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CEOs’ newfound concern for democracy is bunk | COMMENTARY

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, shown here in a 2018 file photo, says his company's “voice is seen as more important than ever.”(Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, shown here in a 2018 file photo, says his company's “voice is seen as more important than ever.”(Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP, File) (Graham Hughes/AP)

The sudden lurch from Donald Trump to Joe Biden is generating vertigo all over Washington, including the so-called fourth branch of government — CEOs and their army of lobbyists.

Notwithstanding Mr. Biden’s ambitious agenda, dozens of giant corporations have said they will not donate to the 147 members of Congress who objected to the certification of Biden electors on the basis of Mr. Trump’s lies about widespread election fraud — which rules out most Republicans on the Hill.

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After locking down Mr. Trump’s accounts, social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook are policing against instigators of violence and hate, which hobbles Republican lawmakers trying to appeal to Trump voters.

As a result of moves like these, CEOs are being hailed — and hailing themselves — as guardians of democracy. The New York Times praises business leaders for seeking “stability and national unity.” Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines, says “our voice is seen as more important than ever.” A recent study by Edelman finds the public now trusts business more than nongovernmental organizations, the government or the media.

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Give me a break. For years, big corporations have been assaulting democracy with big money, drowning out the voices and needs of ordinary Americans and fueling much of the anger and cynicism that opened the door to Mr. Trump in the first place.

Their assault hasn’t been as dramatic as that of the Trump thugs who stormed the Capitol, and it’s entirely legal — although more damaging over the long term.

A study published a few years ago by two of America’s most respected political scientists, Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page, concluded that the preferences of the average American “have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically nonsignificant impact upon public policy.” Instead, lawmakers respond almost exclusively to the moneyed interests — those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.

The capture of government by big business over the last several decades has infuriated average Americans whose paychecks have gone nowhere even as the stock market has soared.

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The populist movements that fueled both Bernie Sanders and Mr. Trump began in the 2008 financial crisis, when Wall Street got bailed out and no major bank executive went to jail, although millions of ordinary people lost their jobs, savings and homes.

So now, in wake of Mr. Trump’s calamitous exit and Mr. Biden’s ascension, we’re to believe CEOs care about democracy?

“No one thought they were giving money to people who supported sedition,” explained Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, referring to the disgraced Republicans.

Yet Mr. Dimon has been a leader of the more insidious form of sedition. He piloted the corporate lobbying campaign for the Trump tax cut, deploying a vast war chest of corporate donations.

For more than a decade, Mr. Dimon has led Wall Street’s charge against stricter bank regulation, opening bipartisan doors in the Capitol with generous gifts from the Street. (Mr. Dimon calls himself a Democrat.)

When Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg shut down Mr. Trump’s Facebook account, he declared, “You just can’t have a functioning democracy without a peaceful transition of power.”

Where was Mr. Zuckerberg’s concern for a functioning democracy when he amplified Mr. Trump’s lies for four years?

After taking down Mr. Trump’s Twitter account, CEO Jack Dorsey expressed discomfort about “the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.”

Spare me. Mr. Dorsey has fought off all attempts to limit Twitter’s power over the “global conversation.” He shuttered Mr. Trump only after Democrats secured the presidency and control of the Senate.

Look, I’m glad that CEOs are penalizing the 147 Republican seditionists and that Big Tech is starting to police social media content.

But don’t confuse the avowed concerns of these CEOs about democracy with democracy itself. They aren’t answerable to democracy. At most, they’re accountable to big shareholders and institutional investors who don’t give a fig as long as profits keep rolling in.

If they were committed to democracy, CEOs of big corporations would permanently cease corporate donations to all candidates, close their political action committees, stop giving to secretive “dark money” groups, and discourage donations by their executives.

They’d stop placing ads in media that have weaponized disinformation — including Fox News, Newsmax and websites affiliated with right-wing pundits. Social media giants would start acting like publishers and take responsibility for what they promulgate.

If corporate America were serious about democracy, it would throw its weight behind the “For the People Act,” legislation offering public financing of elections, among other reforms.

Don’t hold your breath.

Joe Biden intends to raise corporate taxes, increase the minimum wage, break up Big Tech and strengthen labor unions.

The fourth branch is already amassing a war chest for the fight.

Robert B. Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of “The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It.”

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