Democrats Losing Silicon Valley, Not Just the Rust Belt

The blue-collar Rust Belt has been the primary focus of the post-election sturm and drang among restless Democrats. Those states, once considered to be the party’s “blue wall,” i.e. the states that were the “givens” in their electoral strategy, have been walloped by larger economic forces for decades.

Those voters, typically thought of as small town, blue-collar, white, evangelicals, have grown pessimistic about their future, worried about crumbling social mores, and pissed off about the government’s willingness to throw them under the bus in the name of progress. They voted in huge numbers for Donald Trump because he was the only candidate resembling change, a breath of fresh air amongst the staid and stale Washington insider crowd.

But another, altogether different region of the country shifted dramatically in Republicans’ favor this election cycle, one that hasn’t received nearly the coverage of the Rust Belt: Silicon Valley. In many ways the two regions couldn’t be more dissimilar. The Rust Belt is cold, it’s landscape pockmarked by the hollowed-out remnants of manufacturing’s Golden Age, it’s people hardened by the constant effort to keep their head above water. Most of all they’re tired. Silicon Valley, with its perpetually sunny clime, gleaming new office buildings, and young upstarts who know how to build code and little else, is an altogether different world.

And yet, in this election the two geographical and cultural opposites saw the world through a similar political lens. Thomas Edsall, writing in the New York Times, examines one of the most concrete examples of Silicon Valley’s rightward shift: their donation trends.

“In 2016, the corporate PACs associated with Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Amazon broke ranks with the traditional allegiance of the broad tech sector to the Democratic Party,” Edsall reports. “All four donated more money to Republican Congressional candidates than they did to their Democratic opponents.”

It’s not just the companies’ political action committees, it’s their employees too. In 2008, Microsoft employees gave 71 percent to Democratic candidates, but by 2016 the number had plummeted to just 47 percent. The trend is similar at Facebook, which backed Democrats over Republicans 64-35 in 2012, but the shrunk to 51-47 in 2016.

How on earth could these two regions, despite their enormous differences, decide that Republican candidates offer them the best path forward? Democrats certainly don’t understand. They think that the rural rubes were duped and can be won back, if only the party can manage to talk in a little less highfalutin terms. And as for the West Coast hipsters? Well to hear Democrats tell it, the tech-sector beatniks got rich and greedy – willing to lose their liberal ideals if it meant they didn’t have to lose their piles of tech cash.

But what if there is a throughline? What if both blue-collar Midwesterners and Sunshine-State millennials both understand that social and economic mobility is being hampered by centralized, top-down government. What if they both see the opportunity to do better by Republican governance?

The Rust Belt has been devastated, not by globalism in and of itself, but because America’s tax and regulatory structures have not evolved at the speed the world economy has changed. Silicon Valley is not immune to this change. Nothing in this world, especially in the fast-moving world of technology, is forever. Without the freedom to compete and innovate it too will slowly fall behind, decay and…rust.

The answer then is an open, bottom-up economy, one that fosters bright minds and cultivates the best from every part of society. That means creating a tax code that incentivizes growth, and promotes fairness, not one that penalizes the very things we’re trying achieve.

And it means allowing innovators to do what they do best – adapting, experimenting and working nimbly to fill needs, and stopping regulators (when it makes sense) from doing what they do best – arresting progress by focusing on yesterday’s problems. We’re already seeing the impact of stuck-in-the-past regulators with companies like Uber, AirBnB, and ideas like autonomous vehicles. More will inevitably follow.

The Rust Belt recognized they needed to address these issues in order to regain their status as a dominant economic force. Likewise, Silicon Valley saw that changes were needed in order to avoid a fate of uncompetitiveness and decline. Despite being in vastly different positions, they’re both desperate for progress.