The Donald’s giving the digital world the dithers

No, the sky is not falling, but US engineering has plenty of justifiable concerns about a Trump presidency

US President-elect Donald Trump now faces the challenge of moving beyond his unique brand of electoral self-promotion to actually governing. If he thinks that running his property empire is even just broadly analogous to that, the world is in for yet another set of shocks.

Still, it was noticeable that one policy plan Trump did address in modest detail during his victory speech was engineering-led. Gone were the promises to lock up ‘crooked Hillary’ or to wall off Mexico. Instead, Trump wanted to focus attention and getting some old-fashioned capital spending under way.

“Working together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation and renewing the American dream. I’ve spent my entire life and business looking at the untapped potential in projects and in people all over the world. That is now what I want to do for our country,” the Donald declared.

“Tremendous potential. I’ve gotten to know our country so well — tremendous potential. It’s going to be a beautiful thing. Every single American will have the opportunity to realise his or her fullest potential. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.

“We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”

When you analyse the components of Trump’s victory, it is noticeable that he consistently framed his infrastructure proposals more explicitly in terms of job creation than Hillary Clinton, who offered ideas wrapped in the more intellectual sense of economic growth. Bringing up infrastructure again in his victory speech was a nod from Trump to that blue-collar vote he seems to have more effectively attracted.

So does high-profile positioning of infrastructure mean Trump is likely to deliver?

It is probably fair to say that it is his intention to get a major rebuilding programme under way. US infrastructure has decayed to an unacceptable state. Trump is also canny enough to play to his strengths – certainly during his early days in the White House – and therefore making a major construction bill an early piece of signature legislation keeps him in a realm he knows well professionally.

However, massive government-led spending projects simply aren’t the Republican Thing – and Trump’s party now controls not only the Presidency but also both the Senate and House of Representatives. For the moment, Trump’s most powerful opponents are to be found on his own side, and many will seek to pick apart infrastructure legislation.

In short, there should be plenty of fun and games ahead. And, moving on to what will be another big technology concern during a Trump presidency, the digital engineering world might even welcome some old-school Republican obstructionism toward the White House, particularly when it comes to international trade.

Silicon Valley has probably given up any hope of seeing the specialist worker visa system extended or improved, but there is probably still a little bit being held out that Trump can either be talked out of or simply blocked from tearing up various international partnerships.

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has already said that the headline Trans-Pacific Partnership (which leans towards opening up trade in and between Asia, South America and the US) will not be presented to his house for ratification until after Trump’s inauguration. Trump specifically picked out the TPP as something he would block while on the campaign trail, and has also said that he will move to terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

These and other formal trade deals – plus Trump’s threat to apply to punitive tariffs against imports from China because of, he claims, currency manipulation – are a huge worry for US multinationals, but particularly those in areas such as electronic systems, semiconductors and even advanced engineering design services. Global traffic in all these areas has moved in the last couple of decades from being a source of expansion and economic growth to becoming an absolute necessity if such businesses are to be viable.

Let’s make no mistake: this Trump victory was not welcomed by many in the US high technology sector. Senior executive reaction has been more phlegmatic than the apocalyptic wibble now percolating across much of social media. But, at the same time, the question being asked by many today is less, “OK, how realistically can we work with this guy?” and more, “OK, how the hell do we get around him?”

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