Silicon Valley’s response to the election of President Donald Trump was initially marked by caution and optimism, but the president’s immigration ban seems to have hardened opinions. Speaking on Thursday, January 26th, when reports of the ban were first surfacing, Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt told employees that Trump’s administration is going to do “evil things as they’ve done in the immigration area.” Deliberate or not, Schmidt’s wording resonates when compared to Google’s most famous corporate motto: “Don’t be evil.”
These remarks were made at the company’s regular end-of-week meeting and reported by BuzzFeed News. An earlier story covering the same meeting by Vice noted that it was a tense affair, with Google staffers asking why the company wasn’t taking a harder stance against the ban. One employee of the company from Iran reportedly said: “[I want] Google to take positions, this is a fascist regime, this isn’t normal.”
Schmidt reportedly told employees on Thursday that he believed the “tone of this government is very much economic growth.” He said: “I think at the end of the day, they are going to do these evil things as they’ve done in the immigration area and perhaps some others. But the core focus is going to be to get the growth rate in the country — which is roughly one-and-a-half to two percent — up another point by simply pushing through increases in federal spending and overcoming the Tea Party.”
In a memo sent to staffers the following day, Google CEO Sundar Pichai (himself an immigrant from India) said: “It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues. We’ve always made our view on immigration issues known publicly and will continue to do so.”
Over the weekend, as protests against the ban sprung up around the country, there were more sign’s of Google’s opposition. Google co-founder Sergey Brin joined a protest in San Francisco, saying “I'm here because I'm a refugee”; the company created a $4 million crisis fund for organizations including the ACLU; and, on Monday, employees staged a walkout in Google offices around the world. “This was in direct response to the immigration action," Enzam Hossain, an employee on the Mountain View campus, told The Verge. "We wanted to be a part of it, and support our colleagues who are facing it."
Google cofounder Sergey Brin at SFO protest: "I'm here because I'm a refugee." (Photo from Matt Kang/Forbes) pic.twitter.com/GwhsSwDPLT— Ryan Mac (@RMac18) January 29, 2017
But while Google’s rank-and-file are more comfortable publicly expressing their dismay at the Trump administration, Google the company is still fighting to gain favor with the new Republican leaders.
Schmidt himself previously wielded significant clout in former-president Obama’s government, and was no doubt expecting to enjoy similar influence under Hillary Clinton. Instead, the company is reportedly finding itself side-lined. The New York Times has reported that Google has been trying to aggressively woo Republican lawmakers, hosting a $50,000 drinks event earlier this month and looking to hire a new “conservative outreach” employee in its Washington office.
On Thursday’s meeting, though, Schmidt expressed doubts about the company’s influence: “These prejudicial actions are discriminatory and anti-globalization, and I did everything I could to cause a different outcome.” He added: “There are limits to what we can do, there’s no question if the company is asked to do something that’s counter to our values, we would oppose it and actively fight it.”