Hoo boy, would I have liked to be in the room when Sheryl Sandberg/Tim Cook/Larry Page/fill-in-your-billionaire-tech-leader-here were reacting to the tech summit invite from Donald Trump's chief of staff, Reince Priebus; his son-in-law and chief whatever, Jared Kushner; and, of course, the now only tech-biquitous bridge to TrumpWorld, Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel.
Here’s what I am sure they said out loud about the Wednesday meeting, which will include Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Google CEO Larry Page and perhaps Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, along with other big names from Intel, Oracle, Cisco, IBM and more: “When the president-elect asks us to a meeting, we are duty-bound as American citizens to attend and reach across any chasm of difference for the good of our country.”
But here’s what I imagine the thought bubble in their head read: “Fuckfuckfuck — now I have to become a reality show star in a new episode of ‘The Apprentice: Nerd Edition,’ bowing and scraping to that luddite Trump, who will probably simultaneously berate us in person and bully us on Twitter later with a lot of poop emoticons. Even worse, I have to act like Thiel is a genius, which he kind of is for backing a man who called serious and sophisticated hacking incursions by sovereign nations ‘the cyber’ and said ‘somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds’ — did he mean the bed or the hacker? I still have no idea — could have pulled it off.”
Yes, indeed, the lifestyles of the rich and famous of Silicon Valley are getting dicey these days as the dawn of the Trump administration is about to peek over the stormy horizon.
So what is the first move of the people in charge of inventing the future? Full of ugly choices and likely bad outcomes, they have opted to punt, with most of them saying nothing publicly about even attending the summit nor making it clear beforehand that there are some key issues that are just not negotiable.
That’s why the leaders of tech should be ashamed of themselves for lining up like sheeple after all the numskull attacks Trump has made on what is pretty much the United States’ most important, innovative and future-forward business sector.
That’s even though tech companies — who mostly backed Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton — stand on the exact other side of a myriad of key issues from Trump, including immigration reform, trade, encryption and a depressing range of social concerns. He attacked Apple and Amazon by name during the campaign and suggested he’d talk to Bill Gates — I know, I know, it’s incomprehensible — about closing down parts of the internet.
And, just today, it’s become dead clear he is about to decimate net neutrality, an issue that was hard won by tech only recently.
While one would hope for a substantive discussion, it’s pretty clear to me that this is just going to be that media-saturated geek reality show episode, in which real billionaires walk the gantlet of prostration at Trump Tower and get exactly nothing for handing over their dignity so easily.
(Let’s just pray there is no Mitt-Romney-held-hostage kind of photo to come of all the techies giving free gadgets to Trump or an internship to his computer-loving kid, Barron.)
Now I know from those close to the process that Thiel — the big Silicon Valley money man who is also on the Facebook board — and others helping Trump reach out to the tech community had a hard time convincing them to attend. And I know that tech leaders probably had little choice in accepting the invitation, even if they wanted to decline, opting to engage now even if they later oppose Trump.
You know, the Hamlet act: To Donald or not to Donald, that is the question.
And, most of all, I know that there is all this secret, behind-the-scenes jockeying for what they really want that we commoners are not sophisticated enough to grok. Namely, that there is a lot of money at stake here and a lot of damage the Trump administration could do to the tech sector in ways big and small.
When I call these top leaders — of course, it has to be off the record — I get a running dialogue in dulcet tones about needing to cooperate and needing to engage and needing to be seen as willing to work together. Also that Trump means very little of what he says out loud — which I will now officially dub the Peter Thiel take-it-seriously-not-literally defense. And they assure me that they will say what they really think behind closed doors where no one can hear it but each other.
This, even though it will be a certainty that Trump will tweet the whole thing with his doubtlessly warped take of the proceedings. My only hope is that often-erupting Tesla and SpaceX’s Elon Musk — who is also now attending — will also erupt when he realizes the farce he has agreed to be part of.
Or maybe I don't get it because I am of the old school that when something smells fishy, there is probably a dead fish somewhere to be found. But to my ear, it’s a symphony of compromise, where only now and then a sour note sounds from someone who breaks from the platitudes they are spewing.
Like one tech leader who suddenly stopped mid-sentence about how to really make deals, Kara, because the truth just had to be out. “Trump is just awful, isn’t he? It makes me sick to my stomach,” the leader agonized, as a real thinking person would. “What are we going to do?”
Well, to start, realize again that you have the smarts and invention and the innovative spirit to do whatever you like. Realize you have untold money and power and influence and massive platforms to do what you think is right. Realize that you are inventing the frigging future.
Instead, you’re opting to sit in that gilded room at Trump Tower to be told fake news is a matter of opinion and that smart people aren’t so smart and that you need to sit still and do what they say and take that giant pile of repatriated income with a smile.
Or you can say no — loudly and in public. You can resist the forces that are against immigrants, because it is immigrants who built America and immigrants who most definitely built tech. You can defend science that says climate change is a big threat and that tech can be a part of fixing it. You can insist we invest in critical technologies that point the way to things like new digital health inventions and transportation revolutions. You can do what made Silicon Valley great again and again.
When I could get no really substantive on-the-record statements from the tech leaders, I pinged investor Chris Sacca, because I knew he would not let me down.
"It's funny, in every tech deal I've ever done, the photo op comes after you've signed the papers,” he said. “If Trump publicly commits to embrace science, stops threatening censorship of the internet, rejects fake news and denounces hate against our diverse employees, only then it would make sense for tech leaders to visit Trump Tower.”
He added: “Short of that, they are being used to legitimize a fascist."
The fascist line is vintage Sacca, who always likes to kick up a shitstorm. But thank god someone is willing to do it, because that is what I thought Silicon Valley was all about.
Not any longer, it seems. Welcome to the brave new world, which is neither brave nor new. But it’s now the world we live in, in which it’s Trump who is the disrupter and tech the disrupted.
Yeah, you can say it: Fuckfuckfuck.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.