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After Trump Roundtable Invite, Silicon Valley Considers Postelection Role


Technology leaders in Silicon Valley largely oppose Donald Trump in the presidential campaign, but some in that industry say they were too complacent and could have done more to stop Trump from winning.

CHRIS SACCA: I think it was very easy for Silicon Valley coming from libertarian roots to say we don't need to play an active role in this election. But this one was different. The actual essence of Silicon Valley was being threatened here.

CHANG: That's Chris Sacca, a venture capitalist known for being an early investor in companies like Twitter, Uber, Instagram and Kickstarter. He's also a big Hillary Clinton supporter. President-elect Trump's transition team has reportedly invited tech leaders for a roundtable discussion this week. But Chris Sacca doesn't think people in his industry should go.

SACCA: I think we all need to worry that tech leaders showing up to Trump Tower, just normalize a person who has the potential to be an incredibly despotic leader, showing up there while he is still saber-rattling about censorship, saber-rattling about immigration, refusing to denounce authoritarianism, refusing to denounce hate being done in his name, will not just legitimize him in the eyes of America, but I also think there are going to be ramifications for those tech leaders who go. They will soon find they will not have people applying to work at their companies.

CHANG: But if they don't go, would they be making the same mistake that you say they made during the election, standing by and letting things happen?

SACCA: It's not standing by and letting things happen. I've yet to see an example of somebody standing up to Donald Trump and suggesting policy initiatives and him embracing them yet. It's not happening at scale. Instead, he's using these visits to go ahead and make himself look like a legitimized president while in parallel he is going to continue to appoint people who are staunchly opposed to many of the principles that make Silicon Valley great. The idea that there is a meritocracy where anyone from any background really might have the social and economic mobility to rise to the top in Silicon Valley, those are antithetical to a lot of the principles that the Trump administration apparently stands for.

CHANG: When does the tech industry engage with the Trump presidency then, if it wants to see change or if it wants to have some influence?

SACCA: Look, a lot of this change isn't going to happen through the administration. A lot of it's going to happen with the majority of citizens who did not elect Donald Trump. The tech industry has to take a responsibility for fake news and the dissemination of bad information that happened on our platforms. One of the things that technology has is a direct relationship with its users. We talk about newspapers. But the biggest newspapers in the world right now are Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram. Technology is going to have to embrace the role they have with those people and take the responsibility that they're responsible for some of the information flow and the experiences of the users on those platforms.

CHANG: How do you think a Donald Trump presidency will affect the tech industry? You mentioned immigration, for example.

SACCA: Yeah. I certainly worry about our country's leadership role in developing new technology. We, again, have maybe taken this for granted that the United States of America is the best and easiest place to start your new company. And so entrepreneurs around the world do what they can to come here and start their companies. The day after Donald Trump was elected, Chinese business leaders, including the heads of Baidu, stood up and gave a speech saying come to China and build your company now. The cognitive dissonance of that was amazing for some of us to think we might be losing our leadership role in building companies.

CHANG: But what about Silicon Valley's role in thinking through the consequences of all the technology it creates? I asked Chris Sacca if he thought his industry should have more empathy for people who are left behind by tech innovation.

SACCA: Well, there's certainly an empathy conversation, but, remember, there's a couple of sides to this equation. On the one hand, if you're looking at it purely from a math and economics point of view, the endless march of technology actually brings prices down and makes things more affordable for poor people across the country in a way they never have been. But when you step out of that equation and look at the anecdote and how individual families can be impacted by a factory closing or by losing a job or by being displaced by this industry, a small town store being displaced by an Amazon or a bookstore being displaced by an Amazon, then you really have to come out of that equation for a second and realize the impact that some of what Silicon Valley does has on humanity. And I think that's a perfect place for government to be helpful, to anticipate those changes and help build the blocks in place - whether it's education and training - to really supplant some of the disruption that overall is beneficial for our country and our economy.

CHANG: Chris Sacca is a venture capitalist. He's the founder of LOWERCASE capital. Thank you so much for coming in today.

SACCA: It's always great to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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