To say that Silicon Valley was caught off guard by Donald Trump’s election to the Presidential Office would be something of an understatement.
The months and weeks leading up to the election saw Silicon Valley actively do everything in its power to oppose Trump. Campaign contributions to Hillary Clinton numbered in the millions, media outlets went all out in a war against Trump and Silicon Valley’s elite were not reticent about their stance against him.
“Both sides made no secret of their disdain for each other during the election campaign,” reads a report in Reuters.
Immigration, trade, encryption, net-neutrality; Trump and the Valley never saw eye-to-eye on any of these during the election. Trump’s innate racism, talk of building walls, building an immigrants’ registry, make in America, opposition to net neutrality and more painted him as the most technology-hostile president that America had ever seen. Is it any wonder that Silicon Valley didn’t want him in power?
But Trump is in power, or will be, come 20 January. What’s the Valley going to do now?
In an unexpected twist, Trump invited Silicon Valley’s Elite to a meeting in Trump tower, Manhattan, where he planned to discuss Silicon Valley’s fears and better understand the situation there.
Given what happened during the election, Silicon Valley’s reaction to the invite would have been something to behold. Re/code’s Kara Swisher described my feelings best when she said, “Hoo boy, would I have liked to be in the room when Sheryl Sandberg/Tim Cook/Larry Page/fill-in-your-billionaire-tech-leader-here were reacting to the tech summit invite.”
Now this is awkward
How do you decline an invite from the soon-to-be most powerful man in the world, one who can directly influence the future of your company, nay, your industry, and the man who you deliberately and pointedly dissed in the past?
Awkward is hardly the word for it.
I’m still not entirely convinced that the likes of Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Satya Nadella and others weren’t just called to Trump’s castle to kiss the proverbial ring. Reports and statements made by Trump staff and various company spokespersons are quite positive, however.
Jeff Bezos claimed that the meeting was “very productive”, Elon Musk is joining one of Trump’s business advisory boards and Oracle’s Safra Catz gave reporters a thumbs-up after the meeting. The signs all seem good; but can we trust them?
Now that he’s president (or soon to be one), do any of these CEOs have the courage to speak against Trump? There’s more than money at stake, after all.
Trump still hasn’t clarified his stand on immigration, net neutrality’s fate still hangs in the balance and Trump’s belief in science and global warming is still a big question mark.
Analogue vs digital
Has the summit actually achieved anything? I honestly don’t know. Some, like Re/code and The Stranger believe that these Silicon Valley executives are just “legitimising a fascist”. Others, like Bill Gates, have compared Trump to JFK and gone on record to state that Trump will drive America with innovation.
Given Bill Gates’ response, I’m almost tempted to admit that Trump is actually doing the smart thing here. He is a businessman, he’s worth over $10 billion and he’ll soon be the president of the United States of America. That’s no small feat.
As a businessman, a traditional, brick and mortar businessman, so to speak, Trump is far removed from the cutting edge tech world that is Silicon Valley. As a businessman, Trump understands money and Silicon Valley is telling him, as, I’m sure, are his advisors, that interfering with Silicon Valley will cost the country a great deal in terms of jobs, revenue and technological edge.
Trump’s supporter and advisor, Peter Thiel, is an investor in Silicon Valley himself and he sits on Facebook’s board of directors. If nothing else, he’s sure to see the merit in ensuring that Silicon Valley functions smoothly and also the merit in ensuring that Trump sees it too.
Trump might be an opportunist, racist, fascist, bigot and anything else that comes to mind, but he seems to know which side of his bread is buttered and his olive branch to Silicon Valley is proof of that.
If this is indeed a fa├žade, it’s in the cracks that we’ll see glimpses of the truth. If not, Trump actually might “Make America Great Again!” Either way, turbulent times lay ahead.