At a recent private virtual event, business leaders convened around strategies for a proactive, principled approach to a polarized political environment. Among the key themes explored were the political risks and implications for business, the power of a principled response, and how to develop readiness strategies and beneficial partnerships.  

As part of the program, we heard from Bennett Freeman, Associate Fellow of the International Law Program, Chatham House, former senior VP for sustainability research and policy at Calvert Investments, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in the US Department of State, and author of Shared Space Under Pressure: Business Support for Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders.

Drawing on his experience, Bennett outlined three scenarios which business leaders should be thinking about today, to guide their CPR strategies. 

We asked Bennett to share those scenarios in a guest post for the CPR Taskforce, which he kindly did. As always, we encourage guest authors to express their views freely, sharing the reasoning behind their conclusions as much as possible. However, the CPRT does not endorse particular organizations, individuals, parties, policies or legislation. The CPRT is strictly non-partisan and does not advocate, promote or support any political party or candidate.

Here are Bennett’s scenarios, which we hope will spark the reader’s thinking on risks to consider, and how to develop a proactive, principled response.

Bennett Freeman

Three sets of political risk scenarios with implications for American business are outlined below: pre-election domestic; post-election domestic; post-election international (with domestic dimensions). These scenarios are not definite predictions but instead plausible projections of political and geopolitical events that may pose risks and challenges to companies.

Each scenario has tangible, factual precedents: some in the record of employees protesting their own companies’ positions and contracts during the Trump and to a lesser extent the Biden Administrations; others in the policies and actions of the Trump Administration and recent statements by Trump, his campaign and MAGA supporters as the presidential campaign unfolds.

These scenarios are indicative—if not predictive—of the cross-pressures that American business is likely to face in this tumultuous and consequential year for American democracy. A “duck and cover” posture amidst this turbulence may seem safer for companies—especially CEOs—but is unlikely to be sustainable amidst pressures of probably unprecedented intensity and severity both during and after the election. Civility is beset by storms; neutrality may not be a safe harbor.

Corporate leaders may face inescapable demands to take stands, make statements and change political spending practices. Necessary political, reputational and commercial choices and trade-offs may in turn have consequences for companies, as well as implications for American democracy, the U.S. and global economy, and the international community.


1. Pre-election domestic

The 2024 general election is essentially already underway with Trump the presumptive Republican nominee following the Super Tuesday (March 5) primaries. Despite the remote chance that a legal, political and/or medical development could disrupt either party’s nomination process and outcome—and/or the equally remote chance that a credible third-party candidate could emerge— voters will almost certainly face a choice between the current and former President on November 5 despite polls showing discontent with a Biden-Trump rematch.  Moreover, the campaign is likely to become even more rancorous than 2016 and 2020, reflecting and reinforcing partisan division, ideological polarization and the degradation of political discourse.


Anti-Trump fervor will likely intensify, although its focus may be diluted by wide and deep disenchantment with Biden on the part of many (especially younger) voters. Civil disobedience will likely gain momentum—but unlikely political violence—with impetus from the Israel/Gaza conflict that may culminate at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in August (with speculation mounting that protest may be on a larger scale than any since Chicago ’68). There may also be anti-Trump protests at the Republican convention in Milwaukee in July that could expand nationally as November 5 approaches. Yet the intensity of anti-Trump/MAGA fervor will increase after the election if Trump wins or if there is a contested outcome or challenge to the certification of as occurred on January 6, 2021.

  • Challenges to business: Mounting pressure on CEOs/business leaders to oppose Trump (or less realistically to support Biden explicitly)—or at least to repudiate extreme Trump/MAGA statements and policies— may come from employees (especially in the tech sector) as well as from scattered consumers (especially in retail sectors). Such pressures would likely be nationally dispersed but concentrated in large metropolitan areas in blue, red and purple states alike. Company support for voter education/registration efforts may reduce pressure in some instances, although demands for CEOs (if not companies directly) to take public stands may be felt in workplaces as well as through social media and public demonstrations. Pressure may focus during the July and August party conventions on companies based in and/or with major employee populations around Milwaukee and Chicago. Workplace tensions may be inescapable as November 5 approaches, especially given the virtual certainty of a close race.

Pro Trump/MAGA

The near-total Trump/MAGA domination of the Republican Party has sidelined though not yet silenced countervailing voices (Liz Cheney, Nikki Haley). Norms of civility that had constrained political discourse within broad boundaries have been degraded. Trump’s talk of “retribution” and “my ultimate and absolute revenge” may diminish as the need to attract Haley voters becomes an electoral necessity, but such rhetorical discipline cannot be presumed. Such statements—amplified by ideologically siloed broadcast and social media—has previously mobilized extreme MAGA supporters to commit acts of violence (as on January 6, 2021). Voter registration—and suppression—efforts may also become flashpoints at the state and country level with possible violence against poll workers.  Violent confrontations are also possible at both party conventions, especially in Chicago in August, with protests possible from both the far right and far left.

  • Challenges to business:  Companies can expect an uptick—if not surge—in workplace tension and conflict with partisan divisions exacerbating “culture war” issues that have converged with the backlash against ESG. Post-Roe abortion pressures from employees and outside activists on all sides may coincide with federal and state races. There will likely be less pressure on corporate leaders to support than to oppose Trump. But fear of a “retribution presidency” will discourage if not deter most business leaders from opposing him explicitly, even as pressures to take a stand individually or collectively may intensify as November 5 approaches.

2. Post-election domestic

The immediate aftermath of the 2020 presidential election—culminating on January 6, 2021—was the most consequential since 1860 and ruptured the century and a half-plus record of peaceful transfers of power. It is likely—if not a foregone conclusion—that a Trump loss in November will be rejected by the candidate, his campaign and many of his supporters given that various polls indicate that up to one-third of voters and two-thirds of Republican voters dispute the legitimacy of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.  The likelihood that the election will be close—probably decided in the half-dozen states won by Biden with thin margins in 2020—reinforce the near-certainty of a disputed outcome. Moreover, a legitimately deadlocked result is possible—as occurred in 2000 and nearly again in 2004—with the possibility of thin margins in those states. The wafer-thin Democratic majority in the Senate and/or the Republican majority in the House may be reversed, while an even narrow Republican House could try to block certification of a Biden win. Whatever the outcome—disputed or not—the President sworn in on January 20, 2025 will probably face an even more divided country than Trump faced on that date in 2017 and Biden in 2021.

Biden Win

Trump/MAGA rejection of a Biden win—even if by a substantial electoral college margin—is likely but will probably only move from rhetorical to actionable if the result is similar to 2020 with narrow margins in several of the key battleground states. It can be assumed that an attempt to overturn the election result is possible if not likely. Such an attempt depends on continuing Republican control of the House with the constitutional authority to certify the Electoral College vote. Whether or not there is a Republican majority in the House, at least scattered political violence is possible even without a rerun of a January 6, 2021-scale insurrection in Washington. But a Trump/MAGA rejection of a Biden win—with Trump probably unwilling to concede defeat as in 2020— will almost certainly persist amidst an atmosphere of menace if not violence past January 20, 2025.

  •  Challenges to business:  Corporate leaders will be expected to issue public statements accepting the result of a clear Biden win and congratulating him and Vice President Harris. The BRT, NAM and US Chamber issued such statements on November 7, 2020 and in different configurations before and after the election urging the peaceful transfer of power and a responsible transition. Some corporate leaders may also call for bipartisan cooperation in the national interest, the renewal of political civility and the reorientation of a post-MAGA Republican Party even as significant policy differences persist with a second Biden Administration and the Democratic Party. Workplace tension will likely be less than with a Trump win, but scattered violence may be possible if incited by Trump/MAGA supporters.

Trump Win

The intensity and severity of domestic political conflict following a Trump win may be greater than anticipated, if not unprecedented in recent American history. Angry reaction to a Trump win may match that by Trump/MAGA supporters to a Biden win—with or without Democratic control of one or more houses of Congress—with the degree of “resistance” uncertain amidst reports of “burnout.”  Yet tension can be expected in reaction to Trump’s promise to be a “dictator only on the first day,” his and MAGA-aligned “plans, promises, and propositions” perceived to threaten “autocracy” and specific “policy, personnel and training” plans to take over the “deep state” civil service. Recent reports of the planned use of martial law to quell even peaceful protests and civil disobedience—along with “militarized mass deportations and detention camps”— exacerbate such fears and risks. The Republican Party may split into estranged factions, with a rump constitutional wing led by Liz Cheney. Despite recent claims by Trump that record stock market highs reflect his “priced-in” victory, U.S. and global markets may show volatility in anticipation of uncertainty and instability even as some sectors may gain from a second Trump term.

  • Challenges to business:  In the immediate aftermath of such an outcome, there may be a surge in employee recriminations against corporate leaders seen to have acquiesced in (even if not tacitly or explicitly supported) Trump’s election. Some workplaces may become overtly politicized with corporate leaders seen as accessible (even if innocent) proxies for issues ranging from abortion to Israel/Gaza. As Trump takes office amidst a tense atmosphere, companies and industry associations may be challenged by their employees as well as by some customers and shareowners to oppose policies perceived to be extreme if not extra-constitutional—and to make public statements opposing such attempts. Possible new strictures against DEI commitments in USG procurement could spark employee resistance to federal compliance. Boycotts will likely target politically sensitive USG contracts, once again (as in the first Trump Administration) concentrated in the tech sector and focused on two broad issue areas: military/surveillance (DOD, NSA) and border/immigration (DHS, ICE). Expectations will rise for corporate leaders to counter Trump on issues from race to climate (as some prominent CEOs were in his first term in the wake of the Charlottesville “very fine people on both sides” remark and the broken USG commitment to the Paris Agreement). Corporate America will be challenged to be a bulwark for American constitutional democracy in a time of crisis, a challenge that some business leaders may embrace and others will deflect.

Unclear/Contested Outcome

As observed above, a legitimately unclear result (as with the Florida vote in 2000) is possible, resolved constitutionally and peacefully (if unhappily) by the Supreme Court. A less unlikely result is deadlock in the wake of micro-margins in several of the half-dozen Electoral College battleground states throwing the outcome to the House of Representatives. The willingness of a critical mass of House Republicans to vote against certification on January 6, 2021 demonstrates this continuing risk. Complicating this scenario is the distinct possibility of contested House seats and a deadlocked House that would test its legitimacy and capacity to render a decision. This situation could ignite civil unrest and trigger a constitutional crisis that could in turn roil financial markets.

  • Challenges to business:  Corporate leaders would be expected to support a rapid resolution to safeguard American constitutional democracy as well as the U.S. and global economy; some will be pressed to support one or the other candidate. Even after the resolution of such a crisis, the perception of heightened systemic risk to investors may linger if political instability persists.

Disinformation and Social Media: A critical factor both pre-election and post-election

Disinformation focused on the 2020 and 2024 elections—now augmented by AI-driven deepfake technology— will intensify on social media platforms in both the pre-election and post-election scenarios. Such disinformation will emanate from both domestic and international sources (the latter mostly but not exclusively from Russia and China). Most content will be MAGA/Trump aligned, including hate speech and incitement to violence harnessed to support pre-election voter suppression and post-election denial (if Biden wins) or manipulation (if the outcome is contested). USG agencies and platforms will be unable to counter the proliferation of such content due to First Amendment constraints, court cases and congressional pressure, despite content moderation efforts by platforms amidst face sharp scrutiny from all sides.   

3. Post-election international

Already early in the election year, anxiety is being expressed mostly in private but sometimes in public by close U.S. allies despite a pragmatic inclination to adjust to whatever the outcome. Disquiet if not panic from allies is directed at Trump—not Biden—while Putin is hoping for a Trump win (despite a recent disingenuous comment to the contrary). Trump’s invitation to Russia to “do whatever they hell they want” and attack NATO allies not paying their full dues was a shot across the bow of already nervous allied capitals (plus Kyiv and Taipei). Threats of import surcharges of 10% rattled EU, G-7 and other trading partners around the world; the threat of a 60% import surcharge on Chinese goods left Beijing unamused if dismissive of such an exaggerated threat. Amidst the noise the signals have been clear: economic war declared against China and trade wars renewed with allies (still simmering with IRA subsidies); adherence to the Paris Agreement abrogated (again); military and economic assistance to Ukraine curtailed; commitment to NATO qualified; Putin appeased. If implemented, such policies and actions would undermine American alliances and the battered remnants of the international rules-based order that underpin the U.S. and the global economy. Yet despite these threats, most American business leaders and investors take these fundamentals for granted and have not yet publicly articulated risks they may anticipate.

  • Challenges to business:  American business—especially large multinationals—already face a world of geopolitical tensions, supply chain disruptions and corporate responsibility pressures that are (at times barely) manageable if unpredictable. A second Trump term would confront them with not only a prolonged period of instability, but also with a world of even greater crisis and conflict compounded by an isolationist, protectionist President more inclined to aggression than diplomacy. The trend toward “corporate foreign policy”—whereby multinational companies strike a strategic and tactical balance between their home country government and the host governments of the countries where they operate, sell and source—would accelerate as the U.S. becomes a less stable and predictable anchor of the global economy and international community. The delicate political and commercial tradeoffs between offshoring and onshoring—with huge implications for U.S. national security and economic prosperity as well as jobs and incomes—would be disrupted with companies berated by Trump as they try to balance domestic and global competitive interests. At the same time, multinationals and their suppliers would become even sharper targets for labor and human rights advocates not only for their own conduct but as proxies for Trump policies they oppose. American business has its differences—some serious—with the Biden Administration—from tougher antitrust to explicit pro-union polices—but those differences may become marginal compared to the fundamental challenges they would face from a second Trump term at home and abroad. Constititonal democracy and the international community may seem like elite abstractions, but they are the tangible but increasingly fragile pillars of the intertwined domestic and global economy upon which American business depends. The 2024 presidential election presents risks—and stakes—that may yet concentrate the minds of corporate leaders.

The CPRT is strictly non-partisan and does not advocate, promote or support any political party or candidate. While participants may express their views freely, the CPRT does not endorse particular organizations, individuals, parties, policies or legislation.