Travis Kalanick apologists sound a lot like Donald Trump supporters

Mandatory Credit: Photo by AP/REX/Shutterstock (8875114h)
President Donald Trump is greeted by supporters during a rally, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Trump, Cedar Rapids, USA – 21 Jun 2017

Image: AP/REX/Shutterstock

They might not be perfect, but they’re winners.

In 2017, it’s a common refrain. For example: It’s how Donald Trump supporters justify supporting Donald Trump. And it’s also how Travis Kalanick supporters still justify supporting Travis Kalanick.

Let’s be clear: Kalanick is, in form and function, nothing like Trump. Kalanick is a legitimately successful entrepreneur who created a massive company out of thin air. Kalanick’s also got plenty of faults, but he hasn’t been accused of a fraction of the improprieties that Trump has (personally, and professionally).

They share, however, in a cult of personality among their supportersas do other tech figures (see: Elon Musk). Their supporters look at these figures and their faults, and see greatnessnot just alongside these faults, but because of these faults.

Kalanick, they’d have you believe, is a genius businessman and leader. Maybe Uber wasn’t a perfect company, but a perfect company wouldn’t have become Uber. He succeeds because of his faults, so Uber succeeds because of those faults.

A petition circulated among Uber employees and signed by more than 1,000 of them made it clear.

“TK, no matter his flaws (everyone has them) was one of the best leaders I have seen,” the petition reads. “He worked day night(sic) in creating this company to what it is today.”

“Uber is TK and TK is Uber,” it continues.

Other public postings about Kalanick have a similar sensibility. Uber product manager Margaret-Ann Seger posted a lengthy response, including her view that Uber was a good place for women like herself who had struggled at other companies.

“So thank you. Weve mis-stepped at times- Ill be the first to admit that Uber is not perfect. But the positive impact youve had on this company, and the world, is truly inspirational,” she wrote.

First of all, we’re talking about Uber, not the International Rescue Committee. Kalanick didn’t even invent the concept of ridehailing/ridesharing. He was just the guy who broke enough rules and played enough dirty tricks to win. And even then, nobody’s so sure that Uber’s a net positive for society, so, let’s cool it with the visionary-benefactor mythos.

Second: Yes, people make mistakes. People are fallible. Travis Kalanick’s not perfect. But that’s not the issue at hand. The issue’s that his company had a rotten culture that, by many accounts, came from the top. Kalanick once received the health records of a rape victim, and then used them to fuel his own conspiratorial ideas about Uber’s competitors. Kalanick and Uber so brazenly flaunted the ruleseven making software to do sothat Uber’s under investigation by the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and numerous states.

And it’s not to say Uber employees who liked Travis are repugnant for applauding his accomplishments, or remembering him fondly. He’s got plenty of Silicon Valley folks who’ve tweeted out that he’s not the monster that the media’s portrayed him as (more on that in a bit). His personal reputation in SV is relatively positive, and he clearly had a positive impact on some of his employees.

But if “Uber is TK and TK is Uber,” then it’s hard to fully buy into the idea that Kalanick somehow got a raw deal. The facts speak for themselves.

Or maybe they don’t. Trump supporters have perfected the art of blocking out anything that doesn’t fit their worldview. All the horrible stuff Trump’s done, does, and will do? That’s the price of success. It’s all besides the point. “Everyone’s arguing about trees while ignoring the forrest,” might be a charitable way of phrasing their argument.

If Kalanick’s great, but everyone’s focusing on Uber’s flaws, then there must be some reason.

And that’s where the media comes in. Trump supporters love to blame the media anytime Trump screws up. Kalanick supporters are also finding that it helps them reason away their former boss’s indiscretions.

“EMPLOYEES ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN MEDIA!!!” the petition adds, noting that Mike Isaacthe New York Times reporter who, along with Recode’s Kara Swisher, lead the way in reporting on Uberis one of the “shadiest” reporters.

At least Isaac’s a good sport about it.

This is the playbook now. Faults are features, and anybody who disagrees? A charlatan. The ends justify the means, unless you’re a snowflake. That’s how you change the world.

Silicon Valley loves this posturing. And while it’s heartening to see that a single blog post from a former engineer could eventually lead to Kalanick’s ouster, his minions are ready to burst forth in his place.

“Youve launched a thousand of us, your disciples, out into Silicon Valley. Lets fucking do this. Game on,” wrote one anonymous Uber employee in a public post about Kalanick.

Let’s hope that those disciples have a bit more discipline to realize that Kalanick’s faults aren’t what made Uberthey’re what might destroy it.

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