Kara Swisher wrote a solid and popular post lamenting what will be the painful visit of our fellow tech citizens to the evil Trump Tower this week.
While one would hope for a substantive discussion, it’s pretty clear to me that this is just going to be that media-saturated geek reality show episode, in which real billionaires walk the gantlet of prostration at Trump Tower and get exactly nothing for handing over their dignity so easily.
She’s right. They won’t get anything. And by attending the meeting, they will have to swallow their values, and they will help to further legitimize Trump.
And Chris Sacca is most certainly right when he says:
If Trump publicly commits to embrace science, stops threatening censorship of the internet, rejects fake news and denounces hate against our diverse employees, only then it would make sense for tech leaders to visit Trump Tower … Short of that, they are being used to legitimize a fascist.
I feel the same way. After listening to both of my Holocaust-surviving parents tell me that Trump’s words and tactics remind them a lot of Hitler’s rise to power, I can assure you that I’d never attend a meeting at Trump Tower. About as close as I’d get geographically is the theater a few blocks away where Hamilton is playing.
But the executives that will be at the meeting probably feel as if they have to go. It’s not because they have less disdain for Trump than the rest of us in the tech industry. (Think Tim Cook, a gay CEO of a company already attacked by Trump, built on left-coast values, and formerly led by a founder with Syrian roots is looking forward to this shindig?) And it’s probably not because they think they can convince Trump to shift some of his views towards their direction (Al Gore already took a bullet for them on that one).
And I doubt they feel compelled to attend the meeting because Trump is the president-elect and they therefore have some patriotic duty to go. Patriotism is about a country, not a person. You can easily argue that resisting Trump is this era’s greatest act of patriotism.
No, the reason they feel that they must attend is because they all run publicly traded companies. During the transition period, Trump has lobbed tweets in the direction of companies such as Boeing and Lockheed, and in both cases, the stocks have immediately dropped.
Those tweets were not a mistake. If you think Trump is just some buffoon rattling off random tweets, you’re kidding yourself. These are power plays. This is a career business-person establishing his leverage over the CEOs who once looked down on him (for the cheating, the lying, the self-aggrandizing, etc).
The reason the tech CEOs feel extra-compelled to “deal” with Trump is actually scarier than any of the obvious reasons why one would attend a meeting with a president-elect. They fear he will purposely take action to punish their companies if they don’t heed his wishes. And that fear is wholly reasonable, and unlike most things associated with Trump, fact-based.
I will be sick to my stomach when I see the top brass of my industry get into the gold Trump Tower elevator. But, my gut tells me they’ll be doing it because they feel that they have a responsibility to maintain shareholder value.
I know what you’re thinking: Maybe shareholder values are even more important than shareholder value. Maybe they should take a stand.
But the plain fact is that no CEO should be left with two choices: It’s either your values or your company’s value. But that’s exactly the scenario Trump is quite purposefully setting up. His old mentor Roy Cohn would be proud. The rest of us should be worried.