Democrats obsess about extreme income and wealth inequality. Yet according to hacked emails, Team Clinton considered some of the richest Americans as possible Hillary running mates, including technology billionaires Bill Gates of Microsoft and Apple's Tim Cook. That's right: The political party obsessed with the "1 percent" gave at least some thought to putting the wealthiest man on the planet, Gates, on its presidential ticket and potentially a heartbeat away from the presidency itself. What percent is one divided by seven billion?
Still, it's easy to see why Gates would make the "first cut." The Microsoft cofounder and philanthropist is one of the most popular Americans, both here and globally. Indeed, we seem to view getting rich by creating apps and gadgets we use and love a lot differently than making the Forbes 400 list by running a hedge fund or inheriting some old-money fortune. Tech culture has also become mainstream culture with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg the super celebrities of modern America.
Almost literally. Musk is often called a real-world Tony "Iron Man" Stark, while Zuckerberg was the model for Lex Luthor's youthful makeover in Batman v. Superman. When most of us spend much of our day looking at small panes of glass pulled from our pockets and purses, the people responsible have huge influence. Politicians would love the positive favorability ratings of techpreneurs like Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Google's Larry Page. As it is, some #NeverTrumpers tried to draft Mark Cuban as an independent candidate to block Trump. And there's been plenty of speculation that Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg could be Clinton's pick for treasury secretary, maybe setting her up for a future political career.
Really, it seems only a matter of time before one of the major parties nominates a tech billionaire for president, and voters put him or her in the White House. Americans have already proven willing to vote for a wealthy businessperson. Many have won at the congressional and state level, and that's exactly who the GOP nominated for president in 2012 and 2016. Mitt Romney didn't win, but he did hold President Obama to an especially weak reelection performance by an incumbent president.
Trump also looks like a loser, but they are plenty of reasons for blame — his ignorance, bigotry, chauvinism — before you get to his sketchy business background. Only a few weeks ago, recall, Democrats were panicked that the race was slipping away from Clinton. Trump's non-politician, outsider status — including spending millions of his own dough on the campaign — has arguably been a net plus. Now imagine a presidential candidate who got fantastically rich making electric, driverless cars for the middle class, gives tons to charities, and isn't caught on video bragging about sexual assault. Such a candidate might seem pretty appealing to all those millennial voters depressed by their current choices.
What's more, rich techies are becoming more active participants in politics and public policy. Venture capitalist Peter Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention and recently gave $1.25 million in support of Donald Trump's campaign. Zuckerberg has started a pro-immigration lobbying group. Y Combinator's Sam Altman has blogged favorably about giving people a universal basic income and has his firm doing a pilot feasibility project. And through his blog, Gates has opined on such wonky public policy issues as the need for greater public research investment and what the ideal tax code might look like. Techies like to think of themselves as "makers," so why not eventually make a political run?
Finally, tech is playing a greater and greater role in the economy. President Obama just "guest edited" Wired magazine, giving a meaty Q&A on the societal impact of technological change. And the White House has already announced an interagency working group to learn more about the "benefits and risks of artificial intelligence." How many articles have there been in the past few years on robots taking all our jobs? It's only natural that those with a deep and sophisticated understanding of tech — and ability to explain it — will find growing influence. Expertise is power. And in coming elections, Americans might want to see that expertise in the Oval Office.