Patriotism in the Boardroom

by Patrick J. Buchanan – June 30, 1998

If they cannot pledge loyalty to America,
why should Americans be loyal to them?…

Not until two-thirds of the states ratified the Constitution did America become one nation under God. Yet some patriots still date the birth of the nation to Philadelphia, July 4, 1776.

And as we prepare to celebrate the 222nd anniversary of that glorious day, many fear we are losing our country. The new century, we are instructed, will see an end of nations, as each surrenders its sovereignty to immerse itself in the Global Economy.

Across the Atlantic, the nations of Europe are giving up control of currencies, economies and borders to the European Union. New power centers replace old capitals, and a mighty rival has risen up to challenge the nation-state — the transnational corporation.

“General Motors now has a bigger budget than the government of Denmark,” writes the traditionalist newsletter Triumph of the Past, “Toyota surpasses Norway, Wal-Mart tops Poland, and Ford exceeds South Africa. Mitsubishi and Unilever outsize Indonesia and Vietnam. In fact, the hundred biggest economies in the world are equally divided between businesses and governments.” As America headquarters more of these behemoth businesses than any country, we are told the future belongs to us.

But are these transnationals completely loyal to America?

Corporate gadfly Ralph Nader decided to test the issue. He wrote to the 100 largest U.S. corporations, urging that, at their next shareholders meetings, their CEOs lead the company in the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States. From the responses, one would have thought “Tailgunner Joe” McCarthy had just demanded that the entire 1950 Harvard faculty take a loyalty oath.

“(D)emanding recitations of allegiance — in language that may not reflect the beliefs of all persons present — is actually contrary to the principles on which our democracy was founded,” thundered Dick Huber of Aetna, of a pledge some of us took every school day.

Allstate said the pledge of allegiance would be “inappropriate at a business meeting.” Why? Countless unions open their meetings with it. August Busch of Anheuser-Busch declared, “While our company headquarters remains in St. Louis, we are a global company.” Our shareholders’ meetings, he went on, “include many international employees, shareholders, representatives and visitors.”

But if U.S. Olympic medal winners can stand in silence as the national anthems of other athletes are played, why cannot foreign visitors stand in respect as August A. Busch III booms out the pledge of allegiance to the flag and republic of the United States?

Arco and Amoco said no. AT&T said it would consider it. Defense contractor Hewlitt-Packard said a pledge of allegiance to the flag would “not be a productive use of time.” Said Boeing, “It is the opinion of the board that it is not necessary to institute the practice you propose.” Boeing’s CEO Phil Condit two years ago expressed his hope that the world, 20 years hence, would no longer see Boeing as an American company but a global one.

Bristol-Myers found the suggestion of a pledge of allegiance “an interesting one which we have not considered before. … We will have to carefully consider whether the proposal advances the best interests of the company, its shareholders and employees.”

Caterpillar “concluded that a symbolic once-a-year gesture would not be a productive use of our time at our stockholders’ meeting.” But a recital of the flag pledge takes 15 seconds!

Calling itself an “international company,” Coca-Cola said, “If a share owner were to propose that we pledge allegiance, we would certainly consider it in the context of our global business.” Dayton-Hudson called the pledge not “consistent with the goal of running an efficient annual meeting.” Delta said no.

Kodak said a pledge of allegiance to the flag “would not be a productive use of our shareholders’ time.” Kodak must “maintain a global perspective to compete effectively in a global economy.” Ford Motor does “not believe that the concept of ‘corporate allegiance’ is possible.” 3M said it would be “disrespectful” to other countries where it operates “to ask them to be bound by a pledge of allegiance to a country not their own.” But to what country does 3M belong?

American taxpayers guarantee the Export-Import Bank loans of these companies; we bail out their investments via the International Monetary Fund; U.S. Marines have been sent to protect their property; and U.S. consular officials and presidents have promoted their sales. If they cannot pledge loyalty to America, why should Americans be loyal to them?

Consider the response of Federated Stores: Good idea; we will take it up! Happy Independence Day! And may Americans never stop celebrating it, our global corporate elite notwithstanding.