Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates revealed on CNBC’s Squawk Box on Tuesday that he had a telephone conversation with Donald Trump and that the president-elect seemed eager to talk about “innovation.” The billionaire philanthropist told host Becky Quick that if Trump focuses his administration’s messaging on innovation he could inspire America like President John F. Kennedy did.
According to Gates, if Trump focuses on innovation “in the same way that President Kennedy talked about the space mission and got the country behind that” then Trump could establish “American leadership through innovation.”
He suggested that two businessmen talking about innovation at their first meeting was natural.
“Of course, my whole career has been along those lines [innovation]. And he was interested in listening… I’m sure there will be further conversation.”
Gates also said that the discussion on innovation also covered climate change and clean energy innovation, medicine, and education. He said that the Trump administration could project a “very upbeat message” if it focuses on American innovation. He added that there was reason to be optimistic about the incoming administration.
“We had a good conversation about innovation, how it can help in health, education, the impact of foreign aid and energy, and a wide-ranging conversation about the power of innovation,” Gates said.
After the phone conversation, Gates visited Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan around midday on Tuesday for a meeting with Trump. He arrived at Trump Tower soon after African-American rapper Kanye West left, according to the Daily Mail.
He did not speak to reporters when he arrived at Trump Tower but on his way out after the meeting, he told reporters that he had “a good time” at the meeting discussing “innovation” with the President-elect.
He later told Quick on Squawk Box that Trump has the opportunity to be America’s next President John F. Kennedy and establish “American leadership through innovation,” according to CNBC.
“I had an opportunity to talk to him about innovation,” Gates said. “A lot of his message has been things, he’s seen things not as good as he’d like.”
He said that Trump could unite the country through innovation “in the same way President Kennedy talked about the space mission and got the country behind that.”
He added that a focus on American innovation as a way of sustaining the country’s global leadership could also cover other relevant social issues in health and education.
“In the same way President Kennedy talked about the space mission and got the country behind that, I think that whether it’s education or stopping epidemics, other health breakthroughs, finishing Polio… and in this energy space, there can be a very upbeat message that his administration is going to organize things, get rid of regulatory barriers, and have American leadership through innovation.”
But some critics noted that Trump’s absorbing interesting in the “energy space” has excluded innovation in the field of clean energy development. His choice of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state suggests that his administration’s focus would be on fossil fuels.
But according to Gates, who said it was the first time he had met and spoken with Trump, there is evidence of a “lot of fascination” among members of the business and entrepreneurial community to identify which “new direction” President Trump planned to take the country.
He argued that voters did not elect Trump because of “specific policies” that they expected his administration to implement but because they wanted “the kind of leadership” he presented.
“So he has a lot of flexibility on which issues he really goes after,” Gates said. “And so that’s why I think a dialogue now, you know, what are the positive things for America that he’s thinking and who can help out with that?”
However, Gates warned that it was not a good idea for Trump’s administration to allow U.S.-China trade relations to “fall apart.”
“I feel sure that he and the team he brings in around them, even as they tune things, they won’t want the ‘lose-lose’ that you would get if you start to get large tariff walls,” Gates said, while commenting about a potential trade war with China, according to CNBC.
“The President-elect is very sophisticated, you know. I hope he’s thought through how he’s going to get some adjustments there without that typical sort of tariff tit-for-tat,” he added.
[Featured Image by Ted S. Warren/AP Images]