Will Trump's Twitter Feed Have Unexpected Boomerang Effects?

Donald Trump's Tweets directed at CEOs may create psychological reactance.

Posted Aug 15, 2017

Pixabay/Public Domain
Source: Pixabay/Public Domain

Chief executive officers (CEOs) sitting on President Trump's American Manufacturing Council are stuck between a rock and hard place. In the past 48 hours, four CEOs have resigned from the council. And there is growing public pressure for others to quit this council. As a real-time case study of the "Boomerang Effect" and psychological reactance it will be interesting to see how these events unfold. 

For some background on this terminology: The boomerang effect refers to unintended consequences that are often the opposite of what was expected or intended. "A Theory of Psychological Reactance" was first published by Jack Brehm in 1966. Reactance theory posits that "when behavioral freedoms are reduced or threatened with reduction, the individual will be motivationally aroused to regain them." 

The timeline of events that have put CEOs who are members of President Trump's Manufacturing Council in a "pickle" began yesterday. On Monday morning, Aug. 14, 2017, Merck posted a Twitter statement written by Kenneth Frazier:

"I am resigning from the President’s American Manufacturing Council. Our country’s strength comes from its diversity and the contributions made by men and women of different faiths, races, sexual orientations and political beliefs. America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal. As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism."

Less than an hour later, Trump lashed out via his personal Twitter account to attack Frazier and Merck. Later on Monday, Trump sent another Tweet that singled out Frazier and his company. Over the next few hours, Kevin Plank of Under Armour and Brian Kraznich of Intel both resigned from the council. Trump's Twitter account was momentarily silent on this matter. 

Last night, Andrew Ross Sorkin published a New York Times article, "Outraged in Private, Many C.E.O.s Fear the Wrath of the President." Sorkin writes: "When I asked one chief executive Monday morning why he had remained publicly silent, he told me: 'Just look at what he did to Ken. I’m not sticking my head up.' Which, of course, is the reason he said I could not quote him by name."

This morning, Lawrence Summers of the Washington Post, published a Perspective piece, "Summers to CEOs: If you won’t quit Trump’s advisory councils now, then when?" Summers points out that there is a long tradition in American history of business leaders acting as statesmen and moral leaders that he hopes will be upheld by CEOs in the spotlight today. 

At 8:21 this morning, Donald Trump Tweeted, "For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. JOBS!" A few minutes later, at 8:38, Scott Paul, CEO of the Alliance for American Manufacturing announced that he was resigning from President Trump's advisory council. In his August 15 Tweet, Paul wrote: "I'm resigning from the manufacturing jobs initiative because it's the right thing to do."

Through the lens of psychological reactance theory, it will be interesting to see how various CEOs and American corporations respond to their conundrum. In terms of the boomerang effect, I'm optimistic that unexpectedly positive outcomes will result from President Trump's Twitter feed. This is a developing story. Stay tuned.  

Update: On the evening of Aug. 15, 2017, USA Today reported: "Late Tuesday, Richard Trumka (President, AFL-CIO) tweeted a statement reversing an earlier confirmation that he would remain on the council. The reversal followed a Trump briefing in New York City Tuesday afternoon where the president defended his initial response that many sides were to blame for the Charlottesville clashes, arguing that left wing groups were just as violent as the white supremacists who staged a demonstration in the Virginia city." 

Update: At noon on Aug. 16, 2017, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported, "3M CEO Inge Thulin latest to resign from manufacturing council." In a statement, Thulin said: "I joined the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative in January to advocate for policies that align with our values and encourage even stronger investment and job growth — in order to make the United States stronger, healthier and more prosperous for all people. After careful consideration, I believe the initiative is no longer an effective vehicle for 3M to advance these goals. As a result, today I am resigning from the Manufacturing Advisory Council."

Update: At 12:55 PM on Aug. 16, 2017, Campbell Soup Co issued a Statement from CEO Denise Morrison on Twitter: "Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville. I believe the President should have been – and needs to be – unambiguous on that point. Following yesterday's remarks from the president, I cannot remain on the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative. I will continue to support all efforts to spur economic growth and advocate for the values that have always made America great."

Update: At 1:24 PM on Aug. 16, 2017, the Washington Post reported, "Trump’s two main CEO councils disband in wake of his controversial Charlottesville remarks." In a Tweet at 1:14 PM President Trump stated: "Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy & Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!" The Post article commented, "The dissolution of the council is a major setback for a president who had cast himself as a business leader who could bring greater prosperity to companies and the economy." 

This timeline is now complete. The chain of events herein is a real-time case study of how psychological reactance can gain momentum and lead to surprising outcomes. Yes, Trump's Twitter feed can result in unexpected boomerang effects. Over and out. 

References

Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. Oxford, England: Academic Press.