Last week I was attending the WebSummit in Lisbon, so a group of us gathered to watch the Election Day results unfold. Like many in Silicon Valley, I was surprised at the results and deeply disappointed. This was the first election in my life that I didn’t vote Republican because I believe that Donald Trump didn’t represent many of my personal values or policies of the party (“Horrible on foreign policy!” I said). While I didn’t believe Hillary Clinton was a good candidate nor trustworthy, I was more concerned that Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, non-actions against racism, bullying and other factors were not suited for the highest public office in our land. I was gravely concerned his behavior could damage the moral fabric of our nation. Nor would he be a role model that I would want my children to see over the next four years. Almost by the flip of a coin over Gary Johnson, I eventually voted for Clinton for my 7 year old twin daughters and what I believe was for the better of our nation.
The day after the election and as some of the shock wore off, I reminded myself what I have been stating and posting on social media throughout this election cycle that people vote with their wallets. The swing voters cast their ballots with regards to food on the table, access to healthcare, and concerns about the job security. There will always be single-issue voters and party loyalists on both sides, but early on we saw tens of thousands of blue-collar Democrats switch sides for Trump during the primaries, which should have been a strong signal to observe and take note of. This trend continued throughout the election year, as noted here (“Democratic Trump supporters were hiding in plain sight”).
Similar to Lord of the Flies references since our youth, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are overly cited but endures as a good lens into human nature. If a person’s basic physiological needs are not being met or threaten, why would they care for issues on race relations or foreign policy? Or how would these issues outweigh people’s basic needs?
Ignore the political rhetoric on unemployment numbers, there are anywhere between 40 million and 80 million (12.5% to 25% of our total population) underemployed in our nation depending on which statistic approach is used, so these people are not counted in the unemployment statistics. More upsetting is that 15% of our population or 47 million people are living in poverty in the U.S., which has increased from 11% in 2000. These numbers are staggering for being a nation of such wealth and supposed greatness.
Many viewpoints have already been stated in the aftermath of the election, such as those of us in Silicon Valley being in a bubble and those in rural America living in their bubble. There are so many theories on why Trump won and whether Sanders could have beat them. Politics is similar to football, which is a game won by inches. Political campaigns are won by small percentages and in hindsight I believe Trump was already etched in the minds of the deciding voters. Clinton had her Romney moment by calling Trump supporters ‘deplorables’ and the slide downward began.
These economic concerns are not just limited to the working class. Trump won white college graduates (49%) and income earners $50K and all the way up. Majority of white women (53%) voted for Trump. I believe that included within these anxieties is fear of technological progress and how it will affect people’s future.
A month before the election, I was in Paris for a conference and caught with a friend who does corporate training. Part of his training programs for large corporations in France is connecting them with startups and providing them with insights into coming innovations. He was telling me of his initial surprise that even thirty and forty-something mid-level and senior executives in these Fortune Global 500 companies were concerned and even fearful about being displaced by technology or becoming obsolete in the workforce. There were even some minor hostilities directed at him a couple times because he represented the coming future that they were afraid of.
We both agreed that this isn’t unique to France and was a factor in Brexit, and could be a factor in the upcoming U.S. elections. Now knowing what we do, how do we, as people living in Silicon Valley and purveyors of innovation and technology, respond?
There are 47 million in poverty, over 40 million underemployed, and over 7 million unemployed in America. We have failed as a nation and fellow human beings. From corporate responsibility to charitable giving, we have failed miserably.
This can be a pivotal moment for Silicon Valley since we embrace failure. Silicon Valley has long had a “giving problem” to charity and those less fortunate, but our response today can be better.
Instead of yelling and screaming at how stupid Trump voters are and how silence equates acceptance of racism and misogyny, we can start by listening and understanding. I assume most people after their initial emotions still do not use broad strokes when looking at people who voted for Trump or Clinton. When has name-calling and cutting ties ever healed relationships or brought together a group of people? I actually see this as another form of bullying. Maybe high-brow bullying that is no different than low brow bullying tactics used by Trump.
Even for the racists in our nation, what do you do? Move them all to St. George Island? How do you change people? Change a nation? Isolate them? Run away? You engage. You engage deeply. Listening, learning and helping each other out.
I grew up as a comic geek and loved Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series. One of my favorite lines in The Dark Knight Rises is when Selina Kyle (Catwoman) says to Batman, “Come with me. Save yourself. You don’t owe these people anymore — you’ve given them everything…”
Batman replies, “Not everything. Not yet.”
This should be Silicon Valley’s response minus the heroism and any notion of superiority because we haven’t given even a third of what Batman did for Gotham. We also are no better than anyone else. We are all equal and only different by the randomness of where we were born. We do have the resources and experiences to help create change for the better of many in our nation.
I do not assume this calling is for everyone, but just a small group from Silicon Valley can spark a change that is needed. A small commitment of corporate resources, a small project initiated within Google or Facebook, or a small allocation from a fund for social impact ventures to quell the fear of innovation and to impact the lives of those in cities and towns in America that are hurting. Helping entrepreneurs and industries in the Rust Belt isn’t as sexy as improving healthcare in Zambia or Laos, but I really hope my neighbors in Silicon Valley will seek to engage, catalyze, and change the social and economic fabric of America as a response to this year’s election.