Trump’s Tech Meeting Disrupted the Norms of Liberal Democracy

All in the family. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Donald Trump was supposed to clarify how he intends to extricate himself from the myriad conflicts of interest his company presents. But he postponed that press conference earlier this week. In its place, the president-elect tweeted his intention to cede managerial control of his company to his adult sons, Eric and Don Jr.

Then, he invited both of those sons to a policy meeting with the leading lights of Silicon Valley. On the very day he had previously promised to detail his plans for evading corruption. Which, to be fair, was clarifying.

Behold, the seating chart for Trump’s tech-sector powwow.

Counting the president-elect himself, 20 percent of those present were members of the Trump family. When Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer was asked why Twitter had not been invited to the meeting Wednesday, he replied, “the conference table was only so big.”

That Trump found room for four of his family members but not for one of America’s largest social-media platforms would be less concerning had Trump not said the following to those who were given seats at the table: “I’m here to help you folks do well … We’re going to be there for you.”

A president that can help “amazing” companies is one who can also hurt “failing” ones. Twitter’s conspicuous absence from Wednesday’s meeting was reportedly retribution for its refusal to green-light a #CrookedHillary emoji during the campaign.

Since November 8, Trump has used his bully pulpit to declare the private sector’s winners and losers on an almost daily basis. The New York Times and Vanity Fair are “failing” publications; Boeing and Lockheed Martin deserve to have their federal contracts canceled. But the top executives at Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are “a truly amazing group of people.”

In just over a month, Trump will have more powerful tools than a mere megaphone for helping those who cooperate with him and hurting those who don’t. Don’t provide the president-elect with his desired emoji or public praise — or, who knows, do refuse to take take that meeting with Don Jr. about the Trump Organization’s exciting new investment opportunities — and you could find your merger blocked, your pricing practices ruled predatory, or your federal contracts canceled.

Last spring, Sean Hannity informed Trump that the Washington Post had assigned 20 reporters to search his closet for skeletons.

“It’s interesting that you say that, because every hour we’re getting calls from reporters from the Washington Post asking ridiculous questions and I will tell you, this is owned as a toy by Jeff Bezos who controls Amazon,” Trump replied. “Amazon is getting away with murder taxwise. He’s using the Washington Post for power so that the politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed … he’s got a huge antitrust problem …and what they’ve done is he bought this paper for practically nothing and he’s using that as a tool for political power against me and against other people and, I’ll tell you what, we can’t let him get away with it.”

On Wednesday, Bezos called his meeting with Trump “very productive.”

“I shared the view that the administration should make innovation one of its key pillars, which would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech — agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing — everywhere,” Bezos explained.

One could view the fact that Bezos got a seat at the table, even as the Post continues to cover Trump critically, as a hopeful sign. Or one could see Bezos’s participation in — and praise of — the meeting as a sign of the president-elect’s power over him.

Regardless, our political economy is about to be disrupted. And there’s a real risk that once Donald Trump starts moving fast and breaking things, the foundations of our democracy could go the way of Friendster.

Trump’s Tech Meeting Disrupted the Norms of Our Democracy