In his silence following Charlottesville, Dennis Muilenberg chose servile abstinence over the ethical commitment to fostering a free and equal society which Boeing claims to uphold. By remaining on President Trump’s council for American manufacturing despite the principled example of the business executives who had already resigned, Mr. Muilenberg signaled a greater interest in preserving the company’s profit margins than in defending Boeing’s professed commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.
There may have been a time, many months ago, when a blindingly practical person could have thought that supporting President Trump on the technical issues of the American economy was separable from his broader political agenda and the odious aspects thereof. But, any such distinction lost meaning when, in the wake of murderous hate in Charlottesville, the President could only bring himself to equivocate in an effort to diminish the sharp moral difference between the counter-protestors and the Nazis whom they opposed.
A President who cannot denounce racial hatred without qualification does not have the capacity to be a serious partner in any endeavor. What did Mr. Muilenberg expect to accomplish on the council beyond lending his name and the stature of Boeing, along with all the legitimacy that brings, to a President who would otherwise lack it entirely? By all accounts the council has never even met, has never had a concrete agenda, and has never advanced any policy proposals. So what was it that Mr. Muilenberg felt he had to lose if he were to leave? Did the mere threat of a critical tweet loom so large that he chose to stand by a President who will not even tweet criticism of the Ku Klux Klan and their racial ideology?
Even now, after President Trump’s subsequent tirade, which Charles Krauthammer described as making the more moderate statement from Monday look like a “hostage tape,” Mr. Muilenberg remains silent. Even after the further defections of other more courageous executives led to the complete collapse of the council upon which he served, Mr. Muilenberg cannot muster a word of criticism. No doubt his ploy is to remain unnoticed so as to not risk offending. But, who is it that he fears might be offended? The marchers who chanted “blood and soil,” “Jews will not replace us,” and other contemptible slogans while lit by torchlight? Does he not realize that his silence is an offense in its own right? That, as Elie Wiesel remarked, its continuance will only ever serve the tormenter and not the tormented?
The time for abstention is over. As President Kennedy said, cribbing from Dante, “the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.” Though it is an uncomfortable duty to speak, it is nonetheless his and he must take it up.