By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Is the federal tech community fed up with Trump?

Donald Trump in 2016 (Photo by Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock)

After watching the July 16 evening news broadcast that led with the story of President Donald Trump’s fawning news conference after his meeting with Vladimir Putin, I proceeded to my after-dinner ritual of checking news feeds on Facebook and Twitter. What I saw was astonishing.

There was a post from a former senior IT executive from the Bush administration, with responses from a former federal agency CIO (also from the Bush administration), a long-time senior career IT civil servant at a major federal agency, and an employee at a major government contractor. On Twitter I saw tweets from a former senior federal official and trade association executive. (To respect their privacy, I will give no names here, but I am guessing that at least older readers of this blog will recognize all or most of their names.)

The Facebook post stated, “Now we will observe the results of a weekend of disgraceful behavior with our allies in Europe and the continuation of that with his summit meeting (that will take place in secret) with Putin. I guess we're not to know what is said behind closed doors. Please mobilize, please consider the evidence and realize that this president needs to be reined in for the security of our country. What more do you need?”

The former CIO responded to the post, “I felt so violated after watching all this news that I had to go take a very long, hot shower. Now I'm feeling an overwhelming desire just to escape, before it's too late.” The long-time senior civil servant stated, “Now is the time for all good citizens to come to the aid of their country.” And the contractor employee wrote, “It's just hard to form words about how bad this is. Putin has won.”

Referring to Trump’s statement that the U.S.-Russia relationship had “never been worse,” the former fed and trade association executive tweeted, “That is a truly stunning and frightening statement. He apparently never even heard of the Cold War.” And on Trump’s statement that the E.U. was our greatest foe but Russia and the U.S. are just “competitors,” he tweeted laconically that this was an “Interesting worldview.”

Reading this, I also thought about recent news stories about letters from consultants at McKinsey and Deloitte urging their firms to break ties with ICE in the wake of Trump’s immigration policies in general and family separations in particular.

(I am aware that Facebook’s algorithms tend to post more material from those whom they expect have similar views, so maybe this is a biased sample of the fed tech community. I do note, though, that I do have a number of Facebook friends, not in tech, who regularly post pro-Trump content, so I don’t know that my feed is particularly biased. However, if any blog readers often see pro-Trump posts from govtech folks, send me an email so I can nuance the statements in this blog if appropriate: steve_kelman@hks.harvard.edu.)

If comments such as these were coming from young employees in firms in California, it wouldn’t be so surprising -- indeed, there has been media attention to appeals by Google staff to cut off artificial intelligence work with the Defense Department. And to be sure, Washington, D.C., hardly boasts a red-state culture -- though it's nowhere near a California culture either.

These posts – in public forums, not private dinner conversations – are coming from non-young, non-firebrand members of the D.C. tech establishment. I was never aware that any of these people even had political opinions. With nothing but friendship toward them intended, I would characterize them as tech nerds.

So I take these statements seriously. They come from moderate, mainstream people. But they are angry and disappointed. We definitely all owe it to ourselves to take seriously their worries about the direction our country is going.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jul 17, 2018 at 11:19 AM


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