What Trump’s first 100 days have meant for tech, science, and the future

by Verge Staff   |   Illustrations by Peter Steineck   |   April 28, 2017

April 29th marks President Trump’s 100th day in office, a "ridiculous standard" that he has promised to surpass nonetheless. Trump had big plans going in: repealing and replacing Obamacare, suspending immigration from "terror-prone regions," building a border wall and making Mexico pay for it. While he’s had a handful of victories, like getting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, many other plans have collided the courts, Congress, or administrative chaos.

Yet it has been an eventful hundred days. We won’t delve into every executive order and diplomatic shift, but the beginning of the Trump administration has had a profound impact on technology, science, and the future course of the planet. Media, politics, and so much else seems to have entered a new era, and it’s a surreal one. Even more than before he took office, Trump permeates the culture: news, television, music, even things that aren’t direct responses to Trump get pulled into his gravitational field. Rollbacks of environmental regulations and aggressive tweeting about North Korea mean we can now worry about two apocalypses at once: nuclear winter and climate change. (The fact that tweets can raise the specter of nuclear war is new, too.) The wall may end up being more of a fence or maybe just a metaphor, but metaphors have power, and hostile rhetoric coupled with aggressive deportations means the future looks more isolated and less connected than ever. Meanwhile, one of the primary drivers of interconnection, the internet, is being divvied up by corporations.

The end of the open internet

by T.C. Sottek

Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp, and then he built an even bigger one. Just two weeks into his presidency, Trump’s new FCC gave its first gift to the telecom industry: a free pass for AT&T and Verizon to divide up the internet and start to make it look more like cable television. FCC chairman Ajit Pai shot a giant flare into the sky to show ISPs the swamp was clear, and then the crocodiles moved in.

It seems like the stakes are high for everything this year, but the internet is under an urgent threat. Communications giants are wealthy, smart, and opportunistic, and so far our new government seems to be no match for them — whether we’re talking about an FCC that has cowed to the industry it’s supposed to regulate or a Congress and White House that still don’t seem to understand how the internet works. (No, it’s not like a bridge.)

The internet is under an urgent threat

That vacuum of knowledge and principle explains how the ISP industry got its second big gift in Trump’s first 100 days. In April, telecom giants somehow convinced lawmakers to roll back an Obama-era rule that would prevent ISPs from selling your web browsing history without your permission. Even more than the FCC’s retreat from zero-rating regulation, this move showed the industry’s raw influence over this administration; it’s hard to imagine a more unpopular move than letting people’s internet providers mess with their privacy. And yet, lawmakers who passed the bill argued that it was in the spirit of fairness that ISPs should be able to secretly sell your data.

Now, the FCC and Republicans under Trump want to give the telecom lobby a third, massive gift by dismantling the hard-won net neutrality regulations that preserve the internet as we know and love it. Chairman Pai announced that the FCC plans to roll back Title II, and ISPs are thrilled. Maybe Pai just wants to hear again from the millions of people who confidently told the FCC in 2014 not to give the internet away to some of the most hated companies in America.

A small coalition of tech companies are quietly putting up a fight, but Trump’s first 100 days have emboldened net neutrality’s enemies. And as America’s telecoms continue to consolidate, they’re only getting more powerful.

America first, and alone

by Adi Robertson

Under Donald Trump, Silicon Valley’s ideal of a global community no longer seems like the foregone conclusion it might have a few years ago, and people are still figuring out how to deal with the barriers Trump is erecting. Mass protests and legal battles have stalled bans on visitors from several Muslim-majority countries, and the president’s love of Twitter isn’t doing him any favors in court. But there's still plenty more on the table that points to a future of isolation, not interconnection.

The change in course has shaken tech titans who are dedicated to getting the whole world online (and on their platforms). Mark Zuckerberg published a defense of "global community" that acknowledged its discontents, hoping to win the public’s affection before either running for president or making reality obsolete. Uber, meanwhile, stayed true to form and turned the protests into a way to make people hate it even more.

The ideal of a global community no longer seems like a foregone conclusion

The larger tech world, which is ground zero for the high-tech immigration debate, has been slowly mobilizing to defend immigration. But one has to wonder whether their focus on the H-1B visa program — which lots of people agree actually is in need of reform — isn’t self-serving. In the meantime, the administration’s xenophobic rhetoric, coupled with actual violent incidents and aggressive deportations, is creating a culture of fear.

Trump remains as committed as ever to building a literal wall between the US and Mexico, but to paraphrase the president himself on another topic, nobody knew walls could be this complicated. After claiming that construction could start within "months" and that Mexico would be paying the tab, the administration put out one call for bids on solid concrete designs, and one for "other" proposals that could include structures like fences, i.e., "not walls."

Nobody knew walls could be this complicated

Winners will start building prototypes in June, but with funding up in the air, the most tangible achievement so far is providing a pretty good forum for conceptual art. Trump recently insisted that Mexico will still pay at some point, via the most tortured grammatical construction in the history of language. Since Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto has obliquely compared Trump to Hitler and Mussolini, however, that plan might have some flaws.

Trump’s other isolationist positions are getting fuzzier by the day, which hasn’t pleased parts of his alt-right troll fanbase. Despite this, the internet nationalists who cheered his campaign in the US have moved to new platforms and spread their memes to similar movements abroad. Silicon Valley Trump supporter and noted sea vampire Peter Thiel also thinks globalization is outdated, but he may be prepping to survive the apocalypse in New Zealand, so we’ll call that one a draw. Whatever happens, at least the world order is still intact enough for Shia LaBeouf’s flag to find refuge overseas.

The darkest timeline

by Casey Newton

Since January 20th, the most powerful Twitter account in the world has belonged to President Donald Trump. Like the president’s other forms of speech, his Twitter is grouchy, erratic, and prone to regular gaffes. Just when it all starts to look funny, as with Trump’s contorted effort to extract border wall payments from Mexico, the account reliably posts something to send a shiver down your spine. "North Korea is looking for trouble," the president tweeted the other day, casually raising the specter of nuclear war. "If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A."

Maybe it’s all just hot air. Or maybe this is how civilization ends. Set your push notifications to "on"!

Twitter has been used, if sparingly, for diplomacy — but most heads of state, including former president Barack Obama, used it primarily as a channel for issuing feel-good statements and well wishes. And since becoming president, Trump has issued his share of anodyne tweets. Some are perfunctory: "I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy," he tweeted, unpersuasively, on International Women’s Day. Others vaguely suggest the president is paying attention during his briefings. "Very interesting election currently taking place in France," he tweeted on Monday.

Set your push notifications to "on"!

But in its purest form, Trump’s Twitter account is a throbbing middle finger that extends in all directions. The election saw Crooked Hillary, "dishonest lightweight" Marco Rubio, and "low-energy" Jeb Bush. The ("failing") New York Times made a list of the people, places, and things Trump had insulted on Twitter through March: there were 325.

Now coming from the president of the United States, these insults and wild claims carry higher stakes. They elicit a response from North Korea, which accused Trump ominously of "making trouble." Early morning tweets about wiretapping sow chaos as staffers, lawmakers, and the world scramble to make sense of them. Attacks on a federal judge raise the spectre of a constitutional crisis.

It’s one reason why some outlets, including this one, have made the case that Twitter ban Trump. Twitter has discussed the matter internally, though essentially as a thought exercise: could there be any tweet crazy enough to warrant banning a sitting US president from Twitter?

But on Twitter as in life, Trump appears here to stay. Curiosity about knowing what the president thinks seems to edge out not knowing, if barely. To paraphrase the president, if Twitter decides to help, that would be great. If not, well, there’s not much we can do. USA!

Trump swallows the culture

by Lizzie Plaugic

Since the election, Trump has been inescapable, and not just in the way you would expect the leader of the free world to be. His administration’s constant state of chaos and controversy has turned cable news into his favored medium, a reality show starring himself. (He tunes in regularly, offering feedback and fresh material on Twitter.) Meanwhile, his presidency has drawn responses from all corners of the entertainment world, and even works that aren’t directly about his presidency get enlisted as metaphors for it. If you were hoping pop culture would provide a nice distraction from the Trump presidency, find yourself a metaphor for disappointment.

Not disappointing to Lorne Michaels: Saturday Night Live finally seems relevant again, because it’s never been easier to turn our reality into a joke, and Alec Baldwin can purse his lips really well. (Baldwin said his trick is to make his face look like he’s "trying to suck the chrome off the fender of a car.") Ratings this season have been the show’s highest in 20 years. The president, though not a fan, appears to be a dedicated viewer.

The president appears to be a dedicated viewer

Veep, on the other hand, is trying so hard not to do an impression of Trump that it was forced to cut a "golden shower" joke from its script, because now when you think of pee, you think of the president of the United States. Showrunner David Mandel said that he was glad Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) wasn’t president anymore in the show’s sixth season — everyone in the writers’ room was like, "Thank God we don’t have to be funnier than that guy."

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale did a take on Trump’s America without really trying to. According to critics, who badly wanted to avoid saying the word "Trump" in their reviews, the dystopian series is a balm for our "fractured culture," it possesses a "haunting echo of fears" about the current political climate, and its "regressive world" is "jarringly familiar." Wink wink, wink wink. Margaret Atwood said she keeps getting asked if her original novel was a "prediction." It would all be so perfect if the show hadn’t been in production long before the election.

Critics badly wanted to avoid saying the word "Trump"

Another thing that happened before the election: YG and Nipsey Hussle released the presidential diss track "FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)". After Inauguration Day, hackers interrupted the airwaves of five US radio stations via unsecured, internet-connected antennas and played "FDT" on a loop for hours. The lesson here is to always password protect your Barix Estreamer devices, kids. SXSW also learned a lesson, which is that everyone is paying attention now that Trump is president, and the immigration clause in the festival’s artist contract was not going to fly this time, even though it had flown for years. Musicians can’t stop tweeting about Trump, and Moby apparently has insider info.

Finally, related and belated apologies to Chance the Rapper collaborator Donnie Trumpet, who had to change his name back to his birth name after all this. If only it were that easy, Donnie!

Global warming, meet nuclear winter

by Elizabeth Lopatto

For years, nuclear war seemed like last century’s apocalypse — we had moved on to a new cataclysm, climate change. But the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency have made it clear that the threat of nuclear war is still with us and that absolutely nothing will be done to stem the oncoming disaster of climate change, either. Anxious Americans can now worry about both.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, nukes had largely faded from the public imagination. But with Trump — who, during his campaign, advocated for a nuclear arms race, suggested that Japan and South Korea should get nukes of their own, and declined to take nuking ISIS off the table — it became apparent we had simply hit "snooze" on the nuclear alarm clock. Now, North Korea is threatening nuclear war. The clock is ringing again.

Global thermonuclear war would render Earth uninhabitable; though North Korea is estimated to have about 10 warheads, even a regional war would be catastrophic, not just for the people killed initially but on our world as a whole. We know this because of computer modeling — in fact, the models that showed how nuclear war would transform our planet were later adapted to show pollution’s effects.

Anxious Americans can now worry about both

As it happens, 2016 was the hottest year on record, as had previously been projected by climate modeling. Each of the last three years has set a new record. You should get used to headlines proclaiming the "record-setting hottest month" and "record-low levels of sea ice." That doesn’t just matter to the environment; it also has immediate consequences for human health, like more intense allergies and more people getting sick from smog.

Some Republicans do take the threat of climate change seriously, but President Trump isn’t one of them. Fighting climate change is a good investment, but Trump instead appears to be interested in propping up the last vestiges of the coal industry and destroying the Environmental Protection Agency. His EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, doesn’t even think humans are affecting the Earth’s temperature at all. (Pruitt also happens to be very cozy with oil and gas companies.) And that view is common among Congressional Republicans, including those on the House Science Committee, who held a show trial on climate change to attack scientific consensus.

This doesn’t actually jive with most Americans’ opinions: about 60 percent of people want to see the EPA’s powers preserved or strengthened. But so far, popular support for the agency hasn’t stopped Trump from rolling back a clean water rule. Nor has it stopped him from threatening the EPA’s budget.

Climate change is a slow-moving disaster, but as it picks up speed — thanks in part to decisions made by this administration — it reveals itself as a threat multiplier. As water becomes scarce and famine more common, conflict will likely increase. A cavalier approach to nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation means those conflicts have much higher stakes. What’s worse than global warming or nuclear winter? Global warming and nuclear winter.