GOP frontrunner Donald Trump has made himself many enemies in his time running for President, some of them unnecessary, and some overdue for a scolding. However, one of his more puzzling choices for attack are some of the titanic figures of Silicon Valley. Politico has reported on the extent to which Trump has singled out figures such as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook (and Apple itself), and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Nor has Trump’s criticism been mild. He’s blasted Bezos for using his ownership of the Washington Post as a tax dodge (the mechanics of this are unclear), savaged Cook for refusing to give the FBI access to iPhones, and blasted Zuckerberg for his support of immigration reform, which Trump says will hurt women and minorities at home. Furthermore, Trump suggested last year that Microsoft founder Bill Gates could “shut down the internet” as a response to security threats — an argument that earned him incredulity at the time it was made.
Full disclosure: This author supports Trump for President. However, it does seem even to a friendly observer that this is a feud that needs to be fixed. There is no reason why Trump — a walking, talking symbol of American entrepreneurship — should align himself against the interests of the most entrepreneurial sector in America’s economy. Something more than hugging it out needs to happen between Trump and the tech sector.
No, this doesn’t mean Trump has to like Bezos, Cook, or Zuckerberg, or agree with all their business decisions, nor does it mean every tech CEO can be expected to suddenly start sporting “Make America Great Again” hats. It just means that some sort of mutual friendliness should be built between a candidate and an industry that, in this author’s view, should be his natural ally. After all, disruption is tech’s preferred way of improving the economy, and if there is any candidate who can be said to have pioneered disruptive innovation in politics, it’s Donald Trump.
Fortunately, there are some fertile areas for reconciliation on Trump’s side — areas that contrarians within the tech industry, and allies of traditional Leftist advocacy groups like trial lawyers, have already noticed. Here are a few, just as starting points.
Let’s start with Trump’s seemingly cringeworthy “shut down the internet” statement. Fortunately, as Breitbart Tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos points out, there’s a lot more nuance to this than Trump’s critics suggest. What Trump actually suggested was cutting off internet access to particular geographic regions, not to particular services or websites. Ironically, this is something that hackers and other less scrupulous Silicon Valley types already know how to do. Don’t take my word for it, but the word of infamous hacker weev, who suggested doing this kind of cyberattack as a counterterrorism strike against ISIS.
Trump himself probably doesn’t know about the sort of sophisticated techniques required to pull this off, but he doesn’t need to. All he needs to know is what government resources and authority would be needed in order to execute such an operation. And if this involved outreach to the hacking community, and Silicon Valley’s freewheeling tech culture, so much the better. There is frankly an embarrassing absence of high-level tech operators at the FCC, which is the agency Trump would most likely need to use, and putting them in there would probably jumpstart much needed reform in the agency.
So the tech community might be able to help Trump remove ISIS from the internet if he became President. But what can Trump do for tech? I continue to believe that Trump’s shift to attacking H-1B visas is a tactical move, rather than an actual ideological change of heart from his earlier position in favor of H-1Bs, but this is weak tea to base an alliance on. Instead, I would suggest that Trump could assuage a lot of the fears of tech by promising them the same thing John Cornyn promised in the run-up to the 2014 elections: patent reform.
And it’s not just me who says that. Patent trolls and their lawyers have already written with some terror about the prospect of Trump as a patent dove. They fear that Trump’s favorable stance toward eminent domain will lead him to take away their cash cow junk patents. Never mind that even the most abusive eminent domain use requires compensation, but for lawyers who make their living harassing innovators, this is obviously cold comfort.
That being said, Trump would create a damaging precedent if he simply seized patents willy-nilly. However, what Trump could do is introduce reforms at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTA) that actually give patent inspectors an incentive to deny junk patents and, as a result, clear the patent backlog that has plagued the USPTA for years. Given Trump’s desire to cut “waste, fraud and abuse” by slicing out the guts of America’s regulatory agencies, this is exactly the sort of thing it seems he’d be inclined to do, in fact.
Furthermore, the infamous savvy of Trump’s legal team could provide him not just with quality representation, but also very good advice on structuring a reform bill that could actually solve the problems of patent trolling and abuse, and which Trump himself could promote using the bully pulpit far more effectively than the current President. After all, Trump’s pitch of himself as the billionaire who’s turned on his own class would enable him to expose trolls very effectively as yet more parasites freeloading off the system, and to stomp their bloodsucking legal representatives into the dirt like so many tics. Indeed, patent reform could be a useful bargaining chip to use when trying to negotiate with Apple, which currently remains the number one target for patent trolls in the United States.
Bottom line: The tech community offers Trump a way to successfully assuage fears about his capacity to preserve an open internet for Americans while shutting down ISIS’s web capabilities. Trump offers them a bully pulpit to defend innovation, entrepreneurship, and disruption against tired alarmism by pro-patent troll lawyers. This alliance would be natural, mutually beneficial, and should make life easier for those of us sick of seeing people who should be friends arguing.
After all, given that candidate Trump has done to the Republican Party what Uber did to the taxi industry, is it really such a stretch to think the Ubers, Apples, and Facebooks could help President Trump do the same to Washington?