With the new president opening his first few weeks in office with a series of controversial executive orders, many business leaders have been asked to take a stand against a White House disapproved of by a significant portion of Americans.
This is maybe most true for Silicon Valley companies, as the tech industry has generally been seen as more liberal than the rest of the country and carries more influence than many other subsets of America that typically swing Democrat.
After a Friday signing of an executive order in which President Donald Trump banned citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., many tech CEOs and companies loudly denounced the actions of the White House.
Citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen will not be allowed to travel to the U.S., in some cases despite residing perminently in the U.S.
Google Inc. launched a $2 million fund, with room for another $2 million in donations, to help support the American Civil Liberties Union and other legal organizations against the travel ban.
Similarly, Lyft donated $1 million to the ACLU while Airbnb Inc. offered “free housing to refugees and anyone not allowed in the U.S.”
In general, criticism from U.S. corporations, particularly in technology, has been sizable and strong. However, some tech leaders have been less immediate in condemning the executive order. In addition, a portion of Silicon Valley figureheads have expressed support for Trump.
Trump has attempted to curry favor with the tech industry since his election last November. He hosted a “tech summit” on Dec. 14 of last year, featuring CEOs of 11 notable leaders in Silicon Valley.
The CEOs attending the summit faced criticism merely for accepting the invitation, as visiting Trump Tower to meet with the President-elect was considered acceptance of Trump when many were calling for a full resistance of the entirety of the administration’s requests.
Venture capitalist Peter Thiel has been an advisor to Trump since his campaign and was instrumental in organizing the tech summit.
Afterwards, to create a council to advise him on business, economic and policy decisions, Trump created a Strategic and Policy Forum featuring the CEOs of many top American companies. In addition to established American companies like General Motors Co. and Walt Disney Co., the Forum includes two noteworthy tech CEOs, Travis Kalanick of Uber Technologies Inc. and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and SpaceX.
Both Musk and Kalanick have been receptive to Trump since he was elected president. The especially vocal Musk, whose mission with Tesla is to eradicate the use of fossil fuels as a source of energy, supported Trump’s nomination of former Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.
Regardless of their support for the president, however, Musk and Kalanick were the only two members of the Strategic and Policy Forum to publicly criticize the travel-banning order.
It has been suggested that this is in part due to the additional pressure on specifically tech companies to rebuff Trump, as well as tech’s dependence on foreign talent. But neither rebuked the ban as strongly as many would have hoped.
In a tweet Sunday, Musk asked his followers to suggest “specific amendments” to the executive order. This was criticized by many for suggesting the order should not necessarily be repealed, merely amended.
However, Musk did condemn the order in seperate tweets, saying it is “not the best way to address this country’s challenges.”
Kalanick’s company Uber faced a significant amount of pushback when, during protests of the order at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York including a taxi union strike, Uber continued to operate in a manner that suggested to many a prioritization of the company’s profits over solidarity with the protests.
This spurred an online movement for Uber users to delete their accounts and support rival company Lyft. Kalanick’s initial reponse to the ban was to promise compensation to any Uber driver affected by the ban, and after bashlash during the weekend he announced a $3 million legal defense fund to aid the affected drivers.
Other tech leaders also were criticized for not doing enough to condemn the ban, like Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos.
The ban is not only seen by some in Silicon Valley as inhumane and un-American, but also is a shock to the system of an industry very dependent on hiring skilled immigrants in technical positions.
While the hiring of engineers will not significantly be affected by this ban in particular, since few jobs in tech are filled by immigrants from the particular countries outlined in the executive order, there is growing concern that a large crackdown on immigration would be detrimental to the American tech industry.
The inability to hire immigrants would cost Silicon Valley a competitive edge that it has held consistently over a world in which few cities have truly developed as strong leaders in technology.