Like it or not, Donald Trump has disrupted politics. You might even say he is the first Silicon Valley president. What Amazon did to bookstores, Napster to music and Uber to taxis, Mr. Trump has done to the Republican Party, presidential elections and maybe global governance. “Move Fast and Break Things” posters were plastered all over Facebook. Sound familiar?
On the surface, Mr. Trump and Silicon Valley are oil and water. He’s a real estate guy. Highly leveraged. From a family business. Scorns immigrants. Antitrade. But they definitely share disruptive DNA. No respect for authority. High risk, high return. People think you’re crazy, tilting at windmills. Self-driving cars? Trump as president? It’s all crazy until it isn’t.
Like Silicon Valley, Mr. Trump breaks all the rules. Amazon fought state sales taxes while it grew. Uber ignored cease-and-desist orders. Napster never even heard of copyrights. Mr. Trump insulted opponents, dispensed with a ground game, and didn’t bother with much TV advertising. Every entrepreneur reads the book “The Lean Startup.” Mr. Trump could write “The Lean Campaign.”
Both view Twitter as a weapon of mass (media) disruption. Like Mr. Trump, many in Silicon Valley speak in sentence fragments—a perfect fit for Twitter’s 140-character limitation. Mr. Trump is obsessed with his poll numbers the same way Silicon Valley obsesses with likes and retweets and harvesting followers.
Mr. Trump has a unique relationship with the truth (see Theranos). He appears thin-skinned (see Steve Jobs). And much as Amazon has quietly built a world-beating cloud business and Uber a delivery company, Mr. Trump often says one thing to distract opponents while he does something else.
Mr. Trump wants to make America great again, while Silicon Valley wants to make the world a better place. And life imitates art, which imitates life. On HBO’s fictional “Silicon Valley,” Gavin Belson, CEO of Google-like Hooli, Trumpingly declares: “I don’t want to live in a world where someone makes the world a better place better than we do.”
What else? Silicon Valley often gets accused of being filled with tech bros and has had its bouts with “locker room talk”—look up Gamergate.
Silicon Valley has its own form of populism. Technology is for the masses more than the elite. Smartphones, social networks and virtual reality all need billions of users, forcing a populist thinking in products, if not ideology—transferring power “and giving it back to you, the people.”
Yes, Silicon Valley destroys jobs Mr. Trump would probably rather save. But over many cycles, technology ends up creating more jobs than it destroys—wielding more economic power than any president.
No matter. By and large, and apart from Peter Thiel, people in Silicon Valley loathe Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton outpolled him 85% to 9% in San Francisco and 73% to 21% in Santa Clara County. Techies are having emotional breakdowns that would make Meryl Streep proud. But I think it’s because they secretly see a little Donald Trump in themselves. The whole valley may need therapy.
But if I were Donald Trump, I’d be careful. The dirty little secret of Silicon Valley is that nine out of 10 funded investments fail, often spectacularly. So will a Trump presidency be disruptive? The jury hasn’t even been selected, but if he follows through on campaign bluster and actually starts closing down obsolete departments and agencies like the FCC, he might earn the label of first Silicon Valley president.