When President Trump tweeted a series of attacks on Amazon and threatened to change tax, antitrust and United States Postal Service rules in ways that would negatively affect the company, he knocked more than $55 Billion off its market value. But the danger posed by those tweets, which the writer Adam Davidson correctly referred to as themselves an economic act by the President, is not just to Amazon’s market cap, it’s to our democracy more broadly. That’s because of the signal it sends to every company in the marketplace: praise the President, and the government can boost your business; defy him, and risk your bottom line.
We’ve dubbed this phenomenon “autocratic capture” — that is, the phenomenon of businesses responding to this incentive by making sure to praise the governing regime and quashing or avoiding any dissent. The decision of Ms. Briskman’s employer to force her resignation to avoid any potential business downsides of being seen as insufficiently loyal to the regime is a textbook case of it.
We are not the first country to experience this problem. Autocratic regimes in Egypt, Hungary, Thailand, Turkey, and Russia all deploy this tool to various degrees. As a result, companies in each of these countries do not hire or do business with known dissenters. That pressure–which makes citizens choose between their pocketbooks and their principles–starts a downward spiral that ultimately dismantles a democracy. And come election time, those companies that do play ball with the regime become the loudest voices promoting the incumbent’s re-election, in full knowledge that they’ll be handsomely rewarded in the marketplace.
Ms. Briskman’s is not the first case of autocratic capture playing out in the United States. When the White House called on ESPN to discipline Jemele Hill, the company suspended her. After relentless pressure on NFL owners from the President, Colin Kaepernick was unable to find a team willing to hire him. If Americans can only keep their jobs when they praise the President, the freedom of speech is lost.
To protect our democracy we must prevent this form of quashing dissent from taking root, and we must stop the spread of autocratic capture. Ms. Briskman was forced to resign for an off-duty, non-violent, political protest, and the justification for her firing would theoretically support the firing of nearly any employee that engaged in a political protest in their private time. Protect Democracy is representing Ms. Briskman to protect the rights of all Americans to express their opinions about government — indeed, to engage in the very act of self-government — without having to choose between their speech and their jobs.