When Donald Trump announced that he intended to cancel a contract with Boeing to build a new Air Force One, this startling action went well beyond the precedent he set with his earlier intervention in a relocation decision by the Carrier Corporation. The Carrier case was something he talked (and made promises) about on the campaign trail, and involved one of his signature issues, corporate outsourcing of jobs to Mexico as the alleged result of the satanic NAFTA agreement. It also involved inducements from a state government currently headed by the vice-president-elect.
The Boeing case is very different. The most charitable interpretation is that Trump was making tangible his apparent determination to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in federal government operations. More likely it was an impulsive decision — it came minutes after the Chicago Tribune ran a piece about the company’s opposition to Trump’s China policies. And for all we know, Trump has simply decided he’d prefer to keep flying around in a plane with TRUMP emblazoned on the aircraft’s body instead of THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
But any way you slice it, the incident is the second decision Trump has announced as president-elect affecting an individual company. It is probably going to escalate after January 20 when he assumes vast powers to make or break those companies who are affected by federal policies or contracts — basically all of them. While no president has done anything like this before, it is certainly congruent with the strongman persona Trump advertised during the campaign as central to his economic strategy and his foreign policy. And aside from the impact on the businesses he is singling out for censure or praise, this practice sends an unmistakable message to companies large and small that at any moment, they, too, could be on the receiving end of a thunderbolt from Washington.
Yes, presidents have in the past on occasion tried to persuade companies (usually large, economy-straddling companies) to do things they deemed important to public policy, like avoiding a crippling strike in a basic industry. It was called “jawboning.” Trump’s approach is more like jaw-breaking. He really should cut it out.