Trump’s tech meeting: Three winners and a whole lot of losers
Well, I tried to warn them.
That, like almost all of Trump’s photo op meetings to date - most notably his “firing squad” meeting with cable execs and anchors -- it’s going to be an exercise in bringing powerful people to kneel at his feet and declare their loyalty, or else face the wrath of his Twitter account. That Donald Trump and Peter Thiel can humiliate a room like nobody else on earth.
But still they came, and still they were humiliated. And anyone else who thought - hoped beyond hope - that just one of Silicon Valley’s fearless disruptors would use the meeting as an opportunity to deliver a personal rebuke, or warning, to Trump… well, they must feel pretty embarrassed too. Not a peep. Not even when Trump ushered in his children, and Steve Bannon into the room, or even when it was reported that Twitter had been banned from the meeting over some emoji bullshit.
Pathetic. And humiliating.
And sure enough, the very next day, Trump surrogates were already gloating that most of the people in attendance were previously Hillary supporters. Just in case the real purpose of the meeting wasn’t clear.
And it’s only going to get worse. Now, when Trump inevitably demands that Facebook or Google agree to some horrendous invasion of user privacy or that they censor free speech, what are Sandberg or Page or any of the others going to say? If they say no then who will believe them after this?
The only winners from the meeting: Those tech CEOs who made excuses not to attend or, apparently in Jack Dorsey’s case, were banned because of a squabble over emoji. Dorsey, and Benioff, and Chesky and any big names I’m missing who weren’t sitting around that table are now the only ones with any credibility at all when it comes to promising users that they won’t sell out their data to the scariest administration in modern history. An administration that is increasingly run by generals.
Actually, there was one other winner. One other person who played the whole thing brilliantly. And that’s Travis Kalanick.
Days before the meeting it was reported that Kalanick wouldn’t be in attendance due to foreign travel commitments. I wrote at the time that he and Brian Chesky (who gave the same excuse) had made the right decision, perhaps because as private company CEOs they had the luxury to do so. But then, hours before the rest of the Valley descended on 5th Avenue, it was announced that Kalanick, along with Elon Musk, would be joining Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum
So, unlike Musk, Kalanick found a way to sit out of the meeting. But despite in no way being obligated through fiduciary duty (unlike Musk), Kalanick still chose to cosy up to Trump. This also despite heavily criticizing Trump before the election. And despite Peter Thiel once describing Uber as the most ethically challenged company in the Silicon Valley.
For a brief moment, everyone got very animated about the announcement -- but then it was quickly overshadowed by images of all of Kalanick’s peers showing up in Trump’s marble lobby. In other words, Kalanick gets all of the benefits of cosying up to a fascist with none of the disadvantages of being photographed with him.
As such, Kalanick is the only tech mogul in Silicon Valley who appears to have learned what we should call the Romney Rule. That the guy invited to Trump Tower for a photo op is never the guy who actually gets the job. The guy who gets the job is the one who sneaks in under cover of darkness and the first we know about it is a press release.
Well done Travis Kalanick. Like the kids in Bugsy Malone, you’re the very best at being bad.