The Election and Tech: Donald Trump

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This is part of a three-part series of articles ahead of the 2016 US Presidential Election. Our next feature will examine Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s views on tech, followed by an interview with one of Silicon Valley’s leading experts.

Donald Trump, 2016’s Republican presidential candidate, has certainly made good use of tech during his campaign. His Twitter messages, and tirades, have reached a 12.1 million audience (his adversary, Hillary Clinton, has 9.4m followers).

But when it comes to his views on the future of the tech industry, Trump’s thoughts and policies have veered across the political spectrum. Silicon Valley insiders have pointed to several key points that have separated him from his Democrat rival.

Visas

H-1B visas are currently the most common way that US companies bring skilled employees into the country. They are limited to a certain amount annually already. But it is unsurprising that, during a campaign that has rested heavily on immigration, Donald Trump should have something to say about them.

H-1Bs are “something that I frankly use and I shouldn’t be allowed to use it,” he said during the Republican primary debate this March—foreshadowing his current tax imbroglio.

That has set alarm bells ringing in Silicon Valley. Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO, has specifically called for the H-1B program to be expanded. He has even founded a lobbying group, Fwd.us, to push the case. Other tech leaders have called for a startup visa plan to be implemented.

Trump has also called for a raise to the H-1B wage, and for companies to be mandated to find talent within the US before it can hire foreigners. This, he has claimed, will help push ethnic minorities within the US—a problem that Red Herring has previously reported is substantial.

Trump has, however, performed something of a flip-flop on the H-1B visa debate, telling Fox’s Megyn Kelly in March that ““I’m changing (the policy), and I’m softening the position because we have to have talented people in this country.”

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity got a sharp spotlight in the first presidential debate. Trump voiced concern over “somebody sitting on their bed that weights 400 pounds” as an archetypal hacker. In fact, entire armies of hackers are employed by governments and other groups: the cost of cybercrime is expected to hit $2 trillion by 2019 (natural disasters cost $1.5tr to the entire globe’s economy by comparison).

Trump has repeatedly laid the blame for cybercrime at China’s door—something that is far from unfounded. Adm. Mike Rogers, US cyber command chief, has warned that state and non-state players are beginning to work together to attack US interests.

Last September he told the House that, “cyber operations from China are still targeting and exploiting U.S. government, defense industry, academic, and private computer networks.”

How Trump plans to crack down on Chinese cyber attacks is another matter. His calls for the US Treasury to deem the country a ‘currency manipulator’ has largely fallen on deaf ears. And his hubris in attacking China, at a time when China-US corporate relations are increasing exponentially, could hamper economic relations.

Trump has also lambasted Apple for building iPhones in China, and has favored executing NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an opinion that has distanced himself from many in Silicon Valley.

Net neutrality

Trump has attacked net neutrality before, equating it to the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC policy that began in the 1940s and ended in 1987. It aimed to compel television and radio broadcasters to devote airtime to a) “controversial issues of public importance,” and b) “the airing of opposing views on those issues.”

Trump complained in a 2014 tweet that net neutrality would unfairly impact conservative media outlets. He has frequently vowed to reduce red tape for American businesses, and views net neutrality as another unnecessary bureaucratic step. Yet Trump has his facts wrong here, as net neutrality has nothing to do with content on the Internet.

The voice from the Valley

Some entrepreneurs have leapt to Trump’s defense when it comes to tech issues. Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley super investor and early Facebook backer, took to the stage in promotion of Trump, at July’s Republican National Convention.

I build companies and I’m supporting people who are building new things, from social networks to rocket ships,” said Thiel. “I’m not a politician. But neither is Donald Trump. He is a builder, and it’s time to rebuild America.”

Other Silicon Valley executives who have backed Trump include Oculus founder Palmer Luckey—but the Republican candidates’ support is very thin on the ground among tech’s leading lights. Amazon chief Jeff Bezos has offered to shoot Trump into space.

And Apple CEO Tim Cook was vocal in his condemnation of the US government’s attempts to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernadino attacker—a move Trump wholeheartedly promoted.

A group of ‘technology sector leaders’ wrote an open letter to Donald Trump this summer, in which they argued their belief “in an inclusive country that fosters opportunity, creativity and a level playing field. Donald Trump does not.

The letter, which included signatories such as Hyperloop One’s Marvin Ammori; Betaworks founder John Borthwick and former US CTO Annesh Chopra, continued with the fact that 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants. “We also believe that progressive immigration policies help us attract and retain some of the brightest minds on earth—scientists, entrepreneurs, and creators,” they continued.

Trump has also promised to “shut down” parts of the Internet to combat online recruitment of Americans into ISIS and other hate groups—though experts have deemed this unworkable. The plan demonstrates “both poor judgement and ignorance about how technology works,” the group wrote.

  • noh1bvisas

    big tech has donated many millions to hillary’s campaign for one reason: to get an unlimited stream of cheap, foreign guest workers. hillary’s “dream of open borders” is irresistible to them.

  • Perturbed Pundit

    “40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants”

    And how many of that 40% had a native CO-founder? Of course, that doesn’t get mentioned.

    • Sean

      Seeing as the number of first generation immigrants in the US is <1%, and the number of second gen immigrants is <7%, 40% is a striking number, and the number of 'native' (unless you mean Native American?) co-founders is not.

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