Ethics and politics

Enrique Dans
Feb 9, 2017 · 3 min read

Yesterday, the president of the most powerful country in the world crossed a clear ethical line: he used his presidential account to attack a company for a commercial decision. A clearer example of a conflict of interest couldn’t be asked for.

Chain store Nordstrom decision not to stock Ivanka Trump’s clothing line is a strictly commercial decision. Whether it has done so in response to activist pressure or because of poor sales or because it doesn’t like the lack or originality of the designs is a decision exclusively for Nordstrom to take and to explain to its customers. For a father to protest on Twitter because he thinks that that decision is an insult to his daughter is understandable, although perhaps less so if you also happen to be the president of the United States.

But the problem of the tweet is not that Donald J. Trump, father of Ivanka Trump, is protesting Nordstrom’s treatment of his daughter. The problem is that Donald J. Trump is using his official account as president of the United States, @POTUS, specifically owned by the post and not his staff, to retweet his protest. In doing so, he is pitting the weight of his post against a chain of department stores, attacking a commercial decision as head of state. The question is not that his daughter is being treated justly or unfairly (Nordstrom routinely eliminates brands that do not generate expected sales), or that she is a great person or that she tries to get her father to do the right things… all that is completely irrelevant. The problem is that politicians cannot in any way use a state resource for a personal or business claim. It goes against the most elementary rules of ethics.

The intense polarization generated by Trump has led the company’s shares to rise 4% in the hours immediately after the president’s outburst, clear proof of the interference caused to the decision-making processes of a private company. The company has not commented on the subject, and although it would be in its perfect right to accuse the president of unfair practices against competition, it is not expected to do. The consequences of making a complaint against the president of the United States are complex, it could take a long time, and would doubtless become a problem for the company considering that a certain percentage of the US population voted for Donald Trump.

This case marks a milestone in the misuse of social networks in politics. It is basically the same as the president of the United States using the presidential Twitter account to advertise a brand, to recommend one of his hotels or to force a foreign government to accept negotiation terms over the construction of one his buildings. Crossing that line creates a truly unhealthy precedent, something that can only have negative consequences, in the same way that criticizing and pressuring judges opens them up to attacks down the line, or trying to force women to “dress like women” will. The saddest aspect of all this is that Trump doesn’t care. He is like a badly behaved teenager who just does what he wants. The rules of democracy, politics or ethics mean nothing to him. Good luck.


(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at enriquedans.com

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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