0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

This article is more than 2 month old.

Book Excerpt | The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley's Pursuit of Power

Mini

The tech CEOs smiled through all of it, flattering Trump, pleasing his aides, and avoiding opportunities to privately air disagreements. Most had voted against Trump; now they wanted to show him they could work with him.

Book Excerpt | The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley's Pursuit of Power
DEPORTATION FORCE
On December 14, just a month after Thiel had joined the transition, and a month before the inauguration, he sat near the center of a long table in a boardroom on the twenty-fifth floor of Trump Tower. The president-elect was planted, as was customary, in the center, looking deeply satisfied. His closest advisers were there: Bannon, Pence, Priebus, Kushner, Stephen Miller, Ivanka Trump, plus Eric and Don Jr. But the real stars were the CEOs of the United States’ largest and most important tech companies, and their shepherd in all things Trump, Peter Thiel.
He sat at Trump’s left elbow, with Pence on the other side. To his left was Apple’s Tim Cook. Arrayed around the table, interspersed between Trump’s advisers and children, was a group that included Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, as well as the CEOs of Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle, Intel, and IBM.
“These are monster companies,” Trump said, beaming before lavishing praise on Thiel. He credited the Silicon Valley investor for having seen “something very  early— maybe even before we saw it.” Thiel had tucked his arms under the table to make room for Trump’s broad shoulders and seemed to shrink away from the president-elect, who was having none of it. As Trump spoke, he reached below the table groping for Thiel’s hand, found it, and raised it above the table. “He’s been so terrific, so outstanding, and he got just about the biggest applause at the Republican National Convention,” Trump said, rubbing Thiel’s fist affectionately. “I want to thank you, man. You’re a really special guy.”
Though Thiel found this moment of bro tenderness embarrassing, he was thrilled. The meeting at Facebook earlier in the year had been awkward and strained, but now Silicon Valley’s best and brightest had come to Trump Tower to pay their respects to the same movement they’d mocked. He was smiling. He’d bet on Trump when no one believed in him, and he’d won.
In addition to playing power broker, Thiel also had a chance to settle scores. The meeting included representatives from the biggest American tech companies in terms of market capitalization. Thiel had also invited representatives from two smaller companies— he had a financial stake in both. To the left of Tim Cook was Elon Musk, whose car company, Tesla, had a market capitalization at the time that put it at about one fifth the size of the next biggest invitee, Cisco. On the other side of the table was the CEO of an even smaller firm, Alex Karp.
Karp, of course, was one of Thiel’s close friends, running a company that Thiel had founded and (though it wasn’t yet public knowledge) still effectively controlled. Karp also, suddenly, had a lot to gain from Donald Trump. Just before the election, a federal judge had ruled in Palantir’s favor in its lawsuit against the Army. That meant that the Army would have to rebid its contract, considering Palantir and other commercial software makers as potential candidates for work that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The court order didn’t mean the Army would buy Palantir’s software, only that it would give it a “hard look,” as Hamish Hume, the company’s lawyer put it. Now Karp had a chance to make a personal appeal to the commander in chief. He promised Trump that his company could “help bolster national security and reduce waste.” When asked, Karp would say he had no idea why he’d been invited to the meeting, saying all he knew was that Thiel had organized it. “There’s probably a longer version I don’t know about, but they had a selection process and I was asked and I said yes,” he said. Of course, Thiel had declined to invite any other defense contractors, including Karp’s main competitor in the bidding on the Army deal, Raytheon, to the meeting.
Much had been made during the 2016 campaign about the gulf between Silicon Valley and Trump. The president-elect, somewhat famously, despised Amazon and its founder, Jeff  Bezos —  because of both Bezos’s ownership of the liberal Washington Post and Amazon’s “monopolistic tendencies that have led to the destruction of department stores and the retail industry,” as Trump had put it. On the campaign trail, Trump had repeatedly suggested that he would retaliate against Bezos by bringing antitrust action in response to negative articles in The Post. At other times, he’d attacked Apple for making phones in China, and had suggested he’d roll back one of the big tech companies’ favorite programs, the H-1B visa. Facebook and Google had argued that the visa, which grants temporary residency to skilled workers and is especially popular in Silicon Valley, should actually be expanded.
Given Trump’s general hostility to the positions favored by tech founders and to the tech founders themselves, it wasn’t surprising that almost everybody in the room had supported Clinton during the campaign. Days after the election, Larry Page and his Google co-founder, Sergey Brin, hosted an all-hands meeting during which Brin said he found the election of Trump “deeply offensive” and that it “conflicts with many of our values.” Bezos had once joked he’d like to send Trump to outer space.
Pundits had predicted that the post-election tumult would pit Trump against these mostly liberal leaders, who favored globalization, immigration, drug legalization, and gay rights—  and indeed early accounts of the meeting, based on the four or so minutes during which media were allowed in the room, suggested that this was what had happened. Business Insider published a photo of Sandberg, Page, and Bezos grimacing under the headline this perfectly captures the first meeting between Trump and all the tech CEOs who opposed him.
But after the press was shooed out, the tone changed. With the cameras gone, the tech CEOs were solicitous, thanking Trump profusely and repeatedly for the opportunity to meet, even as Trump continued to insult them. Trump negged Bezos over his ownership of the Post and Cook over Apple’s balance  sheet.  “Tim has a problem,” Trump cracked. “He has too much cash.” At one point he referred to the group as “the greatest liberals in the history of the world.”
The tech CEOs smiled through all of it, flattering Trump, pleasing his aides, and avoiding opportunities to privately air disagreements. Most had voted against Trump; now they wanted to show him they could work with him. “Those guys were so impressed,” said Bannon. “It was like they finally got invited to lunch with the quarterback of the football team.”
Trump had gone in ready to be grilled over his comments about H1- B visas. Instead, the executives said they were willing to be convinced. “We have people who are very concerned about this issue,” said Chuck Robbins, the Cisco CEO, referring to H1- B. “If you can talk about this it would help calm people down.” That was the toughest challenge Trump got during the course of the entire hour, and he sidestepped it without conceding anything.
“We’re going to do a whole thing on immigration,” Trump said. “We are going to get the bad people”—  the reference was to numerous campaign promises to deport millions of undocumented Americans.
—Excerpted with permission from The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley's Pursuit of Power by Max Chafkin, Bloomsbury India
next story