Deregulation and more favorable tax treatment of repatriated funds are high on the list.
I have to admit that I am cringing even as I key this in, but there are some very good reasons why many in tech are actually welcoming the incoming administration of Donald Trump.
I spent the last few weeks talking to a range of Silicon Valley leaders, all of whom will only talk off the record, because, well, Trump. All of them to a person were against him, some even voicing public opposition, during the campaign, and they all lent strong to tepid support to Hillary Clinton. That said, most indicated that they are seeing what they consider some promising signs from the new power structure in D.C.
I know, I know, I know. But I don’t make the news — I just type it over here on this keyboard.
And I have written a lot about why many in tech think the incoming president is very bad news for tech already, citing numerous reasons, many of which are actually scary, too.
Among them: A series of disturbing comments on immigration, all of which point to a xenophobic attitude against the very kind of hard-working and innovative people who built Silicon Valley; deeply entrenched misogyny that is at cross purposes to what tech purports to support (and never really does, but that’s another story!); a tin ear to diversity, too, again still a weakness of tech; a president with a firm grip on Twitter, but a 1960s mentality on what tech is and is going to be; the possibility of a very damaging series of trade wars; and, of course, a very real chance of destabilizing the world stage with reckless policies that could maybe be canny if they did not seem so profoundly of the moment (you know: China bad, Russia good, we begin bombing Vanity Fair in five minutes).
Oh yeah, encryption — that’s gonna be ugly.
More importantly, for Silicon Valley leaders, these are some of the things that a huge swath of their employee base in tech despise and are pressuring their leadership to resist more vocally and strongly. They have already spoken out in many public forums, and I most definitely get dozens of emails a day from across the spectrum of companies from those unhappy that their bosses have become passive to the point of comatose in the wake of Trump’s victory.
Well, let me illuminate you, because — while everyone knows I think those leaders who went to see Trump without making some firm public statement of core values and issues were pretty wimpy to do so — they seem to have their reasons that go beyond voicing moral objections, calls for non-engagement and behaving with outright antagonism.
Number 1: Simply put, said one person: “He’s going to be president and also he’s going to be president.”
Oh. I had no idea. Thanks for the pro tip!
Said another, “We do not stop being a business just because we did not vote for the person running our country.”
“We have to function,” said another.
Most of these same people say this with a clear cringe in their voice at the prospect of the former reality TV star and real estate mogul at the head of government, but they say it nonetheless.
You might call this the Neville Chamberlain feint, after the man who was the British prime minister as the Nazis rose to power, but that would be rude.
Number 2: Some of those I spoke to said that the Trump transition staff — led by investor Peter Thiel and others — has been much more engaged than previous administrations in reaching out. More so, several insist, than the Obama administration and also the Bush folks.
This I believe less. I think it is that they are more surprised that there is outreach at all from those whom they very much opposed and from someone who had been pretty hostile to tech overall in the campaign. After you slime someone as not so cool (see Elon Musk, see Jeff Bezos, oh, see a bunch of them), it’s always a bit of a shock to get an invite to the tower and free branded water instead of a cudgel in the dungeon.
Still, they are feeling paid mind to, which they love; they think that there is a dialogue that is starting to take place, which they cling to like there is no tomorrow (even though there might not be!).
“We discussed substantive issues at the meeting,” said one person at the recent tech leaders’ confab with Trump. “And Trump seemed fully engaged with our suggestions.”
Yeah, he’s good at giving the people what they want, for sure. “We’ll get right on that!” “We’ll fix that!” “My guy will call your guy!” It is probably a relief from the smarty-pants Obama people who actually raised reasonable objections and wanted to debate the issues.
Number 3: In that vein, it is clear that the Trump cabal is aiming to either deregulate or make it easier to play in already regulated industries. This is nothing but good for the we-love-to-disrupt crowd of tech, because they don’t have to contend with all the prickly regulators that get in the way of a good time. So a self-driving car runs a red light, big whoop! Privatizing space would be really smart, because Mars living is cool! Social media giants should not be held responsible for fake news, because, um, well, just because! Guns don’t kill people, people … wait that is another industry.
“We can grow faster with an administration that is friendlier to business,” said one leader, “and then raise our specific objections when they get out of line on social and other issues.”
See Chamberlain above, which now feels a little less rude.
Number 4: That is also the expected behavior toward the some key agencies in the federal government that pertain more to tech interests, such as the FDA and the FAA. Silicon Valley has gotten a lot of push back and slow down from both these agencies, which has been vexing to some involved in digital healthcare, self-driving cars, drones and more. A faster-moving and possibly defanged group of overseers here is better for tech, which often pushes the borders in good ways (see Color Genomics) and bad (see Theranos).
Number 5: It’s the same thing with contending with overseas markets, of course. Despite fears of a damaging trade war across the world, which is usually not good for anyone, there is also some solace from the idea that the Trump people could push back hard against foreign governments where U.S. tech has had some trouble. That’s clearly true in China, where very few have gained any significant foothold.
Consider Facebook — while it will not give a timeline, most insiders acknowledge that it will eventually enter the market in order to maintain its massive growth. And when it does, it’s got to have more than its nifty messaging service to deal with the Chinese. Or Google in Europe — while President Obama has defended it there (see my interview here with him) from all sorts of monopoly and privacy allegations, I’d expect Trump to be even more vociferous.
“He seems intent on leveling the playing field in overseas markets and that’s good,” says one person.
Number 6: One of the more surprising responses I got from leaders I talked to was that a Trump administration might mean more unusual selections for key jobs across government. “He has some awful picks and then some ones that make you think that maybe an outsider can make a difference in that muck of D.C.,” said one person, who pointed to Trump’s secretary of state choice, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson.
Many in Silicon Valley pointed to Tillerson, in fact, as the kind of global thinker and doer that policy needs. I suppose that love of the outsider shaking things up has a big appeal to Silicon Valley leaders, who love to think of themselves as disrupters, even if they are more of the permanent ruling class than they care to admit.
Also liked is secretary of transportation choice Elaine Chao and Treasury secretary pick Steve Mnuchin (who doesn’t love a banker!). No one likes Ben Carson for HUD, but it hardly matters to tech. They all cringed at chief strategist Steve Bannon, which seems the right response, although every single person I spoke to thinks Bannon is deeply intelligent.
Lucky Number 7: Finally, there is what I think is the main reason for tech to like Trump: He will be the one to get the $2 trillion in overseas assets repatriated to the U.S. at a reasonable tax rate. While Obama was not able to pull it off, Trump has all the pieces on the political board game and is going to use them for his own gain as well as for American businesses with money stuck elsewhere.
What will be most interesting will be the dance the tech companies will do with Trump for this mountain of dough. Will they be forced into making promises to open U.S. manufacturing facilities, to pay for job retraining and to invest heavily here? They will! Will we all have to someday endure the photo op from a tour of those facilities with, say, Trump and Apple CEO Tim Cook? We will! Will any of it make a real difference? Unclear!
Also related will be the many gimmes from the massive infrastructure spending that will take place. Will that include things like sensors in roads to push the development of self-driving cars? Will it mean spending on a more robust digital access network? Will there be an opening for tech in how and where the money is spent to invest in businesses that will be created?
You know there will, which is why you should not be surprised by just how cooperative the liberal and socially conscious Californians could be. Sure, they hate Trump the man, but Trump the president is another story altogether.