I have long held that life recapitulates Star Trek (the original series). My premise is that nothing that happens to us in real life (IRL) hasn’t already been experienced by the crew of the starship Enterprise a few hundred years from now. And here we have Donald Trump, in the final minutes of his Administration, attempting one last time to cripple Huawei, like the wounded but still lethal Khan Noonien Singh using his last measure of strength on one last attempt to kill James T. Kirk.
At least Khan has read Melville. On his way out, he spews delicious invective — “…from hell’s heart I stab at thee…” — while over here? Jack Dorsey has granted us all a blessed boon in saving us from some deranged last tweet like: #Xi #loser.
Almost literally on his way out the door, Donald Trump has revoked the licenses of several U.S. technology suppliers to do business with Huawei. Reuters reports Intel and Kioxia are among the companies involved. Neither company has commented yet.
Khan, having read Melville, would certainly have recognized Trump’s obsession; Huawei is Trump’s white whale. Ahab with his last harpoon, you might recall (you read “Moby-Dick,” right? Or at least saw the film with Gregory Peck?) ended up lashed to his quarry, who drags Ahab to his death. …And sinks Ahab’s ship. …And lives on.
Khan failed to get his man, too. As Kirk goads him earlier in the film, “…like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target.” Similarly, the barb of Trump’s last jab will no doubt sting Huawei, but like Ahab’s and Khan’s final attacks against their nemeses, he seems doomed to to embolden his target instead of kill it.
Trump has always been …, well, lets be kind by using the word “ineffectual.” That stems from a habit of firing without even pretending to aim first. Let’s not forget that Trump started the trade war with China because he thought trade deficits with China were untenable, which is something economists argue about, and that Chinese companies would pay the tariffs he levied on them, which was simply wrong. Worse, he was told he was wrong, and he kept repeating the assertion anyway.
But not the high tech industry. The high tech industry did nothing as Trump rattled supply chains until some were severed, held its tongue as he actively meddled in business relationships, examined its fingernails as he insulted trading partners.
For years, people in finance yammered incessantly about how “uncertainty” was the single most horrifying thing any economy could face, and we just had four years of relentless, ceaseless uncertainty, with nary a peep from Silicon Valley (nor Wall Street, nor any of the stock exchanges around the world, for that matter).
And part of that uncertainty was Trump blowing up free-market dogma like a drunken pyrotechnician. Where were the free trade crusaders among the high tech executives the last four years? Silent. High tech companies would get off the phone with the White House, thinking they had agreed to some behind-the-scenes plan, and a day or two later, Trump would renege. And what was the response then? More silence.
You’re going to bring up national security now, aren’t you? Not one person — not one — has ever identified a security problem inherent in Huawei equipment. Have you? Let us know. Seriously — call us. Otherwise, it looks like another one of the 20,000+ documented lies Trump told while in office, knowing from long experience prior to being elected that when you repeat something often enough without significant challenge, it might as well be true.
I’m not fool enough to think that Huawei is any more angelic than any other company anywhere. I’m open to the possibility that it might be worse than most. But I also think that if you’re going to punish anyone — company or individual — it should be for something they have actually done. One of America’s guiding principle’s is collecting evidence and presenting it publicly for judgement. It was certainly too much to ask of Trump. Maybe that’s too bothersome for the people running American high tech companies, too.
Why has high tech been silent in response to Trump’s erratic economic maneuvers? The only thing one can surmise is that enough high-tech companies were benefiting from the chaos, or at least figured out how to take advantage of it. And if anyone else was getting hurt by it — other US companies that were also doing business in China, for example — well, nobody has any fiduciary responsibility for anyone else’s company, do they?
In hours, Trump will be gone. And the issue isn’t what Joe Biden will do as president to sort out the utter chaos Trump left in his wake. The issue is what Intel and Kioxia and Qualcomm and Google and the rest of the high tech industry will do to sort out the chaos Trump left in his wake.
Moving forward, I am guessing the trade war will gradually cool down, and high tech execs will acquiesce to it (silently, of course; that seems to be their modus operandi). Too much chaos for too long, after all, really is bad for business. International trade I suspect will become harder though — “decoupling” is easy to say, much harder to do. Just a few weeks ago, China and many of our European allies that Trump went out of his way to alienate (eliciting more silence from US high-tech) signed the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. If the US is the only economy that decouples, did it really happen?
Oh — and one other thing. For those of you who crave certainty? I am certain that if any executive from the high tech industry ever invokes “uncertainty” or “free trade” with me ever again, I’m laughing in their faces.