Dec 12, 2016 ยท 5 minutes

On Wednesday, a whole basket of tech executives will head to Trump Tower in New York to meet President Elect Trump and his Silicon Valley lap dog, Peter Thiel (a Pando investor).

I wrote last week about how the meeting is the first step towards Silicon Valley’s normalisation of a fascist, bigoted, produly sexually assaulting President. A meeting that, for all their squishy, fluffy diversity ad campaigns designed to appeal to coastal voters, shows that many tech giants don’t give a tuppenny damn about women, or the LGBT community, or minorities, or anything except their bottom line.

You can find a list of all the confirmed attendees right here. But what’s far more interesting are companies who received invitations but decided to to attend. In particular, Airbnb’s Brian Chesky and Uber’s Travis Kalanick, both of whom explained that they were travelling overseas so couldn’t attend.

So, to round-up. Companies confirmed they’re attending...









Companies who have confirmed they were invited but are not attending…



Anything jump out at you, other than the fact that both of the non-attendees are sharing economy unicorns?

They’re also the only private companies on the (as yet released) invite list, and the two biggest IPO candidates in Silicon Valley.

(It’s notable too that another private company CEO, Zenefits’ David Sacks tweeted over the weekend that, despite reports to the contrary and his close ties with Peter Thiel, he would not be “joining government.” I followed up by asking if he had any role whatsoever in the transition and, this morning, Zenefits' head of comms sent me an email confirming that “David is not joining or assisting the transition team.”)

So what does it mean that all the public companies have said yes, and the two private ones have said no? Maybe nothing, maybe everything.

As countless commentators have pointed out, it’s hard for a public company CEO to snub the president elect given issues of fiduciary duty. Shareholders are sociopathic sons of bitches, en masse, and no argument about human decency will stop them getting riled up about a CEO refusing to take a seat at the power table. An angry minority shareholder can do damage to a public company in a way they just can’t to a private one.

Maybe Kalanick and Chesky really do have vitally important prior commitments and, unlike the equally busy CEOs of public companies, they have the luxury to skip the meeting. Travis Kalanick in particular has so much control over his board that nobody could do a damn thing to stop him sending Trump a flaming turd in a paper bag.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s just a simple scheduling issue, combined with the realities of public vs private companies.

But wouldn’t it be nice to think that there’s slightly more to it?

Wouldn’t it be nice to think that Chesky and Kalanick have figured out something the others seem to have missed: That, rather than providing any meaningful benefits to the companies in attendance, the meeting is almost certainly going to be an exercise in humiliation for an industry that Trump has already threatened to massively over-regulate to the point of shutting parts of it down.

That, like almost all of Trump’s photo op meetings to date - most notably his “firing squad” meeting with cable execs and anchors --  it’s going to be an exercise in bringing powerful people to kneel at his feet and declare their loyalty, or else face the wrath of his Twitter account. That Donald Trump and Peter Thiel can humiliate a room like nobody else on earth. That any benefits that might be obtained, in terms of tax cuts or H1B visas, will be far outweighed by the disadvantages of being on Trump’s radar when it comes to future demands to spy on, or censor, users.

Wouldn’t it also be nice to think they’re aware that a high profile meeting with Trump is likely to be kryptonite for hiring, especially in San Francisco. Uber is already struggling to hire women in particular, due to its reputation as the bro-i-est little brohouse in brotown. A photo of Travis “boober” Kalanick shaking the gropey hands of Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump would just be gravy. As for Airbnb -- this is a company which very publicly stood up to an anti-gay law in Mike Pence’s home state, but has also had some issues of its own with slum landlords and those who discriminate against minorities. It’s hard to measure the damage a Chesky-Trump embrace might do.

You would think that some of the public CEOs -- the CEO of IBM, say, or the Israeli-born CEO of Oracle -  might also be aware of the long term optics risks of doing business with a guy like Donald Trump.  That, even taking into account fiduciary duty to shareholders, having a publicly close relationship with a guy like that might be the worst possible decision for a company that hopes to be around longer than the Trump administration.

That just because you’ve come to feel at home in the Obama White House and have reaped the benefits of a close relationship with the executive branch doesn’t mean the same cosiness with Trump is business as usual. That Trump isn’t Obama and he isn’t any president that America has ever had before. That, in fact, he’s every single thing that Silicon Valley is supposed to be against.

And that any Valley CEO - public, or private - who believes a damn word the industry has been saying about diversity or changing the world for the better for the past decade, or who believes those values are important to users and shareholders, should be telling a man like Trump to take a very long walk off a very short pier.

The umm-ing and ahhing by public CEOs like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk suggests that some, at least, are very aware of the risks of attending. Wouldn’t it be nice if one of them would actually have the guts to do the right thing by their shareholders, employees and users and find some excuse to stay home that day.