Why Tech Leaders can’t Succumb to a Presidential Bully Pulpit

Merriam-Webster defines a “bully pulpit” as:

Bully pulpit comes from the 26th U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt, who observed that the White House was a bully pulpit. For Roosevelt, bully was an adjective meaning “excellent” or “first-rate”—not the noun bully (“a blustering, browbeating person”) that’s so common today. Roosevelt understood the modern presidency’s power of persuasion and recognized that it gave the incumbent the opportunity to exhort, instruct, or inspire. He took full advantage of his bully pulpit, speaking out about the danger of monopolies, the nation’s growing role as a world power, and other issues important to him. Since the 1970s, bully pulpit has been used as a term for an office—especially a political office—that provides one with the opportunity to share one’s views.

Roosevelt’s use of this term as an adjective and not a noun made the bully pulpit term OK for the time and, if the person using that pulpit for good, the term can be an endearing one. However, I am not sure we can see President-Elect Trump in that light yet, given his history of “blustering and browbeating” people to get his way.

I took a call from a reporter last week who was asking me about Apple’s decision to have their servers in a single data center location instead of at each of the major data centers they have around the US and the world. This will be done in Arizona and the reporter asked if Apple did this to help get a better position, in Trump’s eyes, by doing the manufacturing in the US. All told, it will only add 10-20 jobs and I told the reporter this was more strategic and had nothing to do with wanting to gain favor with Trump.

But other companies, such as Ford and Carrier, have made decisions to move jobs from planned facilities outside of the US back to America. On the surface, it does appear Trump “bullied” them into doing it. It seems very clear to me that Jack Ma, CEO of Alibaba, who met with Trump at Trump Tower and pledged to bring one million jobs to the US, had being in Trump’s good graces in mind.

Last week, Amazon announced they would add 100,000 jobs in the US. When this was announced, and because of Trump’s bully pulpit, I was asked by reporters if this decision was because of pressure from Trump or something more related to strategic growth.

I would hope it was because it was a strategic decision but I have a sneaky feeling Amazon and many others do not want to rile Trump. What he says and does from his “bully pulpit” could hurt them during his time in office. Let’s be clear: I am 100% behind creating more jobs in the US but I believe this should come as result of great business conditions, innovation, a true need for these companies, and that it is strategic to their business growth. I also believe they should not be doing it because they were bullied into it. I am of the school that believes bullying them to create jobs may be a temporary fix. Unless it’s done with the right motive, conditions, and strategy, it will not deliver the fundamental change needed for these jobs to be long lasting.

I believe strongly the tech industry and companies should not succumb to the bullying tactics of President-Elect Trump in any way when it comes to the issue of strategic planning, growth, innovation, and even jobs.

That does not mean they should not want to work with him and, when necessary, lobby to influence Mr. Trump’s policies so he and his administration do not stand in the way of growing our tech economy. But, if any of their moves are done just to placate Trump, then they are building foundations that will crumble under the weight of forced motivations. Unless strategic to their growth, it will set them back, not move them forward.

In a recent piece I did for Fast Company, I outlined my involvement with a council of independent tech influencers that helped shape President Bush’s tech agenda. In the article, I suggested some of the types of councils I believe President Trump needs to help him understand tech and, more importantly, use them to help develop a tech agenda of his own that would benefit his economic goals and get these companies to help support an agenda that moves our industry forward.

I believe working with President Trump in a civil, proactive manner should be the goal of every tech company but not kowtowing to him because he bullied them into some action. The tech industry needs the resolve to stand up against any bully pulpit and only do what is right for them to grow their market. Anything less than that won’t have a lasting impact on them or our industry.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

1,169 thoughts on “Why Tech Leaders can’t Succumb to a Presidential Bully Pulpit”

  1. What if it turns out you can’t work with pdt. Trump in a “civil, proactive manner” ? (I hope there’s “intelligent’ somewhere in there too ^^) That’s not unlikely. Do you exit stage and let him propagandize w/ no opposition, do you put forward your reasoned arguments, do you use like for like and go for truthiness, or do you move one step up and resort to violence ?

    1. A word you don’t here in the US often is “loyal opposition”, here it’s “checks and balances” and is not revered the way it is in Europe. It should be.

    2. This is a real fear of mine. I am very worried that he will become antagonistic to tech leaders..I do think they have to make reasoned arguments and be very vocal.

      1. I’m always wondering if pdt. Trump’s resorting to Passion not Reason is a facade/communication strategy or the way he really is deep down.
        I’ve come across a few sociopaths over the year, and they can really achieve things by simply not caring about reality + social mores + others, w/o being particularly intelligent. I’m not sure Reason works with them, but then again I’m not sure playing their Passion game is tenable in the long term (they’re better at it + it don’t work ^^). Let’s hope this is short term, and that there are a few redeeming qualities. Actually, I’m wondering if the entourage isn’t more worrisome than the beast himself.

        1. No ideology outside of power and, thus, money. Pure opportunism. In the moment down to nanosecond resolution.

      2. One thing that struck me during the long campaign: Trump has been in business for 40+ years, but there were no stories about business partners who did well, got rich with him and endorsed his business genius. Instead, people partnering with Trump seem to be dragged to court by him or end up with unpaid bills. Politicians and businessmen who hope to “work with” Trump may want to check their optimism and review his track record, because precedent is not promising.

  2. Not everything, but certainly some of this was also already in the making, such as the Fiat/Chrysler deal, which was negotiated 16 months ago with… the UAW! And moving manufacturing to the US may sound great, until that is taken over by automation. So, work may be “returning” to the US, but that doesn’t mean that jobs are.

    And I imagine Amazon, also, has been planning this for a while. And I would ask, how many of those jobs will also be taken over by automation, especially the warehouse jobs?

    I guess never let an opportunity to spin something to your favor slip by.

    Joe

    1. The French saying call that an “effet d’annonce” (a publicity gimmick, I guess) , ie you advertise a result that was already in the cards + lump several events together + assign expedient causality. So Amazon is hiring 100k people because of pdt Trump – except that was planned even if Hillary, it’s over 2 yrs, and it’s not counting sackings /attrition-
      The antidote is statistics, hopefully they won’t start fudging those, that’s what we must keep a close eye on.

    2. Manufacturing left the US for economic and environmental reasons. Union bosses strong-armed manufacturers, threatening strikes creating inflated employee wages included in the bottom line, beyond what the end product could be sold for. Those jobs have to be automated, if they return, to be competitive.

      The EPA mandated many manufacturing procedures as illegal or too costly to clean. Returning waste water to sewers cleaner than it came into the plants was required. Exhaust from stacks had to be filtered cleaner than than outside air. Metals required to secure parts were declared toxic and couldn’t be used.

      Trump stresses bringing Apple manufacturing back to America. Most of the components are made in China/Vietnam. Making them here would pollute the air beyond EPA acceptable levels. Even if the Trump administration voided those restrictions, our assemblers vs Chinese assemblers would make smartphones much more expensive. Who would pay $1,600 – $1,800 for a smart phone?

      1. There are a lot of reasons we are where we are now. My point was Trump is taking credit for a lot of moves that were in motion long before his election. And any manufacturing gains will soon be offset by automation, so it won’t be long that, in terms of jobs, we will right back where we are now or worse. Chances are Trump will be long gone by then and be able to dodge blame.

        Joe

  3. Any President is not only entitled, but I would say morally, ethically, and duty bound to set the tone of their leadership. This, of course, within the bounds of the Constitution, and which serves as their most primary and solemn duty. This is why it’s very important that society watches what’s happening, and that the electorate is aware.

    Unlike a nation, corporations aren’t ethically or morally bound to anything other than to their stockholders and to the law. A nation’s leader is ethically and morally, and duty bound to all.

    This is a utopian picture of course. But we should strive for utopia.

    When a “CEO type” enters public office, they fail too often to realize that, unlike before, the fight “starts” when they open their mouth. And that’s as it should be.

    I place little faith in either side having “the answer”. They are all self serving.

    1. “Unlike a nation, corporations aren’t ethically or morally bound to anything other than to their stockholders and to the law.”

      Disagree. Corporations are ethically / morally bound to its stakeholders and the law: stakeholders being shareholders, customers, employees, and communities within which it operates.

      1. Any obligation to customers, employees, or communities are due to laws or contractual agreements. but we are getting into semantics. It’s what’s missing that matters…

        The vast majority of a corporation’s home nation are NOT stakeholders and have no direct vote or influence upon the corporation’s governance. The exception, obviously, would be nationalized companies and co-ops.

        Corporations are not democracies.

  4. On the more humorous side, I always had a certain, sometimes measured, contempt of sycophants.

    Asking whether company A, B, or C actions are a suck up to the President reminds me of this story.

    Regarding the “bully pulpit”, when I was a “young buck” the VP entered the meeting and said Good Morning, to which I turned to my sycophant director and asked “What do you think he meant by that?”…