The past year has been a whirlwind. People have overcome uncertainty and defied what most humans previously thought possible. When told, “You’ll never…” they persisted and made their impact felt by millions around the world.
Facebook, a company started by a few socially awkward kids with limited resources, now flies un-manned aircrafts in developing countries to provide internet access for those who otherwise would not have it.
Uber, a company run by a man whose overt disregard for human decency should have allotted him little more in life than a seat next to Sully at an untrendy dive bar, is on the precipice of ending human-controlled automobiles.
Spacex has done in less than a decade what most countries on Earth have never done, and sent their own rockets into orbit.
These feats of technology are unfathomable to think about. Set aside any thoughts you may have about the people behind the scenes, or the unintended consequences of their existence, and simply marvel for a second at how intelligent the people behind these companies are. Think for a moment, about having an idea that is so far out of the realm of possibility that others have never even considered it. Take that a step further, and ask yourself how far you could get into building one of these ideas with your own hands before you’d either give up or burn out.
Now, if you will, think about how incapable the people running our country are of carrying out even the simplest technological tasks. Much like no one ever woke up and thought, “I know of a way to build and send privately-funded rockets into space”, no one has ever gotten out of bed and thought, “Don’t tweet a super important password out to the world today.” Human evolution and innovation have always proven to extend beyond our wildest dreams, but how many of us really thought that human error could be so much greater than we thought?
It’s not fair to compare the Trump administration’s technological abilities to those of other administrations, but only because one other administration has had access to similar technology, and they used it to run one of the best campaigns in modern history. You have to assume however, that were Teddy Roosevelt left to his own devices and a personal Twitter account, he could restrain himself from broadcasting his disdain for a radical conspiracy theory that was in no way suspected or verified by anyone of importance. If Andrew Jackson were so blinded by a racist scorn that he wanted to defame his predecessor, he would have called in his inner-circle and shared his thoughts with them before pushing send.
I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
The Trump’s technological incompetency is astounding, though unfortunately not surprising. Donald Trump is 70 years old and has stayed relevant for the past seven years solely because he tweets about Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, or about his expertise in different styles of birth certificates. It’s unclear if there is a method to his 140-character madness, but based on everything else we know about the man, it’d be hard to argue that he puts the requisite forethought into it.
Mike Pence, the man who is one “Donald Trump doesn’t look both ways before crossing the street because busses are driven by Mexicans” away from being our president, is 57 years old. That’s not terribly ancient, and means that he was a hip mid-thirties dad when the internet really started to gain traction. He probably ordered some sin-free dog food from Pets.com in his heyday, but that does not make him a young soul by any stretch of the imagination. Pence is so old that his initial stepping stone into politics was having a talk radio show that aired throughout Indiana, a move normally reserved for those on the cusp of their last hateful breaths.
Steve Bannon splits the difference between Trump and Pence, coming in at a slimy 63 years old. He would certainly qualify for the geriatric exception that allows technological gaffes every few months, if not for the fact that his job prior to slowly dismantling American Democracy was running an internet website.
There are exceptions to the rule, Jared Kushner (and only Jared Kushner) comes to mind, but the Trump team is largely a group of people whose ages inhibit their natural abilities to operate computers and cellular devices. This may be cute for you and your family when you bump into Grandpa’s mouse and his screensaver disappears, revealing that his only two open tabs are USA Today and XHamster, the consequences are disastrous when the President and his team commit similar errors.
Take for example Trump’s propensity to send out a series of unhinged and unchained tweets about anything that you previously thought, “There’s no way he’d tweet that”. Perhaps he is under the impression that only those who voted for him can view those tweets, or that they are a direct line of communication to Fox and Friends. Those tweets however, are an embarrassment for every American whose Twitter avatar isn’t an egg or George Washington riding a dragon while it torches a sambo cartoon of Obama. This is a man tasked with making decisions that require deliberation, forethought, and a balanced perspective on how different people think and feel. This is also a man who, on top of showing the same restraint as someone on hold with Dish Network’s support line, cannot quite figure out how to string his thoughts together using the second-most basic feature Twitter offers. Trump’s insistence on using five-dot ellipses instead of replying to himself somehow renders his timeline even more indecipherable.
While Trump’s Twitter behavior gets most of the shine, it’s important not to forget that even the relatively young man tasked with controlling Trump’s communications can’t seem to not fuck up.
Sean Spicer, the youngest non-demon in the administration fell victim to the age-old clipboard error when he apparently copy and pasted his password into a tweet, then didn’t even glance at that tweet before sending it, then didn’t have any friends tell him, “Yo, you just tweeted your password.”
Only weeks after finishing a campaign in which the largest reason they won was because their opponent made a technical gaffe, it was brought to light that Vice President Mike Pence did the same thing. Pence not only used his own private email for official communications he had as Governor of Indiana, but he was also hacked while doing so.
There should have been red flags flying following the debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton when, in a way only he can, Trump took softball debate questions and turned them into a verbal Picasso of how little he knows about technology. These are, honest-to-God, the thoughts he has about technology:
As far as the cyber, I agree to parts of what Secretary Clinton said. We should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we’re not. I don’t think anybody knows that it was Russia that broke into the DNC. She’s saying Russia, Russia, Russia—I don’t, maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?
We came in with the Internet. We came up with the Internet. And I think Secretary Clinton and myself would agree very much, when you look at what ISIS is doing with the Internet, they’re beating us at our own game. ISIS.
So we had to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is a huge problem. I have a son—he’s 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers. It’s unbelievable. The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe, it’s hardly doable. But I will say, we are not doing the job we should be doing. But that’s true throughout our whole governmental society. We have so many things that we have to do better, Lester. And certainly cyber is one of them.
It’s not just Trump and his team’s inability to use simple technology that is a cause for concern. They also appear to have a general dismissiveness towards it. The entire ethos of this administration is, “We’re not good at it, so no one must be good at it”. It’s truly remarkable that this group of people thinks they can do whatever they want and get away with it in the information age. They’ll argue that Trump never said things that are still on his Twitter timeline. They’ll remove science-backed content from government websites without realizing that people have downloaded and screenshotted it. They have an unassailable crassness when it comes to technology, and it’s beginning to spill over into their policy decisions.
In the few glimpses we’ve gotten into Trump policies, he has almost uniformly shown favor to industries of the past – Mining, manufacturing, and fossil fuel extraction companies all have renewed hopes that they’ll be able to string together a few more years of government-subsidized existence. With the notable exception of Trump’s Tech CEO Summit – Which also included several of his children, though not the 10 year-old computer genius – we’re left with a series of policies that are unquestionably harmful to the technology industry.
No industry will be set back further by the immigration ban than technology. This is an industry that was built by immigrants, but more importantly, it’s an industry that can be replicated anywhere in the world. Trump and his team’s unrelenting ignorance can be chalked up to age, preference, or a continuation of their general incompetence, but it has real-world consequences. As Trump urges manufacturing companies to come back from the countries they never went to, he’s inadvertently urging tech companies to enter new markets and leave the U.S. behind.
Technology by its very definition is new and unproven. Tech companies often benefit more than any industry from a lack of regulation. But even as Trump pushes for wildly untenable legislation like his two-for-one regulation rollback, he is not doing the industry any favors. The next evolution of technology consists of deep learning, artificial intelligence, and the merging of humans and machines into some form of singularity. These are things that are researched for years at top universities before making their way into the marketplace. Ask any leader of these university programs, and they’ll tell you that immigrant students are the backbone of their efforts. Discriminating against, and ultimately prohibiting immigrants from studying and working here will have very real effects on the economy, but in particular on America’s ability to compete with other world powers in technology. Trump’s obsession with China clouds his judgment and makes him think their manufacturing industry is what the U.S. should emulate. In reality, they’ve been emulating our technology industry for years, and will soon surpass us if Trump continues on his current trajectory.
Donald Trump and his team have had their fair share of public gaffes related to technology. They’ve committed relatively harmless errors that many people have committed in the past. They, apparently, can’t find a millennial to run their social media accounts like literally every other organization in existence. They’re also the select group of people tasked with making more important decisions than anyone else on earth. What happens when Trump inadvertently tweets out details of a classified briefing? What happens when he @’s the wrong world leader and escalates the U.S. into a new war? What happens when his policies lead to a weakening of the U.S.’s technology industry? These are all very real possibilities, and in some cases, are already happening. So while it may be a fun (and necessary) exercise to laugh at their technological incompetence, remember that in the near future it will have real consequences.