As a self-employed wealthy entrepreneur, Donald Trump doesn’t have to use the same filters as the rest of us in order to survive. He can’t be fired for bullying an employee, for creating a hostile workplace, for demeaning someone in front of her colleagues. In fact, the more he publicly rejects political correctness, the more people cheer him on to see how far he’ll go before he trips over his own words.
Last Saturday, Trump not only tripped, he tumbled after saying, "[John McCain] is not a war hero." Sarcastically, Trump quipped, "He's a war hero because he was captured." Then, he added, "I like people that weren't captured."
That unfiltered comment—like many others in his litany of shoot first, answer questions later accusations—reveals more than just bad judgment. It shows what happens when a powerful person has never been held accountable for actions that would get most of us a lot more than a slap on the wrist by human resources – or worse.
Donald Trump isn’t alone. There are other examples of arrogant misbehavior by the owner-boss who surrounds him or herself with an army of sycophants instead of people who will really tell the all-powerful one that he’s being a jerk or risking more than a negative item on Page Six.
One example of how the rich and powerful behave when confronted with their wrongs is Martha Stewart, the doyenne of civilized domestic bliss, who went to jail for lying to federal investigators over securities fraud and obstruction of justice charges. By all accounts, Stewart’s hubris—as much as her greed—ensured her jail sentence.
Stewart, no doubt feeling like a master of the universe when asked to meet with the U.S. Attorney’s office, went to the meeting without a lawyer, without a subpoena, and then left abruptly after she revised her answer about why she sold her ImClone stock. She told the feds “she had a business to run” and walked out.
Maybe it takes that kind of chutzpah to start a business and make it a real success. That’s what Aubrey McClendon did at the age of 23 when he founded Chesapeake Energy in 1982. The oil tycoon learned how to live large and spent the money to prove it. Forbes called him the “reckless billionaire” with an off-the-charts risk tolerance. In 2013 he was forced to step down from Chesapeake. The board of directors accused him of questionable business practices, and he lost his company.
Overly reckless may be an understated way to describe the fate of other company founders who simply feel entitled to verbally and sexually or abuse women who worked for them. The poster-man for this behavior is American Apparel’s Dov Charney, who was accused of making violent, derogatory and sexually inappropriate behavior and dismissed as head of the company. He filed a series of SLAPP suits against the company but the company has fought back, producing reams of evidence of Charney’s, shall we say, inappropriate behavior.
Sexual abuse and harassment is nothing new, but if you own and run the company, you just might get away with it. Unless your board of directors takes action. That’s why CEO Gurbaksh Chahal pled guilty to misdemeanor charges, even though he assaulted his girlfriend 117 times and was granted three years’ probation.
The popular dating site Tinder demoted its co-founder, Sean Rad, because he failed to deal with a toxic situation. Rolling Stone reported, “Rad's demotion follows a highly publicized sexual harassment and sex discrimination lawsuit that Tinder's former marketing VP and co-founder, Whitney Wolfe, had filed over the summer.
“The suit alleged that Justin Mateen, Wolfe's ex-boyfriend, Rad's best friend and the company's then–chief marketing officer, had sent the 24-year-old a variety of abusive texts and made sexist comments. Tinder denied the allegations and settled the matter out of court in September without admitting guilt. Mateen, who had been suspended, resigned from his post that same month.”
Do any of these people feel bad about what they did or said? Donald Trump doesn’t—he refuses to apologize to John McCain or to the Hispanic community he insulted. Martha Stewart painted herself as a victim of a wrongful sentence; Aubrey McClendon went on to start American Energy Partners in competition with his former company; Dov Charney sued the company he founded for wrongful termination; and Gurbaksh Chahal isn’t talking. (Sean Rad is still at Tinder, so he doesn’t count.)