In the 1990s I lived and worked in Dallas, Texas. I was product manager for the world leading software development tool for corporate systems and part of a large, high performing team. Looking back, it was clear most of the technical team members were college educated, highly experienced and white. The average age of technical staff was probably 40 – 50. Of course, it was the era of the American engineer, professionals who led the world, not just in software and hardware, but also many other fields such as aeronautics, space, manufacturing etc.
In the 2010s I consulted to one of the world leading health corporations based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This was as different as you can imagine. Again, it was a large team, and most of the technical team members were very highly educated and widely experienced but with very diverse racial backgrounds, particularly Asian. This dramatic change in the makeup of leading-edge high-tech teams took place over a 25 year period. Corporations went to great lengths to acquire the highest skills, knowing full well that the difference between average and upper quartile skills sets was huge.
I spent a lot of time in Philadelphia and usually stayed in a smallish suite hotel for weeks at a time. I recall I got to know the night manager quite well. I would wander down to reception late at night, perhaps to drop off laundry or pick up coffee, and we would shoot the breeze. I guess he was late 20s, college educated, well informed and articulate. It was early 2016 when we had the conversation about politics, and he admitted he would be voting for Donald Trump. He told me that this Night Manager job was all he could hope for. That many of his friends were in similar positions – competing with temporary or permanent immigrants who frankly had better education, better experience and were lower cost hires for corporations. He had low expectations of a stellar career. In his view Donald Trump was an implementation of chaos theory – an opportunity to overthrow the vested interests, to move the country out of the rut it was clearly in.
My night manager friend was clear, it was an incredible risk because by nature Trump is unpredictable. But he said that many, many people were so unhappy that any change had to be good. I argued that Trump is basically a member of the New York elite. He will look after large corporations. But the response was, there’s no alternative. He and his friends viewed Hilary Clinton as entirely corrupt and no different to the Republicans.
Fast forward five years and I would love to go back and have that conversation over again. But I think I know now what I would hear. Trump has clearly created this image where he exists in a reality TV world. If he says something it will happen. This was so clear today when he said, “stop counting the votes”, without any concept of how impossible this would be to effect. But he has created a movement that believes everything he says. If he says, “I have created 2,000,000 new jobs, or I have brought back manufacturing or coal mining”, the members of his movement are so part of his reality TV world, they don’t push back. It’s analogous to religion where followers unquestioningly believe the message.
At the time of writing the election is looking set to go to Biden; there will be court challenges, but we can all see that Trump and his family are losing it. Will the Supreme Court come to the rescue – highly unlikely because there is no legal or constitutional issue that will materially affect the outcome. No one expects Trump to go quietly into the night, but hopefully he will recede into irrelevance as the GOP realise, he and his family are a monumental strategic mistake for the Republican Party. They don’t need to be part of anyone else’s soap opera!
We can only hope that the Democrats under Biden will be able to address some of the fundamental problems facing the USA. If I were advising I would suggest the top three priorities (after the Coronavirus) are education, education, education.