Building new bridges: Our thoughts on the U.S. election

 |   Brad Smith - President

In 2016, as the United States emerged from a close and contentious national election, we published a blog on the need to find new ways for the country to move forward together. As we reflected that year on the election of Donald Trump, we started with a straightforward proposition, saying:

“Every president-elect deserves our congratulations, best wishes and support for the country as a whole. The peaceful transition of power has been an enduring and vital part of our democracy for over two centuries, and it remains so today.”

Four years later, these words are no less important. As we did in 2016, we offer today our congratulations to the new President- and Vice-President-Elect: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Election Day this year turned into a very long and tense election week, with many Americans glued to their screens anxiously awaiting the outcome. It has been commonplace to hear pundits speculate that we have seldom seemed such a divided country. If true, this also makes a different proposition even more self-evident. If we are to move forward as a nation, we must build new bridges to close the gaps that divide us.

At Microsoft, we believe that Americans share more common ground than many pundits acknowledge, particularly when it comes to technology issues. On many of these matters, there is an opportunity to separate policies from politics so we can make a real difference in people’s lives. Consider the following:

  • A clear lesson from Covid-19 is that access to technology has become indispensable in an increasingly digital world. This starts with digital devices, but quickly extends to high-speed internet access. Broadband has become the electricity of the 21st century, vital for everything from patients needing telehealth consultations to children who are attending school from home. Today, too many rural families find there is no broadband service available, while too many underprivileged urban families find no broadband service that is affordable. A nation that would not tolerate millions of Americans living without electricity should no longer accept millions of families without broadband.
  • Technology-fueled automation increasingly impacts all of our jobs. Digital tools, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) have the potential to make almost all of us in every job category more successful – but only if we have easier access to the new digital skills that are increasingly indispensable to the jobs of the future. This has become vital for first-line as well as knowledge workers, creating benefits for those in vital positions that range from health care to manufacturing to the nation’s retailers. Yet we enter the 2020s following two decades of declining and then stagnating employer investments in workforce training, and post-secondary education that has left too many students confronting debt without a degree. We need to make digital skills available to everyone.
  • Across the political spectrum, Americans share not just a commitment to, but a reverence for, democracy. Yet the health of democracy today relies not just on individual acts of voting. It requires constant vigilance and an effective collective defense against cyber-based attacks on candidates and voting systems, and disinformation campaigns against the public itself. At Microsoft, this led us this election cycle to work across the political aisle to protect Republican and Democratic candidates alike. We conclude this election year even more convinced of the importance of using technology to protect not just the democratic process, but our fundamental freedoms. More than ever, we need ongoing technology innovation and stronger partnerships across the public and private sectors to better defend democracy.
  • During a time when our daily lives rely so heavily on digital devices, trust in technology has become an issue of paramount importance. People of all political backgrounds care deeply about the privacy of their data and the security of their internet services. The questions around trust in technology continue to become even more multifaceted, now also including digital safety and responsible practices for AI. Yet we continue to live with a national electronic privacy law enacted in the dial-up era of the 1980s, and when it comes to issues such as safeguards for facial recognition, we have no national law at all. We need new laws fit for the future.
  • Regardless of political party, people want our economy to prosper. The 20th century saw technology innovation not just spur productivity growth but spread its benefits broadly – to every state and to most industries, creating the foundation for a broadening middle class. As a company that provides so many productivity and other digital services for businesses of all sizes, we have a clear window into the need for a new and similar wave of broader productivity growth. We believe that technology innovation needs to create more business opportunities for every part of the economy as well as ushering in a new era for enhanced public sector services and efficiencies.

When we consider all these issues, it is apparent that there are opportunities to build new bridges between us and to strengthen the ties that bind us in common purpose. All these challenges are ripe for bipartisan collaboration and for government and industry cooperation.

This opportunity to build new bridges extends to the international arena as well. We live in a decade that has started with a virus that respects no border and carbon that moves in the atmosphere not just from country to country, but from continent to continent. More and more of the issues of our day require stronger collaboration between the United States and the rest of the world.

None of this means that the differences that divide Americans are unimportant. We live with different views on many fundamental issues. As a company, we have not shied away from controversies that we care about, whether they involve racial equity, immigration or climate change. Under each of the last two American presidents, we found that we were served best by efforts to partner where we can, while standing apart where we should. And we will continue with this approach.

Along the way, we have learned that we have far more opportunities to partner across the political spectrum than most people recognize. But we need to move from debates about why we cannot succeed to conversations about how we can. The more bridges we can cross together, the more we likely will find that Americans of all backgrounds in every state and county share far more in common than we currently appreciate.

As we look to the next four years, this should give us not only reason for hope, but cause for optimism.

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