Narrative: Trump’s Tech Collision Course

Written: January 28, 2017


It was apparent throughout the 2016 US presidential campaign that Silicon Valley and the broader set of technology companies in the US was at odds with then-candidate Donald Trump on a number of major issues, from immigration to tariffs to US manufacturing and others. Donations to campaigns from employees of the major US tech companies heavily favored Hillary Clinton, and Google in particular had very close relationships with the Obama administration. On top of all that, Donald Trump made a number of pointed remarks about individual tech companies during the election, including Amazon and Apple. In short, the tech industry has appeared to be on a collision course with President Trump.

Since his election, the tech industry has largely trodden very carefully. The President-Elect held a roundtable with leaders of the big companies during the transition period after the election, and remarks from those who attended were very guarded. We’ve seen companies like Amazon issue press releases promising lots more jobs in the US over the coming years as an apparent sop to the administration, even though it’s fairly clear no new jobs are contemplated beyond those that were already planned. For companies like Twitter, Trumps’s presidency has been particularly conflicting, because the platform was a huge enabler of his campaign but most of its employees oppose his policies, and yet both Twitter and other major companies have been very quiet about the Trump administration and its policies, apparently out of fear of a backlash.

That is, they have been quiet  until the last couple of days. The Executive Orders on immigration signed on January 27, 2017 have sparked the first real backlash from the tech industry against President Trump and his policies, and we’re starting to see the first real signs of outspokenness from an uncharacteristically quiet Silicon Valley. Two Facebook executives were the first to speak out on Friday, but a chorus of opposing voices began on Saturday, with most major tech companies having issued some kind of statement on the immigration orders by the evening (at the time of writing, Amazon is a major holdout).

It’s worth noting that not all statements from the tech industry have come with equal force – some have mostly focused on the practical implications for employees of each company, while others have gone further and made moral statements about the orders in broader terms. But there is now something of a united front among the tech industry, which may make it harder for the administration to react in a way that harms individual companies – indeed, it appears that some companies held back while seeing how others would react and only broke their own cover once it was clear they would not be alone.