As the dust began to settle on Donald Trump’s momentous election victory, leaders from across the technology industry gave their verdicts, which ranged from despair to defiance to acceptance. Microsoft is the latest company to issue a formal response to the election, with president and chief legal officer Brad Smith noting that “this is a time for the nation to come together.”
It’s clearly not in any company’s interests to criticize the outcome of the election — there is little they or anyone else can do about the result. “Every president-elect deserves our congratulations, best wishes and support for the country as a whole,” said Smith in a blog post. “The peaceful transition of power has been an enduring and vital part of our democracy for over two centuries, and it remains so today. As a company, Microsoft joins many others in congratulating President-elect Donald J. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.”
Smith then outlined four issues that the company believes are key in terms of how the U.S. government will address information technology moving forward.
One was the idea of being more inclusive and addressing the “plight of those who feel left out and left behind” by helping those without a college education use technology to gain new skills and connect with new jobs. Tying in with this, Smith pointed to the need for new labor laws, better benefits, and a “stronger safety net” for those working part-time or working for themselves as part of the so-called gig economy. “While the problem is clear, potential solutions are manifold and more than anything, we need to come together to pursue them,” he said.
Smith also referred to the need to invest in infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, which can be improved with the help of big data analytics. But one of the more telling statements, one that was specific to Trump’s previous musings on immigration, was that more than a third of Microsoft’s engineers have come to the U.S. from almost 157 countries. “We have employees from every race, ethnic background and religion,” said Smith. “If there’s a language spoken on the planet, there’s a good chance that it’s spoken by an employee at Microsoft. And we’re committed to promoting not just diversity among all the men and women who work here, but the type of inclusive culture that will enable people to do their best work and pursue rewarding careers.”
Smith also addressed the need to strike a “balance” between privacy and safety. “It will remain important for those in government and the tech sector to continue to work together to strike a balance that protects privacy and public safety in what remains a dangerous time,” he said. “As this election demonstrated, technology now plays a ubiquitous role in our daily lives. But people will not use technology they do not trust.”
Technology played a key role in shaping the election — Facebook and Twitter both faced criticism for the way in which misinformation was spread on social media. But Trump hasn’t spoken all that much about technology itself, so it’s not clear what his presidency will mean for big players like Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. Trump has criticized Amazon in the past over what he called a “huge anti-trust problem,” there are concerns about Trump’s attitude toward surveillance and encryption, and he has also suggested a one-time 10 percent tax on American money held abroad to encourage companies to repatriate earnings held outside the U.S. But the bottom line is that we don’t really know what impact a Trump presidency will have, on the technology industry or on the country as a whole.
Some prominent figures in the technology realm were abrasive and downbeat in their reaction to the election result yesterday, with Hyperloop One cofounder Shervin Pisheva calling for independence for California and Googler and investor Adam Singer noting that the “party is probably over for Silicon Valley,” given that a Trump presidency could lead to a recession. But broadly speaking, there is a common thread emerging across the board: Cohesion and collaboration will get everyone through.
But the notion of “coming together” is a sentiment that was shared by other tech leaders, with Apple CEO Time Cook saying that “the only way to move forward is to move forward together,” and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talking about “finding new ways for all of us to work together.” Elsewhere, AOL’s founder said that “we should accept the result and work together to move the country forward,” and tech investment banker Frank Quattrone added: “We’re a resilient, creative, collaborative nation.”
Regardless of what changes a Trump presidency will herald, companies and citizens have to run with it and fight whatever battles they encounter along the way. “While we all need to do more to support those who haven’t moved forward in recent years, we share the conviction that this is a time to bring the entire nation together,” said Smith. “And that means everyone, with an appreciation for the spirit of generosity and mutual respect that has often represented the best of the American spirit.”