Enterprise Leaders Spoke Up After the Capitol Riot. Will Their Voices Stay Sturdy?
When a mob stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6, Hunter Walk, a partner in the Seed Stage venture fund Homebrew, tweeted, “Don’t put Jared Kushner on cap tables when that’s all said and done.”
Walk’s call to peers not to accept money from President Trump’s son-in-law received nearly 200 retweets, many from other investors. One was from Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures, who had already tweeted four times during the uprising himself, including, “I’m not exaggerating, if we don’t accept the legitimacy of elections, we’re not living in a democracy.”
The utterances of the high profile VCs came at a moment of reckoning when even the most buttoned-up executives had taken rare dips into national political talk. A letter signed Monday by nearly 200 CEOs called on Congress to accept the election results and ensure “no further delay in the proper transfer of power”. The Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers also urged Congress to “respect the rule of law”. All of these leaders spoke out for a very practical reason – the turmoil of political instability is downright bad for business as it can cripple planning and decision-making – but they also show real concern about the future of the government. Their raised voices could be a sign of a change in corporate rhetoric and policies.
For many corporate groups, Trump and his supporters’ move from conventional political attacks to attacking the democratic process appeared to be the turning point. For example, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, generally cautious about political issues, called organizing the demonstration “a crime against the United States and its people”. The Retail Industry Leaders Association, meanwhile, was even earlier than some news outlets to blame Trump himself for the violence.
In the past few days, a broad de-platform by the president and other supporters of violent demonstrations has also reached Silicon Valley. Twitter and Facebook have banned Trump’s account after years of tolerating bad behavior, and Apple, Google and Amazon have cut off Parler, the social network favored by extremist conservatives. The list goes on until banks like JPMorgan Chase and Citi suspend their political funding on the short term.
Sinan Aral, professor of management, information technology, and marketing at MIT and author of The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Choices, Economics, and Health – and How We Must Adjust – wasn’t surprised to see the typically impartial voices speak up out. “Business decisions made in the midst of great uncertainty are riskier,” he says. “It is not surprising that the business community is loudly advocating a return to less uncertainty.”
Walk, the venture capitalist, believes the events of the past week are enough to spark a real surge in activism among business executives – or at least to keep them from hiding behind a professional bias curtain. “As terrible as the last four years have been for our democratic norms, the ‘silver lining’ may be that it challenged many of us in the tech community to find our voice political,” he wrote in an email to Inc.
Many in Silicon Valley and beyond are hoping for a return to a smoother reality after Inauguration Day – meaning any political awakening can be short-lived. “I expect sanity to resume on January 20th and the political chatter across the tech industry on this particular subject will be reduced,” says Nikhil Trivedi, founder of the online art market Artsy, now a startup Investor is, opposite Inc. in a Twitter message. He believes that Washington’s tech talk will turn from Trump to antitrust issues.
According to Aral, the need for social media reform has never been more urgent – and shouldn’t be overlooked. “I think that’s dramatic enough and different, where it shouldn’t just be a slip-up, where it gets back to normal afterwards,” he says.