president, about too-high interest rates maintained by your own appointee, Jerome Powell, whom Biden reappointed in 2021. You’ve said you would not reappoint Powell. Quite obviously you prefer a yes-man at the Fed. Your allies are drawing up plans to increase White House and Treasury Department leverage over the Fed. Why should we keep a straight face when you say you’d be tougher on inflation?
  4. By worsening the labor shortage, your mass roundup of undocumented aliens would drive up wages and therefore also worsen inflation, no? If not, why not?
  5. Come to think of it, your entire economic program, such as it is (your campaign doesn’t give us much to chew on) might be summarized as “Let’s have more inflation.” You propose a 10 percent tariff on foreign goods. When Time’s Eric Cortelessa pointed out to you that economists judge such a move inflationary, you replied: “I don’t believe it’ll be inflation.” What, apart from magical thinking, makes you think you can impose tariffs indiscriminately and not increase inflation?
  6. Your economic advisers, including Robert Lighthizer (who may end up being your treasury secretary) want to boost U.S. exports by devaluing the dollar. How is that not inflationary?
  7. The budget deficit drives bond traders batty because they say it crowds out private investment and—yes—creates inflation. But the Congressional Budget Office says your proposed extension of the 2017 tax cut would add $4.6 trillion to the deficit over 10 years. That will drive bond traders more batty. What will you tell them?
  8. You recently proposed eliminating taxes on tips. In effect, you want food service workers to get a raise, and you want the taxpayer to pay for it. Why not make their bosses pay for it instead, by eliminating the $2.25 tipped subminimum hourly wage? Also, what’s your position on raising the $7.25 hourly minimum wage? You’ve said the minimum wage is too high; you’ve said it shouldn’t exist; and you’ve said it should be $10. You only ever talk about the minimum wage when you’re running for office. You’re running for office now. So talk.
  9. Your former aide Steve Bannon is headed to prison. Your former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro is in prison already. The Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer Alan Weisselberg is at Rikers. You may soon join him there. That would bring the number of Trumpies sent or en route to the big house up to an even 10. If you serve a second term, how many more members of your inner circle  can we expect to do hard time? How do you expect the markets to react to rampant criminality in your administration?
  10. You mock electric cars. “I’m all for them,” you’ve said, “if you want to go to the candy store, buy yourself a little candy and come back home. But if you want to take a trip to a place like Mar-a-Lago to say hello to me, you better get yourself a different mode of transportation.” And yet Elon Musk, whose Tesla is the bestselling electric car company in America, is angling for an advisory role in a Trump White House. Why doesn’t he hate you for trying to destroy his livelihood? Is it because he’s even more nuts than you are? Or is he, like everybody at this meeting, whoring after a tax cut?

I don’t kid myself that, given the chance, any attendees at the Business Roundtable shindig would ask any of these questions. But they might consider, before they sell the country out to Trump, posing them to themselves.