Is Trump secretly a Bond villain?
About elites (4/4)Fatal Attraction - Silicon Valley meets Donald Trump
On the one hand, that hit the so-called tech industry's self-image, but on the other it fits into the picture. As much as the industry, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM, sees itself as a champion for an open and tolerant world, it tends to believe that such openness is a sure-fire success, regardless of who is using its technologies and what for.
Autocrats around the world have made use of this for years, now Trump. And one or the other has probably not even secretly felt a certain resonance with Trump: He fatally flatters Silicon Valley's self-perception as an anti-elitist elite.
Adrian Daub lives in San Francisco, teaches literary studies at Stanford University and also writes reviews and essays for numerous magazines and journals. He published the studies "Four-Handed Monsters: Four-Hand Piano Playing and Nineteenth Century Culture" and "The James Bond Songs: Pop Anthems of Late Capitalism" in Oxford University Press. His book "POP-UP NATION - Innenansichten aus dem Silicon Valley" was published by Hanser Verlag.
Fatal Attraction - Silicon Valley meets Donald Trump
If the term elite is used in the USA today, it is almost always meant in a derogatory way. Especially when Republicans rant about the coastal population for an audience in the "heartland" of the United States. Conservatives claim that Democrats like George Clooney or Hillary Clinton belong to an elite that is not legitimized by the people. These elites tried to impose their thinking, their agenda on the so-called "real Americans".
Donald Trump makes fun of the "Hollywood elite" or speaks of the "arrogant elite". Sarah Palin likes to speak of the "media elite". And the conservative influential opinion-forming journalists keep talking about the "coastal elite."
Elite? In principle, these are the others. In the US, you can get a high school degree from Phillips Academy Andover, then go to Harvard and Yale without ever touching the term "elite". To be elite and at the same time to be anti-elitist, that was what George W. Bush could do. The term elite is even more vague in use in the heterogeneous USA than in Europe.
"Power elites" described by sociologist C. Wright Mills in 1957
The most distinguished families of Boston are referred to as "Boston Brahmins" (the Brahmins of Boston). They trace their ancestry back to the Puritan founders of the Massachusetts colony and to this day form a kind of aristocracy in New England. They belong to the "power elites" described by sociologist C. Wright Mills in 1957 in the USA. Wright Mills was particularly concerned with the power structures of modern societies and the role of intellectuals in post-war American society. According to Mills, the power elites he describes formed such small groups that they hardly matter in public discourse in such a large country.
The term elite is based heavily on cultural influences, not so much on economic power. According to this understanding, Harvard is elitist, Wall Street allegedly is not. California's Silicon Valley, one of the most important locations for the IT and high-tech industry worldwide, with its research millionaires and network nerds is in a kind of intermediate state within this discourse: You make a lot of money there and build large villas, but you don't belong to any traditional one Elite, not even that of the new Trump era. But because it is on the politically more left-wing west coast, strongly shaped by the spirit of counterculture, the American counterculture, the Valley, like all of California, comes under elite "suspicion". And Silicon Valley itself clearly sees itself as an elite, but would never, ever admit that.
Uber boss Kalanick 2015: "If Trump wins, I'll move to China"
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Silicon Valley wasn't exactly Trump country. The companies there, the best known include Apple, Intel, Google, Adobe, Yahoo, eBay, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Facebook, Tesla, Amazon and Dell, donated a lot of money to Trump's opponents, first to Bernie Sanders, then to Hillary Clinton . Travis Kalanick, head of the Uber car service, joked in 2015: "... if Trump wins, I'll move to China". The multibillionaire and rocket maker Elon Musk, head of the car manufacturer Tesla, called Trump "the wrong choice".
It was obvious that the companies in Silicon Valley would take a stand in the election campaign against Trump, if only for sociological reasons. Many of its founders may not be exactly left, but they are cosmopolitan. Many of them are immigrants themselves - Sergey Brin, President of Alphabet Inc., was born in Moscow, Elon Musk, partner in Pay Pal and Wikipedia, came to the USA from South Africa as an adult, and Jerry Yang from Yahoo comes from Taiwan. And the workforce in the industry is also often newcomers from overseas. They can only do something with Trump's "America First".
In the election campaign, the ideological differences between the computer nerds and the abandoned and yesterday's who rallied around Trump weighed heavily. Because the IT hobbyists of the so-called tech industry in the USA see themselves, probably not wrongly, as pioneers and masterminds of a world without borders, as pioneers of globalization and preachers of its blessings.
Trump's worldview was diametrically opposed to that of Silicon Valley
But Donald Trump's world consists of border walls and punitive tariffs. His economic populism celebrated old-fashioned branches of the economy such as the steel mills and coal mines during the election campaign. And in general, Trump's entire worldview seemed diametrically opposed to that of Silicon Valley. Alone the "again" in Trump's mantra "Make America Great Again" was nostalgically aimed at the youth of disappointed baby boomers. And this time is completely alien to the young Silicon Valley. Here one is not afraid of the future, one does not long to go back on principle.
Looking backwards, people in Silicon Valley also see Trump's self-image as a doer. In this entrepreneurial avant-garde, nobody sees themselves as a "doer". Even the greedy company boss likes to talk about having higher tasks than just making money. Here, in a constantly striving cliché, one is in the process of "making the world a better place." Trump's pronounced fear of the world could only meet with incomprehension.
The only intersection between Trump and Silicon Valley was Twitter. Trump's long-term activities in the social network may have contributed to the fact that he was not really taken seriously in Silicon Valley. Trump, who is known to not use a PC and had to fall back on the computer skills of his ten-year-old son Barron in a speech duel with Hillary Clinton, looked like a funny figure brought to life by the social networks.
A comparatively strong 18 percent voted for Trump
The shock was accordingly great when Trump came to power. For all of California, where he only got about a third of the votes, but especially in the technology region around the Bay of San Francisco. In San Francisco itself, just nine percent of the electorate voted for Trump, in Silicon Valley at least a comparatively strong 18 percent.
The rest of the country was head-to-head between Democrats and Republicans, between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. On the California coast, Trump was only the candidate of a splinter party. Silicon Valley has always thought of itself as a pioneer, strongly isolated from the rest of the country, but not as an exception. On November 10, 2016, the future region suddenly found itself there as an outsider. The Bay Area was always different, voted differently than the majority in the US, but Silicon Valleys' new voting behavior did raise a few questions. Here one is meanwhile too cerebral, too rich, removed from the "real America", in short: too elitist,
The fact that the black, Mexican, Arab and Chinese workers who live here, the lesbian and transgender people of Northern California belong to an elite, should have been new to most of them. But the accusation was in the room: being different was elitist, being different was arrogance.
Tamely, the company bosses inaugurated the new ruler
How quickly the real elite of the region - the super-rich of Silicon Valley - came to terms with the newly discovered "real" America came as a shock to many workers in the valley. The pioneers in matters of the future, tolerance and world improvement in the interests of business hastily sent peace signals to Washington. Tamely, the recently vocal company bosses inaugurated the new ruler. While high school students took to the streets against the newly elected president in the Californian cities of Palo Alto and Oakland, while riots raged in San Francisco and Portland, while the Californian parliament and even the Californian police openly declared that Trump's initiatives would be undermined, they left them here local tech giants say they were looking forward to working with the new president.
IBM boss Ginni Rometty didn't let a week go by before making suggestions to Trump that she believed would help him realize his visions. Former critics like Elon Musk and Travis Kalanick joined Trump's "economic advisory board" - "to share their specific knowledge" while the president implements his plan to bring jobs back and make America great again.
New York, mid-December 2016. Many workers on the Bay of San Francisco have unpleasant memories of one picture: Trump, the trio Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr., with a number of them, were sitting at a conference table on the 25th floor of Trump Tower CEOs who are still critical of Trump.
It was a "reboot", judged the Los Angeles Times, a new start. But basically it was "business as usual." Because here was an important branch of the US economy, what else should it do if not to work with the new US administration?
PayPal founder Thiel joined Trump's team during the election campaign
The disappointment among the workforce in the Californian tech industry showed that one had always seen one's own branch of industry as an inviolable solitaire, not as one branch of industry among others.
The main character of this round table was PayPal founder Peter Thiel, who had already joined Trump's team during the election campaign. Thiel, in turn, was now sitting across from those who had never made a secret of their aversion to Trump. In addition to Elon Musk Jeff Bezos from Amazon, whose empire also includes the Washington Post, which Trump attacked particularly hard during the election campaign. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, whose bestseller Lean In Manifesto of a Silicon Valley feminism is supposed to be, sat across from the person who made the word "pussy grabbing" socially acceptable. Tortured faces.
Larry Page and Eric Schmidt from Google and Apple CEO Tim Cook didn't lean as far out the window during the election campaign as Travis Kalanick and Elon Musk. But they also had more to lose, as tariff wars such as those that Trump seem to envision could hit their companies particularly hard.
Interestingly, there was no Twitter representative. The platform, which probably contributed more to Trump's election than any other medium, was not even invited.
"I'm not even telling you how many hundreds of calls we received," said the President-elect, "everyone wanted to come to this meeting." Just an empty roar from someone who seems to specialize in it? Or is it a sign that the gap between Trump and tech isn't that deep?
A mix of opinions that sometimes expresses itself in elitist thinking, sometimes with banal populism
The relationship with Donald Trump symbolizes an identity crisis that the tech industry is going through anyway. Because as different as the bosses of Silicon Valley and the President of Trump Tower may be, they all understand a certain ambivalence in their appearances, in spreading a mix of opinions that sometimes expresses itself in elitist thinking, sometimes with banal populism. Here you boast of the status you have acquired through your own strength and mime the man from the people who has remained quite street-credible.
Trump and the makers from Mountain View and Palo Alto are united by their distrust of the established itself. What is traditional is worth shuffling around. "Disruption" is what it means in Silicon Valley. Shortly after his inauguration, Trump gave a lecture on Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, as his newly chosen (or perhaps just discovered) role model. Jackson had politically asserted himself against an "arrogant elite," said Trump, and added: "Does that remind you of anyone?"
This agreement of minds was first recognized by Peter Thiel. The Frankfurt-born billionaire earned his living with the payment service PayPal and early investments in Facebook. He is a product of the Valley, grew up in San Matteo in the north of Silicon Valley, studied at Stanford University, first philosophy, then law. Thiel represents the apparently conservative in the otherwise culturally liberal Silicon Valley. Even more than Mark Zuckerberg, Thiel has the reputation of a man who has what it takes to be a James Bond villain. Unlike Zuckerberg, Thiel does not seem to quarrel with this reputation. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan aim to provide medical care for the poor. Meanwhile, Thiel can be injected with foreign blood to rejuvenate his own body. Thiels Foundation pays young people not to go to university. Thiel's "Seasteading Institute" plans islands anchored in the ocean, radical capitalist exclaves in international waters. When the online magazine Gawker outed him as gay in 2006, Thiel financed a multi-million dollar litigation avalanche that drove Gawker into bankruptcy.
Thiel supported Trump's candidacy with millions in payments
What exactly connects Thiel with Trump, whose candidacy he supported with millions in payments, has triggered much speculation. Because the ideological overlaps with Trump are relatively modest, even with his most devoted disciple in the tech industry. Thiel doesn't seem to share Trump's folk conservatism or his ethno-nationalism. Thiel is a radical liberal, that is to say: he wants to shrink the government, lower taxes, leave as much as possible, basically everything, to the invisible hand of the market.
At the Republican Party Congress in July 2016, Thiel gave one of the most important speeches. Hardly anyone from the party elite had come. The only celebrities who seemed ready to show up on stage with Trump were related to him. But Peter Thiel was there, and obviously liked the pose of the "builder": "I build companies and I support people who build new things. I'm not a politician and Donald Trump isn't either. He's a builder, and it's time to rebuild America. "
Many of the speeches at the time tried to conjure up sides of Trump that the media allegedly kept quiet. Trump, one who stood up for women. Who respects the rights of minorities. A champion for social justice. Even then, people joked that they would like to get to know this Mister Trump once the would-be sexist dictator let him go first. After almost three months of Trump's presidency, one could also say: The Trump that daughter Ivanka presented at the party conference in Cleveland was pure and simple fiction.
Evil tongues suspected that Thiel had supported Trump precisely because of his incompetence
But what about the man that Peter Thiel described at the time? At that time Thiel conjured up the Cleveland of his youth, celebrated a time when "the future felt infinite": Apollo program, infrastructure, the universities - Thiel praised one government project after the other, carried out by governments that at the time still had the highest incomes 90% taxed. He didn't sound particularly radically liberal.
Evil tongues suspected that Thiel had supported Trump precisely because of his incompetence. That the radical liberal Thiel, for whom the shrinking of the state is a concern, saw in his support of Trump an opportunity to pursue his own goal. But now? Why did Thiel Foundation employees help build the new government team after the election? Why did several Thiel employees move into offices in Trump Tower and write speeches for Trump?
As a region, California has positioned itself as a counterweight to Trump's Washington: The state has convened expert councils to counter Trump's policies. Barack Obama's former Attorney General Eric Holder will try to block Trump's new ideas about immigration policy in California on behalf of the state government. In terms of environmental policy, California intends to adhere to the Paris Treaties, even if the federal government should drop them. The governor of the state was already rumbling that if Trump deprived NASA of the money for climate research, California would have to shoot its own satellites into space. The state takes a stand against the president.
In principle, the Valley rubs itself against the arrogance of the establishment, but sees its own arrogance as justified.With wild promises to get into massive debts and be celebrated as a winner for doing so - that could confidently be called the business principle of Silicon Valleys.
Travis Kalanick managed to sell the taxi company Uber, which is now worth 50 billion dollars, as an underdog company that has to assert itself against powerful elites - in this case against underpaid urban bureaucrats and taxi driver unions.
Uber boss Kalanick: "I finally have to grow up"
In February 2017, a video became known in which Travis Kalanick clashed with one of his Uber drivers. He complained that Ubers price gimmicks drove him into bankruptcy. Kalanick got rich by exploiting loopholes in tax law, state-provided infrastructure, and the dependence of its pseudo-privately-owned drivers. He said to his driver's face, "You know, some people just don't want to take responsibility for their own crap, they always blame everyone else."
This video, which exposed Uber's dubious business model in a brief dialogue, caused a stir in Silicon Valley. As has often been the case with such derailments, the 40-year-old multi-billionaire Kalanick promised improvement: "I finally have to grow up".
In Thiel's and Kalanick's universe, the rich are the victims, while the little people are the mighty and evil. Men like Thiel and Kalanick blame the weak on their weakness as a mistake and offense and see themselves as victims every time they are not allowed to use their own strengths. Nietzsche called this the "revaluation of all values". Pixar's films - particularly The Incredibles from 2004 - have carried these ideas around the world. There the son of the superhero family complains: "If everyone is special, nobody is special."
Silicon Valley is special. And don't want to have to apologize for it.
This way of thinking goes back to Ayn Rand, who is of great influence here. Rand's books like "Atlas Shrugged" from 1957 and "The Fountainhead" from 1943 are on many shelves in Silicon Valley. They fit in well here, too: Rand preaches some sort of anti-institutional elite. An elite of talent and genius that has to fight its way free - on the one hand from traditional elites, but also from the plebs who allow themselves to be nursed through by the old elites. What makes this worldview attractive to the upstarts from Silicon Valley is obvious. Your own success is natural and correct, but the reputation of the traditionally successful is questionable. Rand's "objectivism" conjures up an aristocracy of outsiders, a metaphysics of nerds.
Handing over big tasks to daring young people is part of the investing business
Even this feeling of knowing better than the experts, despite all mutual aversion, connects the nerds on the Bay of San Francisco and the 70-year-old real estate shark from Manhattan. In Washington people rub their eyes when Donald Trump gives his son-in-law Jared Kushner one role after another. (A peace mission in the Middle East is only one of at least a dozen.) In Silicon Valley, however, this accumulation of offices is unlikely to arouse astonishment: entrusting inexperienced but daring young people with immensely large tasks is part of everyday investor business, albeit often with disastrous consequences.
Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes was paid billions for a revolutionary medical technology that was supposed to turn mainstream medicine upside down - even though her tests never worked. What science knew, but no one among the investors wanted to hear.
For years people have been calling from Silicon Valley that the state should adopt more principles of the technology industry - "uberize government," as Republican presidential candidate John Kasich called it in 2016. Now the industry is shocked to see what it looks like when a government actually acts on these principles.
Moral complacency in the industry
Above all, the moral complacency of the industry is now taking revenge. For a long time, technology corporations acted as if their technology was intrinsically value-neutral or even good per se: More knowledge, more communication, who could have anything against it? That Twitter made the Arab Spring possible still serves as a positive example. The insight that Facebook, its algorithms and its misunderstood net neutrality made possible the populist wave that is currently destabilizing western democracies is taking off comparatively more slowly.
"Don’t be evil" was one of the things that Google once wrote on the flag, and this motto has not been met with a lot of content. There are no known businesses that Google missed because of this commandment, and there are no structures designed to ensure compliance with it.
As much as Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and IBM see themselves as champions for an open and tolerant world, they tend to believe that such openness is a sure-fire success, regardless of who is using their technologies and for what purpose. What will happen when Trump knocks with projects that clearly contradict the original spirit of Silicon Valley? Who are a horror to the workforce there?
Because there are election promises Trump can only keep with the help of the technology industry. To name just two examples: Will you help him build the announced database of Muslims living in the US? Or develop algorithms that can be used to identify millions of people as illegal immigrants? Will the colorful, trendy, multicultural companies of Silicon Valleys end up helping to deport their own colleagues, employees and neighbors who have lived in the US for decades?
Drosera Networks: Real names of bloggers critical of the government in Turkey could have been found
And as always, when Silicon Valley sends a shiver down your spine, Peter Thiel is not far. His company Palantir, named after a seeing stone from "The Lord of the Rings", combines publicly accessible data sets with specially purchased browser data, for example on individual buying behavior, and thus creates customer and security profiles.
Even compared to the standard Silicon Valleys, a very creepy company - and yet one of the hottest addresses for young applicants. How easily such technology can be instrumentalized for totalitarian purposes either does not seem to matter or does not occur to them at all. After all: In October 2016, a large part of the workforce of a comparatively small company called Drosera Networks dropped out because it turned out that the company's management had signed a contract with the Turkish government - their technology would have made it possible to find real names of bloggers or twitterers who were critical of the government close.
This shows: Firstly, both the programmers and their bosses are rather naive when it comes to the use of the technologies they have developed. Optimism and good humanity as well as the mantra that one wants to "make the world a better place" create a culture of lucrative loyalty in which only intention, not effect, is important.
This is where the fact that this new elite is hesitant to see itself as an elite is taking revenge: it deliberately plays down its own power in order to evade the moral questions associated with power.
Second, however, the Trump shock has apparently contributed to a rethink here. The resistance to the industry's cuddling course with Trump does not come from the boardrooms and not from the elites, but rather from the workforce. Kalanick was forced to withdraw from Trump's advisory council under pressure from the Uber workforce. The journalist Sarah Jaffe recently interviewed a group of IBM programmers who are demanding that their company end its cooperation with the Trump administration. The workforce reminded the leadership of the unrewarding role IBM played in Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa and demanded that this time it should be different.
Resistance groups meet on the premises of the tech companies
Resistance groups have long met fairly openly on the premises of the tech companies. The workforce helps with campaigns and demos, the company lawyers cover Trump's plans with a wave of lawsuits. Customers also wedge back. The hashtag #deleteuber ("delete Uber") is haunted more and more frequently on social media: for example, when Kalanick joined the advisory council, when Uber tried to undermine a taxi driver strike against Trump's immigration ban or after a dispute with a driver.
That could mean: The companies in Silicon Valley live up to their own political and moral standards if they behave like normal companies. Companies that do not hide from their own power. In which workforces put pressure and their customers claim the company ideals. Silicon Valley's disrupted relationship to power is fed by the self-deception that one does not belong to the powerful, one is an anti-elitist elite. Not the fact that Travis Kalanick was concerned with his driver is noteworthy, but rather the fact that Uber pretends the driver is not part of the workforce, is not subordinate to him.
"Meeting people in every state in the USA" is what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is preparing as a media campaign tour through the United States. It is taken as an indication that Zuckerberg is striving for the presidency himself. It won't come to that. Silicon Valley won't roll up politics. Even if Peter Thiel applies for the governorship of the state of California in 2018, as he has announced. Meg Whitman from eBay and Carly Fiorina from Hewlett Packard have done it too. At least they failed. In order to remain politically true to itself, Silicon Valley must realize that it belongs to the elite - not to a new, completely different one. But to the elite in the USA.
About elites (4/4)
Fatal Attraction - Silicon Valley meets Donald Trump. By Adrian Daub. Speaker: Kerstin Fischer and Jean Paul Baeck. Technology: Jens Müller. Director: Anna Panknin. Editor: Barbara Schäfer. First broadcast: Thursday, May 25, 2017, 9.30 a.m.
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