Fearmongering Donald Trump and optimistic Silicon Valley seem to epitomize opposing ideologies. But the two have far more in common than you think
Tomorrow, Silicon Valley leaders will sit down for a summit with Donald Trump. Larry Page, Tim Cook, Elon Musk, and Sheryl Sandberg are all expected to attend. The agenda is unknown, but the mood is likely to be tense. After all, tech executives overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton and loudly railed against the dangers posed by a Trump presidency. And Trump regularly lashed out at Silicon Valley on the campaign trail, bashing the industry for building hardware overseas and importing foreign engineers.
But tech has little to fear from Trump. If his cabinet appointments are any indication, he seems keen to govern as a free-market fundamentalist, cutting taxes and regulations to the bone. Trumps elevation of ultra-hawkish ex-generals to key cabinet posts also suggests that he will aggressively expand the sprawling surveillance state inherited from Obama. This is excellent news for companies like Palantir, which sell data analytics tools to the CIA, the NSA and other agencies. Palantir was co-founded by Peter Thiel, the billionaire who broke with his Silicon Valley colleagues to embrace Trump. Thiel now sits on the transition team, and has begun drawing a select circle of tech industry allies into Trumps orbit. He and his friends are likely to make lots of money.
And thats only the low-hanging fruit. Depending on Trumps appetite for domestic repression, Silicon Valley may benefit from even bigger market opportunities. Building a registry of all Muslims in the United States, for instance, would require a fair bit of technical expertise and infrastructure. When The Intercept asked nine big tech companies whether they would help create such a registry, only Twitter said no. The righteous indignation has receded, it seems.
But theres another, deeper reason that tech and Trump will prove highly compatible. Its not merely that tech CEOs will thrive under Trump. Its that Trump embodies a particularly extreme version of the worldview that Silicon Valleyepitomizes.
This worldview can be summarized in a single word: neoliberalism. Neoliberalism can mean many things, including an economic program, a political project, and a phase of capitalism dating from the 1970s. At its root, however, neoliberalism is the idea that everything should be run as a business that market metaphors, metrics, and practices should permeate all fields of human life.
No industry has played a larger role in evangelizing the neoliberal faith than Silicon Valley. Its entrepreneurs are constantly coming up with new ways to make more of our lives into markets. A couple of decades ago, staying in touch with friends wasnt a source of economic value now its the basis for a $350bn company. Our photo albums, dating preferences, porn habits, and most random and banal thoughts have all become profitable data sets, mined for advertising revenue. We are encouraged to see ourselves as pieces of human capital that must ceaselessly enhance our value optimizing our feeds and profiles, hustling for follows and likes and swipes.
If Silicon Valley is turning our personal lives into a business, then Trump hopes to turn our government into one. Like all of Trumps ideas, this isnt especially original. For decades, neoliberal politicians of both parties have promoted the notion that government should not only serve business, but operate like one. Theyve argued that public services should be privatized, or at least model the efficiency of the private sector. Theyve claimed that business is the highest form of human endeavor, and that the role of the state is to empower and emulate it.
Indeed, these neoliberal ideas have become so dominant over the past four decades that they are shared by nearly all mainstream politicians. But no one has ever pushed them further than Trump. The basic recipe of Trumpism involves taking a coded or qualified political sentiment and making it as loud and unambiguous as possible. What other politicians express with a wink and a whisper, Trump yells at the top of his lungs. He turns subtext into text, makes explicit what was previously implied.
Racism, misogyny, and Islamophobic fearmongering were all fixtures of American political life before Trump came along, but he articulated them with a bluntness seldom seen in conventional politics. Similarly, the neoliberal assumption that government should resemble business is widely held across the political spectrum. Yet Trump has taken it to an extreme, applying the logic of neoliberalism so literally as to be almost parody.
Read more: www.theguardian.com