Bill Gates met with President Trump at the White House Monday. The Microsoft founder and ex-CEO, who now focuses on global philanthropy at the Gates Foundation, has expressed opposition to a number of Trump's policies in the past. Unlike current tech CEOs, who faced fierce pushback when they met with Trump, Gates' continuing engagement with the divisive president has gone relatively unremarked. Elon Musk and Uber's Travis Kalanick were roundly censured by members of the tech community, including their own employees, in a way that Gates simply hasn't been.

The worldviews of Gates and Trump don't seem to have much overlap. For example, Donald Trump once claimed that global warming is a "Chinese hoax," whereas Gates has committed billions toward the development of clean energy technology and other measures to combat climate change, which he sees as an urgent existential threat to humanity. Gates told The Atlantic in 2015, "Realistically, we may not get more than a doubling in government funding of energy R&D -- but I would love to see a tripling, to $18 billion a year from the U.S. government to fund basic research alone."

A statement from the Gates Foundation said that the organization was "deeply troubled" by Trump's proposed budget cuts. Gates himself argued in an essay that foreign aid is good for Americans. In light of Monday's meeting with Trump, the Gates Foundation told news outlets, "The foundation has a long history of working with officials on both sides of the aisle to pursue shared priorities like global health and development and domestic education."

Both Elon Musk and Travis Kalanick have disavowed aspects of Trump's platform, so the mere fact of expressing political differences can't be the deciding factor in terms of which prominent tech figures are criticized. It may be that Gates no longer has the employee "constituents" who would agitate against this move, or that the preponderance of the youth-skewed tech industry's denizens don't identify with someone whose commercial heyday was decades ago.

Perhaps more importantly, Gates doesn't stand to personally benefit from being viewed favorably by the Trump administration, unlike the owners of government- or regulation-dependent businesses, which SpaceX and Uber are. When he says he's talking to Trump in hopes of influencing him on important matters, it's easy to take him at face value.

Published on: Mar 20, 2017