Hillary Clinton came to Wednesday night’s presidential debate prepared and poised. Donald Trump started off composed, ably responding to moderator Chris Wallace’s initial set of questions about the Supreme Court. But Trump quickly regressed to his status quo of bullying and interruptions. His repeated denigration of women and people of color has made it nearly impossible for the candidates in these debates to focus on substantive topics and fixing our future.
As I watched the last debate of the 2016 presidential election several time zones away in Europe, I thought not only about how the candidates’ policies would impact American workers and our tech economy, but also how they would position the U.S. on the world stage. Here are my five takeaways:
Trade is in danger if Trump wins.
Donald Trump blames trade agreements as a source of economic woe and job loss. Many economists disagree. Americans have lost middle-class jobs as technology has replaced humans in some task-oriented jobs. Travel agents, bank tellers, cashiers and mechanics have been replaced as technology created new, more efficient alternatives and better products.
Trump fails to understand that trade agreements serve as job-creators, not the opposite. Establishing free trade agreements will allow the U.S. to continue supporting the 41 million U.S. jobs tied to trade. More, the number of U.S. jobs that depend on trade more than doubled from 1992 to 2014.
After the debate, I met with Czech Minister of Industry and Trade Jan Mladek. The Czech Republic has the lowest unemployment rate among European Union members. Mladek talked with a group of European reporters about the importance of a U.S. trade agreement with Europe. He said the EU is a challenge politically, but economically it is a marvelous free trade zone. He knows free trade serves consumers by keeping prices low, promoting life-changing innovation and giving consumers more choices and access to amazing new technologies.
Trump's take on the election results is un-American and dangerous.
The bedrock of our democracy is free and fair elections. Not in my lifetime has the validity of our elections been challenged by a major candidate. The only possible exception is Florida in 2000 when a close result required Supreme Court review, and the losing candidate, Vice President Al Gore, honorably accepted the result. Trump's complaining – or "whining," as President Obama said – about the unfairness of everything is absurd given his media attention exceeded that of all the primary candidates combined.
Trump has successfully manipulated the media and limited his campaign spending to a fraction of that of Hillary Clinton by making outrageous and controversial comments to receive coverage. He can't now blame the media for repeating his own comments. But, there is some truth that Trump’s controversies, especially those involving sexual assault against women, have dominated news stories when Clinton's and her staff's recently released emails have received less attention. There is a lot to analyze, but Trump is one who has "lived by the sword and died by the sword."
Trump's infantile petulance is not only disqualifying for an executive role, it is harmful to the nation. His implicit threats of violence are destabilizing to the nation and border on irresponsible. And, as Hillary Clinton correctly pointed out, refusing to accept the results of this election “talk[s] down our democracy.”
Neither candidate appeared to be good for business.
As Fortune’s Alan Murray notes, today, business leaders face a choice between Trump, who promises to lock down our borders, and Clinton, who will continue down the path of implementing and expanding choking rules created by President Obama and advocated by the Sanders-Warren anti-business wing of the Democratic Party. While Clinton has her weaknesses, she remains the only candidate with a fully-formed technology policy, and the tech industry welcomes many aspects of her plan, such as her emphasis on disruptive innovation, her vow to crack down on patent trolls, and her advocacy for internet freedom.
Moreover, she understands the value of education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), voicing her support last night for an education system that beefs up technical training in high schools and community colleges “to prepare young people for the jobs of the future.”
Trump, meanwhile, does not have a technology policy platform, and he often talks about the tech sector with anti-trade, anti-immigration vitriol.
On Supreme Court nominations, both candidates focused on the wrong issues.
Both candidates discussed the importance of social issues, namely gun control and abortion, rather than thinking about nominees through the lens of the business issues that power our economy. The tech industry has been a part of several major Supreme Court decisions, including the Sony-Betamax decision, which reversed a federal court ruling that the VCR was an illegal product. We need Supreme Court justices who understand that the road to new ideas is free from over-regulation.
The immigration debate went nowhere.
Trump continued his build-a-wall tirade, while Clinton talked about undocumented immigrants and keeping families intact. But neither candidate discussed a plan to secure the resources and knowledge base needed to succeed in the 21st century global economy.
High-skilled immigration reform is a critical step in fostering U.S. economic growth and job creation, and should be encouraged. Our current immigration system is hampered by artificially-low visa caps for H-1B visas, steep barriers to entry for qualified workers and massive visa backlogs.
This keeps the world’s best and brightest from coming to and staying in America. This presidential election has the potential to change the course of political decisions, alliances and international agreements around the world. The war on ISIS, foreign trade agreements and immigration hang in the balance. In the end, a President Trump or President Clinton must be able to approach and interact with the global community effectively – they need to be able to deal with our international neighbors better than they deal with each other.
Whatever the outcome, this presidential election will be remembered as one of the most divisive, virulent moments in our nation’s history. Sadly, issues important to job-creating businesses have been rare as the candidates and media have focused on walls, trade barriers and personal foibles.
We will survive this election. But on November 9, the day after the election, business leaders must unite with a reset button to focus the winning candidate on the fact that our economy relies on successful businesses to employ Americans.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA)™, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and author of Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.