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No matter how rich or powerful, anyone can be legitimately and morally challenged in the public domain and held accountable for their actions. 

What makes our democracy exceptional is the unfettered right to peacefully protest and to air grievances against the powerful without censorship. 

This is playing out in the case of Stephen M. Ross, the influential real estate billionaire from Detroit, who is facing serious backlash on social media and calls to boycott his companies for hosting a swanky $250,000 fundraiser Aug. 9 for President Donald Trump’s reelection in the Hamptons.

Ross, who owns Equinox and SoulCycle fitness clubs and the Miami Dolphins with an estimated net worth of $7.7 billion, also founded RISE, a nonprofit to address racial equity in sports, which was headed by current Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. Ross is a prominent donor to the University of Michigan, where the business school is named after him.

Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills was among the first to criticize Ross on social media, saying his support of Trump contradicts the mission of RISE. Both Equinox and SoulCycle have issued statements that they have nothing to do with the fundraiser and that Ross doesn’t dictate their business operations.

Facing mounting pressure from calls to boycott his businesses, Ross issued a statement last Wednesday to try to soften the blow.

“I have known Donald Trump for 40 years, and while we agree on some issues, we strongly disagree on many others, and I have never been bashful about expressing my opinions,” Ross said. “I have been and will continue to be an outspoken champion of racial equality, inclusion, diversity, public education and environmental sustainability.” 

Ross seems to be speaking from two sides of his mouth. The last line in his statement raises a number of questions. The Trump administration can be found wanting on a host of issues regarding racial equity and diversity. I would believe his statement if Ross was publicly challenging the administration and using his enormous resource to make the moral case against the kind of reprobate politics that have become the order of the day. 

While Ross has the right to be on Trump’s team for 2020, he can’t dictate what people make of his support of the president, nor the potential impact it will have on businesses and groups he is affiliated with. 

Given the current racial climate, and the president's divisive words in past months, it makes sense that Ross is catching hell. People like him are not above reproach, no matter how much he is worth on Forbes list. 

Seeing the damage Ross’ support of Trump caused, Scott DeRue, dean of the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, issued a statement disassociating the school from the New York fundraiser.

“Many members of our community have shared their concerns related to a political fundraiser that will be hosted by Stephen M. Ross,” DeRue said in an email to students. “I want to thank you for expressing your concerns. We are a community where people of all backgrounds and perspectives are both welcome and encouraged to share their views. We do not endorse or support this or any other fundraising event for political candidates.” 

Ross has been many things to many people, entities and programs, and his generous donations to various causes in the past should not be discounted.

But we can now add a major supporter of President Trump to Ross’ latest resume at a time when the nation is facing great moral and political crisis.

bankole@bankolethompson.com

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