Last week more than 140 leaders from around the technology industry signed a strongly worded op-ed that rejected Donald Trump’s corrosive brand of political theatre. I was proud to be among them, despite the threats, browbeating, and taunts that inevitably followed (read the comments on the post, should you want to visit the seamier side of political discourse).
Like many in the industry, I tend to keep to myself when it comes to politics. Most of us just want to focus on making great companies, products and services, and leave the politics to the politicians. But lately I’ve found myself deeply dismayed by the tone of Trump’s campaign: the inflammatory name calling, the dismissive bullying, the complete disregard for truth. Even more sinister is what Trump represents: A resurgence of ugly American exceptionalism which panders to our country’s fears, and refuses to consider the deeper causes of our problems.
So yes, I signed the op-ed, and I’d do it again. Here’s why:
– A responsibility to join the conversation. I believe that the technology industry has a responsibility to speak up on civic issues, because with great power comes great responsibility. The technology industry now dominates the global economy — its innovations are redefining our society’s most important and pressing questions. Whether it’s healthcare, energy, transportation, communications, or commerce — technology-driven companies are at the forefront of the most significant shift in our economy (and society) since the industrial revolution. We can’t continue to sit on our hands and ignore the changes our technologies and business models are creating. We have to join the conversation.
– The scientific method. The technology industry is built on a deep respect for the scientific method. Facts win the day. Truths can be found by examining the data, learning from mistakes, iterating quickly, and sharing results openly through peer review. In science and tech, and certainly in business, one cannot dismiss facts that are inconvenient, or lean on only those facts that support an ideology. Yet an utter disregard for the truth seems to lie at the heart of Trump’s personality. In article after article, Trump is revealed to have lied, baldly, about basic facts.
– Great leaders listen. The tech industry prides itself on being a meritocracy, though it still has a long way to go toward attaining that status and understanding its true meaning. However, there is the utmost respect for those who are extraordinary leaders, managers, and engineers. Intellectual curiosity, a willingness to be listen, the ability to quickly adapt: these are all characteristics of our best entrepreneurs and leaders. I see none of them in Trump.
– Diversity = strength. As the op-ed pointed out, immigrants drive innovation. Our diversity has been our strength. The tech industry has a lot of work to do in this area, but tech companies are leading the way by openly reporting and continually tracking their (often poor) records in diversity. Trump opened his campaign with racist slurs, and it’s only gotten worse from there. How many future CEOs of Intel will opt out of bringing their skills to America’s shores should Trump become President?
– Globalism matters. It’s hard to know exactly where Trump stands on just about anything, given his propensity to say whatever serves him in the moment. But one thing is clear — he’s against global trade. Well I’m sorry, Mr. Trump, but the world is now connected, and we can’t put that genie back in the bottle (though apparently, you think turning off the Internet every so often is fine.) In my own writings, I’ve railed against the callous, profit-first mentality of global neoliberalism, but that doesn’t mean I think we should go back to a world of isolationism. We have to move forward, not backwards. The question is how we become more connected and more fair, not less so.
In the end, Donald Trump’s ascension to the Republican nomination has woken me up — and I think the same is true for a lot of people who’ve spent their entire lives working as entrepreneurs in technology. We’ve realized that there are a huge number of disenfranchised, pissed-off people in this country, and they want action from their leaders. In Trump they’ve found someone who panders to their worst fears and promises quick fixes and cheap action. That’s a bad model for how to run a business, and a bad model for how to run a country.