#Silicon Valley has not historically been a hotbed of political activism or highly opinionated thought when it comes to government policy. But there is evidence that may be changing, as seen most recently during the Watermark Conference for Women where one of the tech industry’s most influential executives and two former Secretaries of State offered their somewhat blunt assessments of recent events in the nation’s capital.
Former top leaders express concerns
During a joint appearance on the stage before 6,500 attendees at the conference in San Jose, California on Wednesday, Madeleine Albright and #Condoleezza Rice both expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s recent executive order to limit immigration.
“It was ill-considered and badly delivered,” said Rice, who served as Secretary of State under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009. “I don’t agree with it.”
However, Rice tempered her criticism of President Trump by expressing hope that the White House will follow previous administrations in letting agencies make policies. “We have a system,” said Rice. “Let’s give it a chance to work.”
Immigration policy has become a major issue in Silicon Valley in the aftermath of the President’s executive order last week barring entrance to the U.S. of citizens from seven countries. Over the past weekend, tech company CEOs ranging from Sundar Pichai at Google to Tim Cook at Apple criticized the action and its impact on their employees.
Unlike Rice, former Secretary of State Albright was less willing to let the agencies gain control, expressing her belief that Congress will need to assert more power in controlling the new President.
“I am so glad I don’t have to defend this administration,” said Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001. “We don’t want (King) George the Third.”
Both Albright and Rice were nurtured in their careers by Albright’s father, Josef Korbel, a Czech diplomat. Korbel taught international relations for many years at the University of Denver in Colorado, where Rice attended as a student. “A refugee immigrant trained two Secretaries of State,” said Albright, in a pointed rebuke of the current administration’s new policy.
Facebook executive remains hopeful
Prior to the Albright and Rice appearance, Watermark attendees heard from #sheryl sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, who previously worked as a high ranking official in the U.S. Treasury Department. Sandberg posted her own objections to the immigration policy earlier this week on Facebook. However, in conversation yesterday with Recode’s Kara Swisher, she appeared reluctant to be drawn into direct criticism of the new President.
“This administration is going to have broad ability to take action on the things we care about,” said Sandberg. “I have to remain hopeful.”
Prodded by Swisher to declare her interest in running for political office, which has been the subject of speculation for several years, Sandberg demurred. “I am going to continue to say no,” said the Facebook executive, citing the love of her job and her “unusually special” working relationship with company founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Despite her insistence on staying out of politics, Sandberg is hardly keeping a low profile. She is about to publish a new book – “Option B” – and will be promoting it during an extensive national tour this coming spring. It was Sandberg rather than Zuckerberg who represented Facebook at a high-level meeting in New York between President Trump and leading technology executives, including Apple’s Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Tesla’s Elon Musk, last December.
“I feel like we are in a very challenging time, not just here but around the world,” said Sandberg yesterday. Those challenges may force her company and many others in Silicon Valley to become more politically active and even outspoken in the months ahead.