During the election campaign, nearly all of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech executives backed Hillary Clinton. But following Donald Trump’s victory in November and a meeting last month between the president-elect and tech leaders, Silicon Valley appears to be largely embracing the incoming administration as the political landscape shifts.
Eric Schmidt, chairman of Alphabet, parent company of Google, for example, who attended the December tech summit along with the company’s CEO Larry Page, had already moved towards reconciliation with Trump within days of the election.
“I completely congratulate the next president of the United States,” Schmidt said. “Most people did not expect this outcome. And it is a pretty amazing story. My support was for the other side. I was surprised.”
Indeed it appears that he must have been, given that his close relationship to the Clinton campaign was revealed in emails released by Wikileaks. Schmidt was also photographed wearing a staff badge at Clinton’s would-be victory party at her campaign headquarters on election night.
Other tech summit attendees included Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. Trump has criticized the Post‘s coverage and said Bezos uses it “for power so that the politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed,” while Bezos has also publicly criticized Trump in the past. After the election, however, Bezos congratulated Trump. “I for one give him my most open mind and wish him great success in his service to the country,” he wrote on Twitter.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, another tech leader who has had public disagreements with Trump, also attended the summit. “Personally, I’ve never found being on the sideline a successful place to be,” Cook subsequently explained. “The way that you influence these issues is to be in the arena. So whether it’s in this country, or the European Union, or in China or South America, we engage. And we engage when we agree and we engage when we disagree.”
The black sheep of Silicon Valley during the 2016 election was Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and Palantir Technologies, a controversial data analytics company catering to military and intelligence clients, as well as a board member of Facebook.
Thiel made headlines last year when he admitted that he had spent years and millions of dollars funding other people’s lawsuits against the news site Gawker over a personal vendetta, eventually forcing the site to shut down over the summer. He also got considerable media attention for his outspoken support for Donald Trump, which included a speech at the Republican National Convention.
Thiel is “unlikely to have a formal role” in the Trump administration, according to the New York Times, but he had a seat next to Trump at last month’s tech summit. “I’ll try to help the president in any way I can,” Thiel told the Times in November.
Although as a social media platform it was undoubtedly an essential tool for Trump during his election campaign, Twitter was not invited to the December summit. Also conspicuously absent was Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, even though he was invited.
Zuckerberg was critical of some of Trump’s policy proposals during the campaign. Facebook was also embroiled in a number of controversies last year, including the suppression of conservative-leaning articles from its trending news section, the proliferation of “fake news” on the site as well as efforts to ban said fake news.
The company also faced revelations in October that it had been selling user data to surveillance company Geofeedia, which used it to track activists tied to Black Lives Matter — a protest movement that Facebook has also artificially promoted, apparently due in part at least to public relations concerns about Facebook’s own diversity as a company.
Indeed, it increasingly appears that Zuckerberg, perhaps more than some of the other tech honchos now reacting to Trump’s win, may have broader political ambitions. On Christmas, for example, he took the opportunity to declare on Facebook that he no longer considers himself an atheist, saying that “now I believe religion is very important.”
Zuckerberg’s announcement this week that he plans to visit all 50 states this year has only fed suspicions that he is looking to get more heavily into politics. It comes after court filings made public last month revealed that Zuckerberg had talked with Facebook board members about how he might be able to continue leading the company while also pursuing a political career.
President-elect Donald Trump will soon be making important decisions that impact not only tech companies, but all Americans, on issues ranging from encryption and surveillance to artificial intelligence. Yet while Silicon Valley’s movers and shakers may like to present themselves as standing for certain values, it seems clear that, behind all of the pandering and posturing, the only real priority for these tech industry billionaires at the end of the day is to find more ways to consolidate more money and power.