Iger was named to Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum last December, along with other corporate chiefs including Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, General Motors CEO Mary Barra, and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty. The participants of the group were already known, but the date for their first meeting was not public, until Uber CEO Travis Kalanick revealed the meeting in a press statement last weekend.
Kalanick’s statement brought public visibility to the forum, widespread condemnation for the participating CEOs, and even became something of a meme:
It also led to a series of strongly critical Cartoon Brew tweets over the weekend, followed by this post in which we questioned Iger’s decision to take part in the forum. Our coverage subsequently led to a Variety piece that quoted what we’d written as well as other social media responses to our coverage.
The corporate watchdog group called SumOfUs has also castigated Iger, among other business leaders, for “being dangerously silent” on Trump’s immigration ban. In a petition, the group wrote:
This is pure cowardice. We know that most chief executives of large corporations support immigration — and almost all of them will have employees affected by the ban.
But, swayed by Trump’s new position and afraid to speak out publicly, corporate bosses are staying silent, and looking after their own interests and profits over the basic human rights of their employees, customers, and vulnerable refugees. And above that they are still contributing to Trump’s violent agenda by validating him as advisors.
There is no neutral. Either CEO advisors must speak out against the Trump Administration’s travel ban and step off of his committee, or they are complicit in the violence his administration is creating.
Iger, of course, has plenty of reasons to meet with Trump. Disney is big business; the company generated over $55 billion for fiscal 2016. For starters, he will want to temper Trump’s saber rattling toward China where Disney has made a huge investment in the form of the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort. And Iger has publicly stated that he’s hopeful Trump will change corporate tax laws, an area where some people argue that Disney has a point.
However, there’s a key difference between Disney and the other corporations participating in Trump’s forum, and that’s that Disney is a cultural brand. It stands not just for products, but ideas, and over the last decade, the company has made a concerted effort to show that its ideas are socially progressive. This forward-looking stance by Disney cannot be reconciled with an American president whose every word and action goes against the company’s core values.
Disney made Moana, whose co-director John Musker said, “We met with anthropologists and archaeologists and linguists and cultural ambassadors. The challenge in our movie then was as we went forward, we kept those people involved, because we really wanted to be faithful to the culture.” That cannot be reconciled with a president who has shown remarkable ignorance about other cultures and uses coded language to attack other people’s faiths.
Disney is rewriting its princess playbook to emphasize the strength of its heroines. The new trailer for Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast even begins with the line, “Belle, you’re so ahead of your time.” That cannot be reconciled with a president who has shown a complete lack of respect toward women and even bragged about sexually assaulting them.
Disney made Zootopia, whose co-director Byron Howard has stated is “about bias and discrimination.” That cannot be reconciled with a president who for the past year-and-a-half has exploited race and ethnicity, and pitted Americans against each other. (No link necessary here; if you’ve been breathing for the last year-and-a-half, you’ve witnessed Trump do it daily.)
In short, the cultural values of the Walt Disney Company are completely at odds with the actions and language of Trump. Giving Trump a photo opportunity with Disney CEO Bob Iger would hurt the positive global image of the Disney brand and have long-term repercussions for the company.
Disney employs corporate lobbyists by the dozens (and probably hundreds), and those people will continue doing what they do, but Iger would be wise to reconsider aligning himself, and by extension the Disney brand, with the increasingly toxic presidency of Trump.
Iger has made the right decision for now.
(Bob Iger photo: Shutterstock/s_bukley)