WASHINGTON — Last weekend, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick informed his employees that he would stay on President Trump’s economic advisory council, even though he, like much of his staff, vehemently opposed many Trump platforms. By Thursday, Kalanick had resigned from the panel.
The ride-sharing czar’s swift reversal is a sign of the divide widening across America. We are becoming a country where partisans not only don’t talk to each other anymore; soon they won’t shop together anymore, either.
Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries brought the situation to a head. Across the country, protesters flocked to airports, including New York’s JFK, where cab drivers were engaged in a strike.
Uber blocked its surge pricing for protesters traveling to and from the airport. Cabbies protested. It didn’t help that Kalanick was on the Trump panel. The Twitter handle #BoycottUber was born. Some 200,000 customers reportedly deleted their Uber apps.
It didn’t matter that Kalanick had announced that he would bring up the startup’s objection to Trump’s so-called Muslim ban. Uber’s policy had been to have a “seat at the table” in the U.S. and China and Malaysia.
“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda, but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that,” Kalanick wrote in a memo to his team.
Was his participation misinterpreted — or was the boycott campaign, as I suspect, proof of the opposition’s efforts to isolate the new president?
Consider the repercussions:
■ Before the election, Silicon Valley’s ubiquitous left tried to get billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel kicked off Facebook’s board because he donated $1.25 million to a pro-Trump super PAC. That effort failed. This go-round, the “resistance” has a scalp.
■ A source familiar with Uber says the ride-sharing giant ended this week with more customers than when the week started. Message: Walking away from the Trump table is good for business.
■ By pledging to donate $1 million to the ACLU, ride-sharing rival Lyft was able to capitalize on the #BoycottUber campaign. Hoover Institution fellow Bill Whalen predicts there will be more instances of corporations “using Trump as a wedge to hurt” the competition.
■ Who uses Uber? “Urban millennials,” answered Democratic pollster Paul Maslin. They’re affluent and younger — the sort of consumers any business wants — and “pretty forceful and fierce in resistance to all things Donald Trump.”
■ Anti-Trumpers don’t care if these boycotts further divide America. “Guess what,” Democratic strategist Maria Cardona noted. “It is not these CEOs’ role to bring the country together. It’s the president of the United States’ role to bring this country together. But he’s done everything but …” Point taken.
■ Whalen sees the new American divide between uptown and the heartland: “How many people in the great beyond use Uber? How many people in the great beyond buy pickup trucks?” SUVs and trucks comprised 63 percent of the 17.5 million vehicles sold last year. (Please note: General Motors CEO Mary Barra is on Trump’s economic advisory panel.)
If Democrats can’t beat Trump in the electoral college, they just may succeed in squeezing the pocketbooks of his supporters. That’s the whole idea. “You can’t simply protest,” Maslin said.
So, if you’re one of those people who worries about the widening divide in American political discourse, steel yourself. “The issue here is not free speech,” Whalen warned. “It’s lack of interactive speech.”
If you sit at Trump’s table, be forewarned. You could end up eating alone.
Contact Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.