An election earthquake occurred in the United States last Tuesday, the reverberations of which are likely to be felt for years. Glee turned to gloom in Clinton campaign HQ as the election results rolled in – results which determined, surprisingly, that Donald Trump would be the 45th President of the United States.
Pundits and average people are still trying to get their heads around the thought of a Trump presidency. As an aside, internet polling proved more accurate than live polling, which may increase its credibility and use in future elections. Getting back to the nitty-gritty, nowhere was the mood darker than in Silicon Valley, which bet heavy on Hillary Clinton. Among those in the tech sector, there is concern and outright fear regarding what a Trump presidency means for them.
Then there are broader questions regarding issues such as privacy, surveillance, and digital rights in general, which have to be considered with Donald Trump in the Oval Office. While a candidate, he signaled that the future for these sectors will be under stress. This is despite him having to credit technology in general, and social media in particular, for his victory in the face of a biased, hostile print and mainstream electronic media. Let’s also not forget how he was aided by the efforts of WikiLeaks – a purported paragon of free speech, and champion for transparency.
Adding to the mystery is the fact that what propelled Trump to the Presidency, even though he was a blank canvas on specifics, is that he wore the mantle of a candidate for change. Many think that he might bring a more transparent way of governing and less draconian surveillance policies to the White House than they have been used to under Obama.
While we can hope this is true, it may not necessarily be the case. The FCC, for example, which ruled in favor of things like net neutrality, did so along party lines – Democrats controlling three of the five votes. Control will undoubtedly change, so what does it portend for net neutrality and other hot-button issues?
Obamacare for the Tech Industry
Some in the Republican Party refer to it as “Obamacare for the tech industry.” We may not know the outlook for net neutrality, but the feeling about Obamacare is very clear. Will they both be gone? The industry also doesn’t have a clear understanding about Trump’s views on spectrum policy and on intellectual property.
During the campaign, Trump released little information that might indicate life under him would be any different than the last eight years of Obama. But Trump’s position on trade worries many in the tech sector, as any prospects for a decline in free trade means that they will be less likely to sell products abroad.
Their hope is that the majority of Republicans, who favor free trade, will prevail upon him to compromise. Also, the more conservative Republicans, ever intent on a strict interpretation of the Constitution, might rally around Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted search and seizures in order to block initiatives that might curtail privacy rights.
Based on his comments directed at Apple regarding the shooter’s iPhone in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings, a call for backdoors in encryption by President Trump seems likely. You may recall that President Obama waffled on this issue, and didn’t want to ruffle the feathers of his Silicon Valley supporters and sycophants. Trump has no such affinity for them, especially as they were solidly behind his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in both money and vocal support.
Trump will probably be a lot tougher on trade enforcement, particularly with China. So while his anti-trade agreement stance may rankle the tech industry because of the potential for reduced markets and sales, they may benefit if existing treaties are more vigorously enforced. He is also likely to address currency manipulation, practiced notably by China, which could add to tech companies’ bottom line.
And let’s not forget how Silicon Valley could benefit from a proposed lower corporate tax rate, and how the American economy could benefit in general if there is tax amnesty, which would permit a trillion dollars or more to be repatriated. This could be good for economic growth across the board.
A Trump presidency, as far as anyone is willing to predict, is likely to be a mixed bag of disappointments and goodies for the tech sector. James Reid, a senior executive with a Telecommunications Industry Association, warned,
“Trump’s mix of irresponsibly deregulatory policies, coupled with his embrace of utter falsehoods and ignorance about how the internet works, are alarming, to say the least.”
It is to be hoped, therefore, that as a successful businessman, he continues to surround himself with talented, knowledgeable people, and that his campaign rhetoric was merely talk.