Vice President Mike Pence’s embarrassing use of an AOL email account is just another painful reminder of something that should be crystal clear to everyone: this administration doesn’t understand or care a lick about technology.
It’s an especially painful reality as we come off the high of an administration’s 8-year-love affair with technology and social media. They held Maker Fairs on the White House Lawn, for heaven’s sake. Former President Barack Obama personally fired a marshmallow canon during the White House science fair. Obama was so enthralled by technology and innovation that he made it a centerpiece of his 2013 State of the Union Address.
Can you even imagine Donald Trump mentioning 3D-printing?
Donald Trump has what can only be characterized as an open antipathy toward technology and innovation. He rarely uses either of those words, and is so fixated on bringing back antiquated industries that rely on outmoded technology, he rarely casts his eyes forward. If ever.
Trump sees technology as just another rhetorical weapon. In other words: only worth using when it can be aimed in an attack. He spent much of the past year railing against Hillary Clinton’s improper use of a personal email account, and the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee.
Aside from appointing Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer, as his cyber security czar, and a terse, awkward December meeting with Tech CEOs, mentions of any form of technology and innovation have faded into the background.
We shouldn’t be surprised.
His very first speech as President of the United States made it clear that tech wasn’t on the agenda.
Trump’s inauguration speech was nearly tech-free, in fact. There was one mention of “technologies of tomorrow,” which is vague enough to mean nothing.
In his more recent speech before a joint session of congress, there was definitely zero mentions of technology or innovation.
Of course, you could fairly argue that few humans have used social media to greater effect than President Trump. He understands this narrow slice of technology, and embraces it. There’s an argument to be made that it helped him win the highest office in the land.
On the other hand, his and his staff’s use of the platform borders on abuse. There are constant flubs, misspellings, and deletions—deletions of what should be part of public record. Dan Scavino, the President’s Director of Social Media, seems more interested in pumping up his boss and his policies than in creating a digital window to the administration.
Trump’s policies are, to be charitable, anti-tech. There’s his FCC appointment which will probably kill Net Neutrality and squelch innovation by smaller startups that could get nudged out of site on a pay-to-play Internet
And then there’s the HB-1 visa situation. Trump’s blanket attacks on immigration have thrown this pipeline for global tech talent into disarray. There was, during the congressional speech, just a hint that Trump may be turning around on this.
It’s just hard not to wish he’d come out and said something about attracting skilled workers to the U.S.
He didn’t, and I don’t think he will. Instead, Trump will keep banging the drum loudly for the return of 19th and 20th-centruy industries like steel and, especially, coal.
Oddly, Trump can never acknowledge that the only way coal comes back is with more automation (technology), and fewer human employees. Then again, it’s not exactly a winning message.
Even if Trump weren’t anti-technology, his lack of interest in the subject is a blow to those who believe in innovation, and a bad example for young people who see a leader uninterested in breakthroughs, or the gadgets they love.
He’s not one of us. He’s the luddite dad who won’t use email, doesn’t get Snapchat, and keeps grousing about the death of 35 mm film.
Things would be better if Trump were balanced, at least a little bit, by a Vice President who cared about the tech space.
Needless to say, that isn’t Mike Pence, apparent AOL email fan and hack victim.
Sure, his emails weren’t as highly sensitive as Hillary Clinton’s (who, yes, should’ve known better), but some are sensitive enough that the current governor won’t just hand them over.
Maybe Trump talks so little about technology because he’s laser-focused on jump-starting the economy with infrastructure projects.
And yes: Infrastructure’s important. It can be a huge driver in the economy. But infrastructure projects of this century will rely on technology. Project managers may be carrying iPads or Surface Pros, not pen and paper. Architectural plans will be worked out on computer. Those buildings bridges, roads and tunnels will be modeled in 3D and walked through via VR long before the first layer of concrete is poured.
Has Trump or Pence ever tried VR? I’m betting they haven’t. I bet they’ve never even seen AR.
The one bright spot: Trump has left the U.S. Digital Service, formed under Obama, pretty much alone. It’s like a skunkworks, quietly operating as part of the Executive Office of the President (!) and still posting on its Medium Blog. The only reason it survives? Best guess is that Trump’s budget proposal hasn’t made it to Congress. Yet.
In Trump’s first month in office, there was one big tech moment. Perhaps you remember it.
Trump hosted Intel CEO Brain Krzanich at the White House in February. Krzanich was there to announce a $7 billion dollar investment in the company’s new Arizona fab. “Fab 42 is an investment in Intel, but also the U.S.’s future in innovation and leadership in the semiconductor industry,” he said.
After Krzanich spoke, Trump motioned toward the silicon wafer sample Krzanich brought with him.
It was clear Trump had no idea what that wafer is used for and, to be honest, likely didn’t care. Trump was happy to have another CEO pay fealty to him, and show the world that he’s keeping jobs in America.
Which is a good thing—but let’s be real: Trump wouldn’t care if the jobs were at Intel or United State Steel.
He just doesn’t care about technology.