More than a hundred high-profile leaders from Silicon Valley and the broader IT community have published an open letter warning voters that a Donald Trump presidency would be a catastrophe for American technology leadership. The letter was signed by 145 inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers, investors, researchers, and business leaders working in the US technology sector.
The signatories include the famous and near-famous from Silicon Valley, including household names like Apple icon Steve Wozniak, internet pioneer Vint Cerf, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. Also represented are Tumblr founder/CEO David Karp, Qualcomm founding chairman Irwin Jacobs, Cloudera founder/chairman Mike Olson, and eBay founder Pierrae Omidyar.
The gist of the letter is reflected in the second paragraph:
"We believe in an inclusive country that fosters opportunity, creativity and a level playing field. Donald Trump does not. He campaigns on anger, bigotry, fear of new ideas and new people, and a fundamental belief that America is weak and in decline. We have listened to Donald Trump over the past year and we have concluded: Trump would be a disaster for innovation. His vision stands against the open exchange of ideas, free movement of people, and productive engagement with the outside world that is critical to our economy — and that provide the foundation for innovation and growth."
From a policy standpoint, Trump’s opposition to open immigration and the hiring of non-US workers is extremely worrisome to tech industry. In particular, Trump has talked about doing away with the H-1B visa program, which allows US companies to hire non-immigrant foreign workers for “specialty occupations.” The program is extensively used by many IT companies that operate in the US to fill their engineering rosters. Here it’s worth pointing out that the program has been criticized by, shall we say, more conventional policy-makers than Trump, given that it’s been used to undercut the hiring of higher-salaried US workers. But its reliance by the industry is now at a point where any interruption in the flow of H-1B workers would likely have significant impact on US companies and international firms with US-based operations.
On a related note, Trump’s hostility to women and minorities appears to be equally distasteful to the IT digerati. Although the industry is not exactly a bastion for diversity hiring, it has been a liberalizing influence, with companies like Intel, Microsoft and IBM leading the charge, or at least trying to. The diversity issue is not the economic threat that the H-1B program is, but for the most part, the IT community is culturally aligned with progressives on this issue.
Trump’s proposal to shut down parts of the internet as a security strategy and his hostility toward the media are also rather frightening prospects for the tech community, especially for companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and other hyperscalers. A number of these have already had experience with such censorship in countries like China and elsewhere, and realize such policies are a direct threat to their business model. Not only does such censorship affect their bottom line, it’s antithetical to their whole mission of providing a free exchange of information.
The signers are also nervous about Trump’s stand on government-funded R&D and investments in technology infrastructure. Here it’s not so much he’s against investment, it’s just that he has articulated “few policies beyond erratic and contradictory pronouncements,” according to the letter. However, as a recent Computerworld article pointed out, US federal government investment in the tech R&D has been declining for years and now sits at a rather pathetic 0.8 percent of GDP. In this instance, Trump may simply be suffering from his affiliation with the Republican Party, which has a habit of cutting government spending whenever the chance arises.
To be fair, cutting federal discretionary spending, including scientific research, has been a bipartisan affair for some time. But it’s the “anti-science” Republicans and the logic-challenged candidates like Trump that tend to be most distrusted by the tech crowd, who, let's face it, tend to be a rather liberal bunch.
There’s at least one high-profile tech leader who is swimming against the anti-Trump tide. Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, is a Trump delegate and will appear on his behalf during this week’s Republican convention. But as far as the tech industry goes, he’s really been the lone voice out there for the GOP nominee.
One might speculate that there are lower-profile Trump supporters lurking about in the tech world. But if they exist, they don’t appear to be very enthusiastic. According to a Newsweek article published in June, Trump received a paltry $22,000 from the tech sector, against $2.7 million raised for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The same article did mention that Intel CEO Brian Krzanich was going to host fundraiser dinner for Trump, but the event was canceled after his plans were leaked. Krzanich subsequently tweeted that he does “not intend to endorse any presidential candidate.”
Lest one think that Silicon Valley is enthralled with the Clinton, consider that the tech sector actually contributed much more to the other Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, who raked in $6 million from the IT rank-and-file. It’s also significant that the anti-Trump letter makes no mention of Clinton. The subtext is that even though she may not frighten the Silicon Valley moguls the way Trump does, enthusiasm for her candidacy is rather muted. And in that sense, those who make their living in the IT industry aren’t much different than the rest of the US electorate.