On my quest to give folks topics to discuss in the U.S. during the Thanksgiving break this week, let me propose a set of questions surrounding Trump and technology, followed by my responses.
Technology is very relevant right now, because it could actually help accomplish things like building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and identifying and sending back illegal immigrants. It could even do what most think is impossible: Identify the radical elements in any group and execute a strategy that best mitigates the related risk. However, Donald Trump is in a bit of a war with virtually every technology company, offset only slightly by his relationship with venture capitalist Peter Thiel. As a result, Thiel may be the last best hope that not only will technology be used effectively but that many of the most powerful companies, like Apple, will even survive a Trump presidency.
What Happens to Meg Whitman?
It seemed pretty clear that Meg Whitman, CEO of HPE and Chairman of HP, was attempting to get a cabinet post out of Hillary Clinton and was positioning to leave HPE early next year. I seriously doubt Trump will now consider her for anything but a contestant on what is now Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Celebrity Apprentice TV show (and I doubt she’d take it). So, the topic to discuss is: Does she extend her troubled tenure at HPE, does she pivot to trying to be a Democrat and eventually become the next Bernie Sanders, or does she kiss a lot of Republican backside in an attempt to get back into the good graces of her current party? None of these are ideal. HPE is such a shell now that if she misses her anticipated departure, it could come crashing down while she is still there, further damaging her already slight political career. So, “What does Meg Whitman do?”
What About Apple?
Trump is anything but an Apple fan. There was that last-minute cancellation of one of his fundraisers by Tim Cook, and Trump’s position that Apple helped terrorists by not opening up the iPhone. Trump has also singled out Apple as a firm that makes money largely by shifting jobs overseas, and his massive tax on Chinese imports would virtually eliminate the profit on the iPhone, which is currently supporting most of Apple. Cook’s choices are few and ugly. He can retire early and let this problem become someone else’s; he can try to reason with Trump or Thiel (a far more reasonable ear) in the hope of changing his mind and promise to bring a lot of jobs back to the U.S.; or he can go to China and lobby for their support. Although, on this last point, China isn’t really much of an Apple fan either, leaving Cook between a rock and hard place. So, “What does Tom Cook do?”
What Do We Expect to Happen with Security?
Thankfully, Thiel gets security. He was outspoken about the nation’s need to invest in better security but Trump doesn’t get technology, making this one hell of hill to climb for Thiel. Trump doesn’t even get that opening up encryption would put his own hotels and especially his casinos at risk, which is why he apparently backed the FBI over Apple. I expect him to get breached relatively quickly now and, if whatever leaks out doesn’t end his presidency, he’ll then get a very different view of what should, and should not, be secure or compromised. Unless Thiel can step up, I expect the early months of the Trump presidency to be a case on what not to do with security. A lot hangs on Thiel here, but one of Trump’s better articulated positions is actually on security so my hope, and that of a lot of senior security folks, is that he actually has a strategy here and our concerns are largely unfounded. So, will Trump be better or worse than Obama was or Clinton would have been, and what does that mean for us with regard to cybersecurity? (Moving to Canada is not an extra credit answer.)
How About a Trade War with China?
Given how much is made in China in the technology segment, a possible trade war with that country is a frightening thought. Alone, that has the potential of putting Apple out of business, let alone tech firms with far smaller reserves and power. It could, over the short term, bring a lot of tech jobs back to the U.S. But long term, a trade war could kill sales across the country tied to reduced exports as U.S. goods experience similar Chinese taxes and U.S. goods made here become too expensive to be competitive in the world markets. So, the final topic is: Does Trump just use this as a negotiating tactic to get more concessions from China, does he actually implement it and kill the U.S. economy, or does he have some secret sauce that will allow him to initiate a trade war and assure the U.S. prospers from it?
Wrapping Up: What I Think Will Happen
I hope I’ve given you some ideas on things to talk about during the holidays that are less divisive than whether Republicans or Democrats are the biggest idiots. My own thoughts are that Whitman has proven to have horrid judgment and even worse luck with big issues so she won’t end well; Cook will kiss and make up with Thiel, who will become his advocate to Trump; Trump will realize the security threat thanks partially to Clinton’s email problem and resource it; and he will back down from a trade war with China as way too risky but will use it as a bargaining chip to get more favorable terms. But, on this last, I think China will see him coming, which might force him to execute a trade war after all. This will likely depend on which leadership team is the best at brinksmanship. Trump is good, but in China, that is part of the culture, so the outcome is uncertain.
What isn’t uncertain is that I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving holiday and come back for a short month and fantastic ramp-up to Christmas!
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+