At least five corporate executives have reportedly quit President Trump's "American Manufacturing Council" in response to what they and a lot of other people view as the president's mishandling of a violent white supremacist, neo-Nazi, or neo-Confederate rally and counterprotest in Virginia over the weekend.
That's a good start, but I won't be completely satisfied until every executive on the council quits and the whole operation is shut down.
That's not because I think Trump is irredeemably tainted by racism. Even if the president were a person of color who is a progressive paragon of racial enlightenment, the Council would still be a lousy idea.
If the president wants advice from business leaders, nothing is stopping him from calling them on the telephone, inviting them to meetings at the White House, or going to visit their factories. Nor is anyone preventing the Secretary of Commerce from taking similar steps.
But selecting a group of individual executives and elevating them to the status of council members inevitably raises concerns about cronyism and special treatment. No such council can include everyone, so some companies will be included while their competitors are left out. It'd be more just to try to ensure that all businesses have equal access to government assistance, rather than privileging a lucky few whose executives are council members.
The businesses who get picked for these council memberships tend to be ones that are already successful and have invested in lobbying or politics, rather than small businesses with growth potential. The whole council idea was Trump's adaptation of a bad idea from the Obama administration, which launched what it called the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. That later became the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. The council members wind up getting invited to fancy state dinners and even sometimes traveling overseas with the president or commerce secretary on export-promotion missions.
The whole thing is, not to put too fine a point on it, a racket. It'd be better for manufacturing and competitiveness if the executives were home running their companies, trying to make them more innovative and efficient, rather than in Washington serving as presidential props and trying to wheedle government contracts, subsidies, or foreign trade concessions.
I'm not saying the federal government shouldn't try to help American businesses by providing a pro-growth environment, and I'm not saying that there shouldn't be communication between business leaders and the administration. But a less formal set-up would allay confusion and avoid the perception that the president or his aides favor some business or executives over other ones. The other council members could join in the mass resignations, or Trump could just fire the rest of them and shut the council down. Either approach would be an improvement over the status quo.