Fortune is a business magazine, not a political one, and we know our readers like it that way. But it’s hard to escape the fact that this year’s U.S. presidential election is the biggest business story running. That’s why we took space in our May 1 issue to explore Donald Trump’s rocky record in business. And that’s why, in this issue, we are exploring Hillary Clinton’s complicated—and still unsettled—relationship with corporate America.
Neither candidate gets high marks for pro-business policies—an inescapable symptom of the times. Bashing Wall Street, denouncing drug pricing, and generally favoring the “people” over business and government “elites” is the essential pose of today’s populist politics. Trump’s tax and regulatory proposals may sound appealing to many, but his attacks on immigration and trade are anathema to anyone building a global business. Clinton’s history as an internationalist offers an alternative but comes packaged with activist instincts. Both candidates carry personal baggage that makes supporters wary. Among business leaders, the impulse to choose “none of the above” has never been higher.
Clinton’s business backers like to look back to the first Clinton administration, and hope for a restoration. President Bill Clinton decided early in his tenure to side with business-friendly moderates on his team, like Bob Rubin and Larry Summers, rather than the firebrand populists. He pursued a balanced budget, championed the North American Free Trade Agreement, and, after being trounced by Republicans in the midterm elections, went even further to secure welfare reform. At least partly fueled by such policies, growth during his term averaged 3.8% a year and created 21 million jobs.
This is a different era, however, and Hillary Clinton is a different person. It’s not clear who among her advisers could or would play the Rubin role, or whether her party would allow her to go there. She may privately favor the trade agreements she now publicly opposes (as many of her business supporters assume), but reversing course after the election could be politically suicidal. Campaigns have consequences.
But here’s our greatest concern about election 2016: that it’s become such a nasty race to the bottom that neither candidate can emerge with the public or political support needed to govern effectively. There are things government needs to do—rebuild crumbing infrastructure, reform a broken corporate tax structure, shore up public education and training, and perhaps most of all, rebuild trust in the institutions, public and private, necessary for a thriving society. Good luck with that.
In the meantime, we at Fortune are betting on the private sector to help solve some of society’s most pressing problems. That’s why, in December, we’re assembling roughly 100 Fortune Global 500 CEOs at the Vatican to talk about forging “a new social compact.” After this year’s troubled election, it all may be on them.
Correction and clarification
In “Can Tech’s Tattle Tycoon Trump Thiel?” (Sept. 1, 2016) we erroneously stated that Gawker “began moving to protect its assets” in 2013 and “paid out most of the profits from its Hungarian subsidiary in a massive dividend to shareholders.” That statement was made on the basis of publicly available financial documents that showed a $4.6 million dividend. Documents later provided by Gawker, however, showed that the dividend entry was made in error and subsequently corrected to $1.26 million. Because the remaining sum is not unusual in the context of the company’s annual finances, the paragraph in question, which stated that Gawker “emptied its piggy bank well before a judge ruled in favor of Hogan,” has been removed from the online version of the story. (That correction, unfortunately, came too late for the print edition.) Additionally, we’ve added a statement to the online story from a Gawker spokesman who takes issue with our characterization of finances connected with the holding company Greenmount Creek, which is controlled by the Denton family trust. Fortune said that it was “a bit of a mystery” who the recipients of one unsecured note that will be worth $12.8 million were. The spokesman disputes that there is any “mystery” surrounding that note or Greenmount Creek and says the recipients are the children of Rebecca Denton, to whom Gawker shares were transferred at the time the trust was created in 2010.
A version of this article appears in the September 15, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “Mixing Business with Politics.”