Silicon Valley's oligarchs got a punch in the head – and that's actually good thing
Trump Silver Linings?
Comment Looking for silver linings from the Election of President Donald J Trump? There may not be many – but I might just have found one.
A Republican trifecta (controlling the White House and both Houses) would be the big news today as it signals a "change election", and it hasn't happened since 1928. But Trump is Trump, so that isn't even mentioned today. It isn't hyperbole to suggest Trump is the most unusual victorious presidential candidate ever, or has run the most striking campaign ever.
As Trump broke taboo after taboo of good manners, without suffering any lasting consequences, something became apparent. A large chunk of the electorate hated the people who set the manners much more than they did the orange-haired TV personality in front of them, who was trying very hard to be a naughty boy. Incredibly, Trump even survived "bantz" about incest and molesting women.
Perhaps we're missing some vital cultural context here, one that Americans pick up that we don't, which allowed Trump to be forgiven for being camp, rather than universally vilified for being callous. Perhaps Trump's ultra arch delivery means he can pack a payload that looks toxic, but is instantly let off in a kind of "Oooh, isn't he outrageous?" sort of way.
Noel Coward had this knack too. The BBC banned Let's Be Beastly To The Germans during World War II. A peak BBC moment.
One piece of cultural context Europeans invariably forget is that much of America's politics is done locally, at the town, state, country and state level. Almost all policing is local. The federal government is a distant, often sinister thing, perceived in large parts with some paranoia. Electing Jefferson Smith to go to Washington is regarded as a calculated, prudent measure, not an act of idiocy.
Trump broke a million other rules too. We still haven't seen his tax returns, for example, or examined his business relationships with Russia. We don't know if he's really a fascist, or just likes playing one for the TV news, or whether he actually even wants the job for four years. That's a lot of don't knows. But we do know which groups will be looking worried today. And one group that is almost universally aghast at Trump's election is Silicon Valley.
Which is rich in irony. If Trump is the pathologically ill-mannered candidate to take the Oval Office, he's just annoyed the most pathological group of oligarchs.
Trump and the Tech Oligarchs
Trump cared about his "tech policy" as much as he cared about anything else. Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren's teams offered pages of wonkish detail. Trump cared so little, he didn't have a tech policy at all. He talked about border fences and tariffs and infrastructure and "draining the swamp", not net neutrality or gender issues. Not caring about the sensitivities of Silicon Valley's oligarchs was a way of signalling that he cared about stuff that mattered more.
But this may not be a bad things for Americans. Despite inflicting on people the greatest loss of shareholder value in human history, Silicon Valley managed to restore its reputation after the dot.com crash, but only did so because the political and media "thought leaders" were entranced and in awe of Facebook and Google. Google's extraordinary grip on Government agencies has been well documented here at El Reg, and only took place thanks to Obama. Obama was even prepared to give Google something even Google was nervous about asking for – Class II reclassification. If it was good for Uber or Facebook, it must be good for America.
The tech oligarchs had an extraordinary ride of luck. Silicon Valley successfully disguised an attack not just on the heartlands, but the unwritten social contract. If you study Google closely, what emerges is how much the very idea of humans irritates it, what an inconvenience we are. "Post human" isn't some sci-fi fantasy, it's a reasonable description of a world in which many jobs have been automated, and the individual's property rights and identity rights have been pared right away to the bone. People have begun to notice that Silicon Valley doesn't create jobs or prosperity – except for the oligarchs themselves.
There are 3.5 million trucking jobs in the US, and a further 5.2 million job associated with transport. Trucking is the most popular job in 29 of the 50 states. How many will survive in a decade?
Joel Kotkin, who brilliantly describes the new class divides in America, told us today that "Hillary Clinton had the oligarchs' vote: the tech oligarchs, Hollywood, and Wall Street were all for Hillary."
She was the crony capitalist candidate, he thinks.
"No one ever, not even Obama, had this degree of support from the bourgeoisie. She won the billionaire primary 20 to 1. So how could she run as a populist? She had to run on gender, on race, and as a Green candidate – and that probably isn't enough."
Trump's victory, like Brexit, divides critics into two camps. It's either a failure of the existing elites – such as the media and the current parties who have failed to heed people's concerns, or it's the fault of the people, who can then be vilified. The latter argument has the merit, for the elites, of absolving them from any fault for alienating voters, or pursuing self-indulgent and irrelevant pursuits – like having a tech policy. Eventually that leads to the elites wishing they had a new electorate, rather than listening and leading. And ultimately, that leads to a Trump. ®