An Uber sign is seen in a car in N.Y. on June 30, 2015.
Photo by Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Progressive activism forces Uber CEO to break with Trump

For a while, many high-profile Republicans gushed about their affections for Uber, not just as a service, but as a symbolic entity against established, regulated industries.

“Republicans love Uber,” Politico noted. “The Republican Party is in love with Uber, and it wants to publicly display its affection all over the Internet,” National Journal added. Uber has become a “mascot” for Republicans “looking to promote a new brand of free market conservatism,” The Hill reported. Ted Cruz described himself as the Uber of Washington, D.C.

The right’s affection probably isn’t quite as strong today.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is quitting President Donald Trump’s business advisory group amid heavy criticism from employees and Uber customers.

“Earlier today I spoke briefly with the President about the immigration executive order and its issues for our community. I also let him know that I would not be able to participate on his economic council,” Kalanick wrote in a memo to employees on Thursday.

“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that,” Kalanick said.
The Uber CEO, in his capacity as a member of Trump’s advisory council, was supposed to be at the White House today, though Kalanick’s departure from Trump’s group ended those plans.

This story unfolded with surprising speed, though it started in earnest over the weekend. As Vox noted, New York taxi drivers announced a boycott on Saturday night at JFK Airport “to protest Donald Trump’s controversial immigration order. Uber chose to continue serving the airport — albeit with surge pricing disabled — a move that critics saw as crossing picket lines. A social media protest under the #DeleteUber hashtag quickly went viral, prompting many customers to quit the ride-hailing app.”

The company condemned Trump’s policy in no uncertain terms, but for Uber’s critics, the fact that the company’s CEO was still serving on a White House advisory panel for Trump made the condemnation appear halfhearted.

It’s an interesting story for a variety of reasons – corporations are navigating tricky political waters in the Trump era, as the recent LL Bean controversy helped demonstrate – but ultimately this is also a story about the potency of progressive activism. Much of the left is fired up in ways we haven’t seen in quite a while, and Uber’s tumultuous week is an object lesson in what organized progressives can accomplish.