President-elect Donald Trump piled on the platitudes Wednesday when he greeted a room of Silicon Valley tech executives at his Manhattan tower. The meeting aimed to reset the President-elect’s openly contentious relationship with Silicon Valley during his campaign.
It was anyone’s guess how Wednesday’s meeting would end up going. But of the many faces of Trump, it was the light-hearted charmer who came out this day.
“There’s nobody like the people in this room, and anything we can do to help this go along we’re going to do that for you,” Trump told the conference room from the 25th floor of Trump Tower. “You call my people, you call me, it doesn’t make any difference. We have no formal chain of command.”
In return, the Silicon Valley leaders showed they were willing to take a more peacemaking tone as well. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos described the encounter as “very productive”. He continued: “I shared the view that the administration should make innovation one of its key pillars, which would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech—agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing—everywhere.”
Bezos was joined by Silicon Valley leaders like Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, and Larry Page and Eric Schmidt from Alphabet among others.
During the presidential campaign, many of the executives in attendance openly supported Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and stood at odds with Trump on issues like America’s trade relationship with China, immigration policy, data privacy, and government surveillance. But with Trump taking a surprising victory from the election, we’re now watching these leaders bite the bullet of their new reality as they begin cheerleading their agendas to the newcomer administration. That doesn’t mean we can’t still see some of their more awkward facial expressions during a somewhat surreal introductory meeting.
Just to knead in Silicon Valley’s voice further into his fold, Trump named Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Tesla CEO Elon Musk to his business advisory council. Previously, chief executive of IBM Ginni Rometty was the only representative from the tech industry.
As he’s already done on other issues since taking office, Trump wasn’t afraid to reverse course on an earlier campaign promise by saying he wants to make it easier for these tech companies to trade internationally.
“We’re going to make fair trade deals,” he told the executives. “We’re going to make it a lot easier for you to trade across borders.”
Three of Trump’s children, Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka sat in attendance, which again raises the question of whether Trump is creating a conflict of interest in letting his children get involved with his work while also taking over his businesses. Vice President-elect Mike Pence was also in attendance as was Peter Thiel, the lone Silicon Valley leader who supported Trump during his campaign and now billed as a possible bridge between the administration and the Valley.
But not everyone is happy with the conciliatory new tone to develop between Trump and Silicon Valley. Prior to the meeting, tech executives faced scrutiny and pleas from colleagues to stand firm on their beliefs in the face of the incoming administration.
“Now, more than ever, tech leaders must stand up for human dignity, and examine their role in public discourse,” EBay founder Pierre Omidyar wrote on Twitter.
The detractors have a point. It might be in the tech executives’ best interest to play nice with Trump during the photo opp. But it’s important they don’t lose sight of his sometimes dangerous stances when it comes to tech related policy.
Trump has long been an opponent of Obama’s net neutrality rules which barred internet service providers from slowing or obstructing internet speeds for American consumers. It now looks like he’ll be able to replace two seats at the Federal Communications Commission as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to step down after inauguration day and Jessica Rosenworcel’s term expires at the end of the month.
Republican FCC member Ajit Pai already made clear he wants to take a “weed whacker” to FCC regulations during Trump’s term in office. And he has his sight set on rolling back the 2015 net neutrality regulations first.