Next up, we turn to the fourth worst of the six major 2020 presidential candidates on protecting the population from the anti-democratic power of Big Tech, President Donald Trump. To read the introduction to the Big Tech 2020 series, please point your browser to this link.
#4 – Donald Trump – Big Tech not a subject of much concern
When it comes to the growing power of Big Tech, President Trump does not appear to have an opinion. While not brimming with techno-utopianism, a la Pete Buttigieg, he appears to have little more insight into this problem than Joe Biden. Like Biden, Trump has a more or less 20th century mindset, such that he is not particularly tuned into emerging 21st century problems. Perhaps more importantly, the president has other priorities; Silicon Valley’s massive power grab is barely, if at all, on his political or economic radar.
To the extent that he does see it, he does so almost exclusively through the lens of the culture wars, that is, in terms of Big Tech’s adherence on cultural matters to a liberal versus conservative mindset. President Trump, like most conservatives, sees Big Tech as using its control over digital media to shut down, impugn, and censor conservative voices, including his own. He sees Big Tech, with its home in the deep blue waters of the San Francisco Bay Area, as inherently biased toward liberal viewpoints, harkening back to the close relationship the White House fostered with Silicon Valley magnates during the reign of Trump’s predecessor, President Obama.
It would be closer to the truth to say that the Tech titans, including the one or two of them who support the president (the vast majority of them do not), are promoting neither progressivism nor conservatism, but neoliberal ideology, which reflects the interests not of the people of either party but those of a tiny global, ultra-wealthy elite. As such, it is inherently opposed to both conservativism and progressivism, as well as any other political thought that doesn’t represent the interests of that elite, or whose coming to fruition would threaten its power. But Trump doesn’t see it that way. Perhaps because although the president opposes neoliberalism in the cultural and international trade spheres, he remains aligned with it in the domestic economic sphere.
For instance, although Trump has criticized Amazon for not paying taxes, he hasn’t committed himself to using the powers of his office to change that. On this subject, he said: “We just want a fair playing field, you gotta have a fair playing field. Now all of a sudden the tax is happening with respect to Amazon – you know they had the advantage of no tax … and the Supreme Court just ruled and that’s a big difference.” His own tax re-write, however, didn’t contain any provision that would have negated that startling “advantage.” On the other hand, he took note of the company’s reliance on the US Postal Service, which he said amounted to a massive multibillion dollar subsidy, while also criticizing the online retail giant for “putting many thousands of retailers out of business.”
That situation of massive technology-induced job loss is exacerbated by the monopolistic powers of Big Tech more generally, including its squeezing out of entire sectors of the economy. Regarding what to do about these new mega-monopolies, the president said: “I leave it to others, but I do have a lot of people talking about monopoly when they mention those three [Google, Facebook, and Amazon] in particular.” Leaving it to others, of course, indicates a relative disinterest in the subject. He continued: “We are looking at [antitrust] very seriously … Look, that doesn’t mean we’re doing it, but we’re certainly looking and I think most people surmise that, I would imagine.”
Most importantly, though, the current president has shown no interest at all in the problems of data collection, surveillance, and personal privacy, which relate much more closely to our basic civil liberties than do the economic concerns around monopoly or taxation. Given the nature of his statements on the subject to date, it is unlikely that President Trump, who is most intensely focused on immigration, trade, and now his own impeachment hearings, will address the power abuses of Big Tech anytime soon, if ever.