Tech titans like SpaceX's Elon Musk, Apple's Tim Cook and IBM's Gini Rometty have all met with President Trump during his first two months in office. But it was always under a cloud of suspicion about the true motives of tech's biggest names. We now have a hint about Phase II of Operation Tech Oligarchy.
Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Friday showing how big the fish was that voted against his healthcare bill, completely destroying it singlehandedly (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
One of the things voters heard repeatedly throughout the 2016 US presidential campaign is that America should be run like a business. Today, President Trump plans to make good on that bizarre idea by announcing a new White House Office of American Innovation. Elon Musk, Tim Cook and Bill Gates, among a host of other business heavyweights, are all reportedly involved.
According to the Washington Post, which broke the story last night, the new office will be headed by Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and husband of Ivanka Trump. Kushner, who was found by the US Department of Justice to not be in violation of anti-nepotism laws (for some strange reason), is optimistic that the Office of American Innovation will make Washington run more smoothly.
"We should have excellence in government," Kushner told the Washington Post yesterday. "The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens."
As many people have already pointed out, American citizens aren't supposed to be customers of their government. They're supposed to be the bosses. But if we put the poor analogies aside for a minute, what does this actually mean for the way that the US government will operate?
The answer? It obviously means steep cuts in funding for science and technology, as Trump's dream budget has already demonstrated. But what little money is left will likely be handed over to private corporations. Corporations like Apple, IBM and SpaceX.
Elon Musk has been critical of Trump's Muslim ban, a nonsensical and discriminatory policy that doesn't make any Americans safer, according to Trump's own Department of Homeland Security. But Musk's cooperation with the Trump administration hasn't changed the policy, even a little bit. So what's in it for Musk?
Well, he has big dreams about infrastructure, including digging gigantic holes underground. By cooperating with Trump, Musk will be first in line for lucrative government projects to make possible everything from the Hyperloop to spending on renewables. Musk already has enormous contracts with the government through SpaceX, and by sidling up to Trump he's likely to get even more money for his other businesses.
So what about companies like IBM, whose dreams may not be as ambitious as missions to Mars and tunnels under Los Angeles, but have nonetheless aligned themselves with Trump?
Despite massive discontent by employees at IBM, the company's CEO Gini Rometty has met repeatedly with Trump. But lucrative software contracts could potentially touch every branch of government, from boring but expensive database applications to the more sexy projects like the so-called Muslim registry or the Mexican deportation force already in progress.
"Jared is reaching out and listening to leaders from across the business community — not just on day-to-day issues, but on long-term challenges like how to train a modern workforce and how to apply the latest innovations to government operations," IBM CEO Gini Rometty told the Washington Post.
The Washington Post story also notes that Apple CEO Tim Cook is poised to help, but it's still unclear what role the company could play in the Office of American Innovation. Cook is no fan of Trump, but like the head of any business, he has an obligation to make as much money for his shareholders as possible.
One avenue of Apple-Trump collaboration? If Trump isn't able to completely destroy the Department of Education, perhaps he can turn it into a hub for subsidising tech for schools that use Apple products. Apple is gunning for more tech contracts with schools, and last week's drop in the price of the iPad was seen as a big push to get into more K-12 schools. If Cook plays along their could be "cost-saving measures" that magically shift money from public education to help "modernise" classrooms with contracts for iPads.
Trump and his administration want to run government more like a business. And leaders in the tech industry seem more than ready to help him do that.