Why Corporate America Finally Entered the Political Battlefield

From Airbnb to massive corporations, companies are openly taking a political stand. Will it last?

After one of the most whiplash years in the history of the hospitality industry, Airbnb announced a difficult decision on Wednesday: It would cancel all reservations made through the app in the Washington, D.C., area next week when President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated. The reason: the threat of more violent protests by right-wing supporters of President Trump, some of whom stayed in Airbnbs when thousands of them stormed Congress last week.

Airbnb is shouldering the cost of the cancellations, but in a way, their hand was forced. In an action unprecedented in modern memory, Airbnb is more or less simply going along with an uprising by a critical mass of companies against Trump and his congressional allies. By one count, 43 mostly blue-chip companies have denounced and halted political contributions to the 147 Republicans who voted not to certify Biden, or paused donating to all politicians entirely.

The list includes big tech players like Amazon and Facebook, corporate heavyweights like AT&T, Dow, and American Airlines, and has spread to banks, oil companies, hotels, big retailers, grocery chains, and more. Even Ken Langone, a co-founder of Home Depot who had ignited a boycott of the chain after he backed Trump’s reelection, said he felt betrayed by the president and threw his support to Biden.

The significance is not in taking a stand per se — in recent years, driven by activist employees and communities, companies have been pushed to adopt public positions on everything from school shootings to immigration. Now, though, corporate America has drawn a new red line where no one else has. While large groups of politicians may be prepared to jettison the democratic system by refusing to accept the results of an election, the companies are not.

It’s not clear how long the corporate freeze-out of political contributions will stand, but it may not last long. One possible trigger for its return could be hunger for a piece of the infrastructure bill that the Biden administration seems likely to float in its first 100 days; members of Congress are a lot less likely to give lucrative projects to a company that’s currently punishing them.

One could fault business for convenient tardiness or self-preservation, arriving on the white stallion at only the 13th hour to help ensure there was a nation left from which to profit. After all, chaos is bad for the bottom line. But the corporate revolt is one the country clearly wants, judging by surveys by firms such as Edelman that show Americans trust businesses far more than government and media. And unlike the anti-racism platitudes companies posted to social media this past summer, largely unsupported by firm action, this rebellion is spoken in the language politicians understand — their lifeblood of cash donations.

Editor at Large, Medium, covering the turbulence all around us, electric vehicles, batteries, social trends. Writing The Mobilist. Ex-Axios, Quartz, WSJ, NYT.

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