Earlier today Donald Trump tweeted that Boeing was spending $4 billion dollars to renovate Air Force One. He was off the facts by orders of magnitude but that doesn’t mean he didn’t know knew exactly what he was doing. It’s time we stop trying to read his tweets as exercises in truth finding. It doesn’t matter if Trump didn’t know or didn’t care about his numbers: With authoritarians, we must follow the effects, not the logic.
Trump’s tweet came less than half an hour after the Chicago Tribune posted a few short quotes from the Boeing CEO saying they were concerned about the implications of trade with China under a Trump Administration. It was relatively tame stuff and of course a multinational with billions of dollars in China is going to be concerned. About a quarter of their aircrafts are built for the Chinese market.
But follow not the logic but the effect: if you criticize this president in public he will destroy your shareholder value. Boeing lost half a billion dollars in value following Trump’s 140 characters. Every CEO in America will now have to think twice before speaking to the press. It would be fiscally irresponsible to do otherwise. A few quotes in a paper isn’t worth that amount of shareholder value.
Free speech isn’t just court cases or a few lines in the Constitution. Even the CEOs of the largest corporations in America need to watch their tongues. Silencing has begun.