Trump and Silicon Valley’s Rocky Relationship
Posted on 2017-08-08 by Sean Williamson
To date, Donald Trump has angered many left-wing Americans in his term as President of the United States. Some of the most interesting protest action has however come from Silicon Valley – interesting because there is real potential for it to have serious effects.
Trump’s actions in his first 6 months as POTUS have raised anger in Silicon Valley and currently, their relationship with his administration is faring far worse than other governments in other countries when they began regulating online gambling. Trump’s woes only look set to grow, and his talk now- think later stance is clearly having an adverse effect.
Early Warning Signs
Silicon Valley has long considered itself a meritocracy, where your worth and status depends on your abilities and nothing else, and they take pride in that. Signs of the tech world’s hubs having problems with Trump were, in hindsight, already showing in the Republican primary.
The biggest indicator was probably Trump’s openly hostile pose to the tech elite. He was the only Republican candidate to do so, heaping abuse on Apple, Amazon and other luminaries for various things. Then, just a week after Trump’s induction, came the first Travel Ban.
The Travel Ban
The official title of Executive Order 13769 is protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States and, as we all know by now, it limits the admission of refugees and immigrants from several Muslim countries into the United States. While people across the country acted against the ban, marches and pledges in California had the most potential.
The shortage of real skill and talent in technology is well-known, meaning tech giants cannot afford to alienate any of the visionaries that they do have. This gives them considerable leverage to pressure high-up tech luminaries who might influence Trump administration.
Among the actions taken, the Never Again Pledge, which is still online to be signed, is a good example of the tech world’s cognisance of history (it mentions the role IBM played in a Jewish registry during the Holocaust) and its current position (it opposes creating a Muslim register and deporting illegal immigrants).
A Fine “Balancing Act”
While the Travel Ban opposition did garner support from tech leaders like the founder of Google, Sergey Brin, there were plenty of comments regarding the balance the tech industry needed to strike. The struggle seemed to be between keeping customers happy and standing up for personal beliefs, or working with the government to achieve tax breaks and other important goals.
Having almost uniformly backed Hilary Clinton before the vote, the behaviour of tech industry titans towards Trump became positively conciliatory following his election. Workers might have been making a lot of noise, but many of their superiors were trying to keep things civil. Many industry giants signed a legal brief opposing the ban and there were some other moves made by leaders, but nothing compared to what was to come with the Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement
When Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement that aimed to reduce greenhouse gas levels so that the planet did not heat up dangerously, it seemed to galvanise Silicon Valley’s leaders in a way that had not been seen before. Elon Musk, who had sat on Trump’s advisory business council until that point, Tweeted his withdrawal and many other leaders made their displeasure known.
Trump was in a situation where neither the leaders nor the workers of America’s technological capital were supporting him. Since this support is vital to Trump achieving his aim of making America into his version of great, with maximum security, and to helping him control the media, it’s unsurprising that he took action.
A “Sweeping Transformation”
A week after withdrawing America from the Paris Agreement, Trump and his senior advisor (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner convened a “tech week” to invoke what they termed a “sweeping transformation of the federal government’s technology” and to kick off the new American Technology Council.
Although Elon Musk and a few other names were notably absent, most bigwigs did come to talk to Trump. However, they were treated to doublespeak, with appeals to Silicon Valley’s heavyweights unmatched with concrete plans to expand technological opportunities. What was the ultimate effect of this? What will Trump and Silicon Valley’s captains and crews do next? We shouldn’t have to wait too long to find out.