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When Silicon Valley and Trump Tower Collide

It’s a love-fest! To the surprise of… exactly who? Trump’s meeting with top tech execs confirms a simple truth: All their ships are sailing in the same direction.

Dear Wall Street Daily Reader,

For a guy who built his electoral coalition on a foundation of fiery populist rhetoric and anti-establishment bromides, Donald Trump’s presidential transition has been heavy on elites.

He’s selected a Cabinet whose aggregate wealth is greater than that of the bottom third of Americans households — 17 people of the people (out of 23 positions to be filled) who have more money than 43 million families.

He’s also welcomed a cross-section of opinion leaders to the gilded Trump Tower, including rappers, boxers, former NFL stars, NFL owners, fashion icons, environmental activists/screen idols, and environmental activists/vanquished presidential candidates.

Around these parts, though, the most conspicuous gathering of ring-kissers has to be President-elect The Donald’s December 14 summoning of tech industry leaders to his Fifth Avenue skyscraper.

The convocation included:

  • Alphabet Inc. (GOOG) founder and CEO Larry Page;
  • Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt;
  • Amazon Inc. (AMZN) chairman and CEO (and owner of The Washington Post) Jeff Bezos;
  • Apple Inc. (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook;
  • Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) CEO Chuck Robbins;
  • Facebook Inc. (FB) COO Sheryl Sandberg;
  • IBM Corp. (IBM) CEO Ginni Rometty;
  • Intel Corp. (INTC) CEO Brian Krzanich;
  • Oracle Corp. (ORCL) co-CEO Safra Catz;
  • Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) CEO Satya Nadella;
  • Microsoft president and chief legal officer Brad Smith;
  • and Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) and SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk.

Apparently — and ironically, given the president-elect’s well-known penchant for dashing off 140 characters of pure impulse — Twitter Inc. (TWTR) and CEO Jack Dorsey were “too small” to merit inclusion.

For a guy who built his electoral coalition on a foundation of fiery populist rhetoric and anti-establishment bromides, Donald Trump’s presidential transition has been heavy on elites.

Palantir Technologies Inc. CEO Alex Karp, a close associate of Trump tech consigliere Peter Thiel, who set the invite list, was there.

So were Trump appointees Gary Cohn (director-designate of the National Economic Council, formerly of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS)) and Wilbur Ross (secretary-designate of commerce) as well as incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior counsel/chief strategist Steve Bannon, and senior adviser to the president-elect Stephen Miller

Ever-present, of course, are Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, as well as sons Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump.

That 12-heavyweight bullet list includes many outspoken critics of candidate Trump, including Bezos, who once said his behavior toward the press on the trail “erodes democracy around the edges” and joked about sending him to space.

But now all their ships are sailing in the same direction.

Here he is, introducing himself during the “open” portion of the session, with media present: “Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com. I’m super excited about the possibility that this could be the innovations administration.”

As he explained after the meeting, “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.”

Trump, after lauding “ahead of the curve” and “very special guy” Thiel, was more direct about the new alignment:

So I want to add that I’m here to help you folks do well. And you’re doing well right now, and I’m honored by the bounce. They’re all talking about the bounce, so right now everybody in this room has to like me at least a little bit, but we’re going to try and have that bounce continue, and perhaps even more importantly, we want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. There’s nobody like you in the world. In the world, there’s nobody like the people in this room.

And anything we can do to help this go along, and we’re going to be there for you and you’ll call my people, you’ll call me, it doesn’t make any difference, we have no formal chain of command around here.

It’s a rapprochement remarkably stunning and, at the same time, entirely predictable.

Silicon Valley had little love for Trump.

Actually, Silicon Valley’s rank and file probably still have little love for Trump.

But Silicon Valley’s elite corporate officers recognize — as does the small-government-low-tax-no-regulation libertarian Thiel, who founded Palantir as well as PayPal Inc. — some long-term upside potential in the Trump era.

It’s a rapprochement remarkably stunning and, at the same time, entirely predictable.

It’s as simple, too, as Apple’s Cook put it in an explanation to his employees, of not wanting to be left behind.

In an internal email verified as legitimate by TechCrunch, Cook wrote:

Personally, I’ve never found being on the sideline a successful place to be… The way that you influence these issues is to be in the arena. So whether it’s in this country, or the European Union, or in China or South America, we engage. And we engage when we agree and we engage when we disagree. I think it’s very important to do that because you don’t change things by just yelling. You change things by showing everyone why your way is the best. In many ways, it’s a debate of ideas.

During a subsequent Q-and-A, Cook noted that “governments can affect our ability to do what we do.”

During an October 31, 2016, speech at the National Press Club, Thiel provided perhaps the most trenchant observation on what was a total sh*tshow of a campaign:

But I think one thing that should be made distinguished here is the media always is taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally. I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously, but not literally.

Thiel was responding to a question from moderator Thomas Burr, president of the National Press Club, about a ban on Muslim travel to the United States. He added:

And so when they hear things like the Muslim comment or like the wall comment or things like that, it’s not — the question is not are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China or, you know, how exactly are you going to force these tests. What they hear is we’re going to have — we’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy. We’re going to try to figure out a way to — figure out how do we strike the right balance between costs and benefits.

Thiel, who almost single-handedly took down independent media upstart Gawker based in large part on a revenge motive, is unquestionably an odd one.

“Silicon Valley’s power brokers want you to think they’re different. But they’re just average robber barons.”

But his perspective on what the Washington Consensus has wrought shouldn’t be dismissed. There are our endless wars, our bubble-based economy, our inequality, our insane Wall Street-Washington, D.C.-Mainstream Media power nexus.

The mainstream media loves to elevate the Bezoses, the Cooks, the Zuckerbergs, and the Musks into “fantastical and mythical figures,” as The Outline’s Emmett Rensin recently put it.

Thiel has been both demonized (rightly, when it comes to his jihad against Gawker; wrongly, when it comes to the mere fact of his support for Trump) and lionized (for his entrepreneurial instinct).

The full transcript of his National Press Club speech and the Q-and-A with Burr is illuminating, all argumentum ad hominem aside.

Those folks are neither heroes, in the sense of a guy like John Glenn, nor villains, at least to the extent that they’re just playing the game as it’s laid before them.

The “truth” is closer to this: “Silicon Valley’s power brokers want you to think they’re different. But they’re just average robber barons.” Before November 8, they were simply playing the odds, and the odds said Hillary Clinton would be the next Custodian of Empire.

Now they’re back to “making the world a better place.”


The vast majority of Silicon Valley startups, the sort that project lofty missions and managed improbably lucrative IPOs despite never having graced the cover of The Economist or the frontal cortex of the president, work precisely like any other kind of mundane sales operation in search of a product: Underpaid cold-callers receive low wages and less job security in exchange for a foosball table and the burden of growing a company as quickly as possible so that it can reach a liquidation event. Owners and investors get rich. Managers stay comfortable. The employees get hosed. None of this is particularly original. At least the real robber barons built the railroads.

What we really need to know is whether they talked about securing the Internet-of-Things (IoT) during that confab, because lives may actually depend on it.

We’ll have more on the IoT death threat in tomorrow’s Wall Street Daily.


Here’s how science changes, courtesy of Boing Boing: People challenge orthodoxy:

In July 2002, The New York Times Magazine published Gary Taubes’ article “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?,” which made the case for carbs, not dietary fat, as the cause of heart disease and obesity. Taubes was swiftly excoriated by the health and nutrition industry and made fun of by other food reporters. Nearly 15 years later, Taubes is no longer a heretic, and the idea that many kinds of fat are healthy is promoted by the orthodoxy, who act as if they knew it all along.

Taubes has a new piece up for The Vindicated, “‘Nutrition Heretic’ Gary Taubes on the Long Road Back From a Big, Fat Public Shaming.”

Smart Investing,

David Dittman

David Dittman
Editorial Director, Wall Street Daily

David Dittman

, Contributing Writer

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