(TNS) -- When it comes to working with the Trump administration, Silicon Valley finds itself in a bit of a bind: It needs to mend fences with an incoming president it derided without stirring up liberal employees and netizens.
The valley built almost no inroads to Donald Trump and his administration’s inner circle. The one tech leader who is now on the transition team, venture capitalist Peter Thiel, was roundly criticized here for giving money to elect the real estate baron.
So in the wake of the election, Silicon Valley is trying to pivot, as startup gurus like to say.
“Stuff is going to get done or it will get done to you,” said Mike Ward, vice president of federal policy and government relations at TechNet, a bi-partisan industry policy and political organization. Taxes, trade and immigration will likely be among the big issues tech cares about that the Trump administration will tackle in the first year, said Ward.
At a meeting last week about the Trump administration, tech leaders were clearly concerned about what will get done to them.
Tech has to move on from its vaulted status with President Barack Obama in the White House, “an administration that doted on us,” as one tech lobbyist put it.
Tech leaders are struggling to hit the right tone, issuing statements and ads emphasizing unity. As Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s CEO, said recently about the new administration, “We have a beginner’s mind and we have a sense of optimism for (the) future.”
The industry’s best hope lies with Thiel, the mercurial venture capitalist who is part of Trump’s transition team, said Bob Wickers, a GOP media consultant and strategist who worked on Mike Huckabee’s 2016 presidential bid.
“The Valley doesn’t have a lot of options,” he said. “You have to move quick to reopen communications. The time is now.”
But as the digerati knows, no one really “has” Peter Thiel. A co-founder of PayPal and Palantir, Thiel is his own man, often at odds with the tech industry and someone who seems to enjoy taking a controversial position in part to see the reaction. Safra Catz, the Oracle co-president, who met with Trump late last week, may open up another potential avenue to the White House, though it’s not clear what she and Trump talked about.
But if tech CEOs make public overtures to Trump, they risk a backlash among many of their employees, customers, partners and netizens everywhere. This is a difficult line to walk.
Silicon Valley’s best calling card, of course, is its success and importance to the economy, something the new president will want to put to use to meet his own goals. Trump “is going to want strong people to come to him and say, ‘Here’s how we’ll help,’ ” said Wickers.
Tech still has a halo effect, with 63 percent of people in the U.S. expecting technology to make their life better in the next 10 years, according to a recent survey by SurveyMonkey with Vrge, a strategic communications firm that has worked with tech firms and industry groups.
At the same time, 51 percent expect technology to take away jobs in the coming decade, according to the online survey of 1,800 people, which was conducted Nov. 16-17 this year. Just 34 percent expect tech to create jobs.
Yet tech’s success story comes with some baggage. The industry is seen as part of the elite, which many Trump supporters rejected for being out-of-touch with the concerns of working people.
“We need to talk about tech as it exists in places like the Rust Belt and the Midwest,” said Jonathan Godfrey, vice president for public affairs at The App Association.
Silicon Valley has to be realistic. “There are going to be grudges that will be held for a very long time,” said Larry Irving, formerly vice president of global government affairs for Hewlett-Packard and now a telecommunications and information technology consultant.
Tech needs a new social compact. It should be less about delivering value to shareholders and more about delivering the benefits of tech — jobs, retraining, education — to a larger swath of Americans. That’s how Silicon Valley can get a seat at the Trump table and still be true to itself.
©2016 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.