What does a Trump presidency mean for innovation?
Philip Ellison 11 November, 2016 at 10:11
Tech leaders in Silicon Valley have released their statements in the aftermath of Donald Trump winning the US presidential election. Similarly to broader press surrounding the outcome, reactions do vary; some bemoan Trump’s ascendency as a damning indictment of modern politics, while others emphasise the importance of optimism and unity.
Shervin Pishevar, a venture capitalist and staunch Hillary Clinton supporter, called Trump’s win a “nightmare,” and believes that “there were too many people in the tech industry who were complacent” when it came to getting involved in the election. Meanwhile, Slack co-founder Stewart Butterfield claims to be “heartbroken” by the result.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella managed to be a touch more diplomatic, congratulating the president-elect while at the same time reaffirming Microsoft’s commitment to “fostering a diverse and inclusive culture.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook went one step further, sending a company-wide memo to reassure employees that their mission and values would continue unaltered, and to encourage them to support each other during what has proven to be a tumultuous week.
“While there is discussion today about uncertainties ahead, you can be confident that Apple’s North Star hasn’t changed,” the email reads. “Our products connect people everywhere, and they provide the tools for our customers to do great things to improve their lives and the world at large. Our company is open to all, and we celebrate the diversity of our team here in the United States and around the world — regardless of what they look like, where they come from, how they worship or who they love.”
The tech industry is one built on innovation, and some of its most significant entrepreneurs are the ones working towards a future of openness and equal access. Everything that Trump has done and said in the last year can be interpreted as a threat to these ideals. He has gone on the record as being anti-net neutrality, calling it the “Obamacare of the internet.” And he certainly isn’t shy about publicly criticising companies who protects their users’ privacy, such as Apple.
However, there are many who would assert that Silicon Valley is also complicit in Trump’s victory. Social platforms Facebook and Twitter have faced special criticism; the former for its irregularly curated news feed, which allowed false information to circulate in the lead-up to the election, and the latter for its consistently ineffectual attempts at stemming harassment and abuse (including hate speech from Trump himself).
In a post on his own Facebook page on election night, CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not address his company’s role in the election, and steered away from any personal opinions on the new president-elect. While in the past he has obliquely criticized Trump’s divisive rhetoric, this week Zuckerberg focused instead on the challenge of building a better future for his young daughter Max and her generation.
“This work is bigger than any presidency and progress does not move in a straight line,” he says, adding: “We are all blessed to have the ability to make the world better, and we have the responsibility to do it. Let’s go work even harder.”
None of these sentiments exactly break the mould. Trump himself, in his victory speech, said it is now time to “bind the wounds of division.” (Wounds that, one could argue, he helped to inflict.)
Only time will tell how a Trump presidency will affect the tech industry. But it can’t hurt for innovators to remember that there are still people in the United States who don’t have access to the internet, and that the “elites” Trump repeatedly railed against in his campaign include start-ups.
If the industry is inventing products and services which are ostensibly for everyone, then surely it also has a responsibility to lower the barrier to access. Let that be the first of many calls to action over the next four years. As venture capitalist John Lilly told the New York Times: “We need to figure out how to connect more Americans to the economic engine of technology.”