The president’s target du jour, Laurene Powell Jobs, isn’t the only woman with a vast fortune making meaningful change.
By Kara Swisher
Ms. Swisher is a contributing opinion writer.
This past weekend, in yet another political attack aimed at a woman with power, President Trump rage-tweeted at Laurene Powell Jobs
Get in a faux lather, rinse with bile, repeat ad nauseam — right?
The list of Mr. Trump’s sexist attacks on women — he likes to call them “nasty” — is long. He seems to delight in going after women of color, like his criticism this summer against the mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser, and the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot.
But the attack on Ms. Powell Jobs was craven even by Mr. Trump’s standards for its plainly sexist effort to diminish her by raising the specter of her husband, the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, being displeased with how she was using his enormous fortune. This, even though Mr. Jobs has been dead since 2011, and the money was also always hers, since the pair had been married 20 years.
The concept of sharing marital wealth is something the prenup-signing Mr. Trump cannot conceive of. With his outburst, you could almost hear the inside of his head clanging madly at the very idea of a woman with the motivation and moxie, as well as the intelligence, doing whatever she wants with her own huge pile of money.
Better not tell Mr. Trump then that there are two even wealthier women from the world of tech — Mackenzie Scott, who recently divorced from the Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, and Melinda Gates, who is married to the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates — who are also having a significant influence on this nation with efforts the president surely doesn’t like. Worse for him, they will continue to profoundly reshape society in the years to come.
And before those who don’t know how modern marriages actually work claim that these women did not come to their power by inventing anything themselves, let me point out that the Trump children — and Mr. Trump himself — try to pretend they are where they are due to talent and not family relationships.
More to the point, as someone who has had a front-row seat covering tech for more than 30 years, I’ve seen first-hand how all three women had a significant impact on the companies and on their spouses, especially in the very critical early days of their careers.
But these are the facts now: Ms. Powell Jobs is the sixth-richest woman in the world, with more than $20 billion; Ms. Scott has close to $68 billion, making her the world’s wealthiest woman; and the Gates couple share a $116 billion fortune.
Let’s start with the highly visible Ms. Gates, who was a well-regarded executive at Microsoft when she met her husband decades ago. She has since moved on to bigger things, most significantly co-chairing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a $40 billion charitable organization that’s one of the most influential philanthropies in the world. While centered on education and poverty, the charity’s most significant efforts have been aimed at global health, including what has been a valiant effort to eradicate malaria. Recently, the foundation has been focused on a coronavirus vaccine.
Ms. Gates, primarily through an investment and incubation company called Pivotal Ventures, has also been pushing the issue of women’s inequality to the forefront. A spate of new venture firms led by women and aimed at the funding disparity between male and female founders all have major investments from her.
In an interview in The Times two weeks ago, she did not hold back when discussing the need to address gender disparities or when addressing Mr. Trump’s botched pandemic response.
“If we want to build back a better society, and also have a quicker recovery, then we have to look at the specific gender pieces that we need to work on in every country around the world,” she said. “The U.S. has been completely lacking at leadership on this issue. And because of that, we have put our children and our elderly at the greatest risk in the world. And that is a crime.”
Ms. Scott, who is also a novelist, has been quieter over the years — but not recently when it comes to doling out very loud amounts of money. This summer she announced $1.7 billion in donations to a variety of causes around social justice, part of a promise to give away most of her wealth in her lifetime. About $600 million is going to racial equity causes, $400 million to economic mobility initiatives, $133 million to gender equity causes and $46 million to L.G.B.T.Q.+ equity organizations.
“I began work to complete my pledge with the belief that my life had yielded two assets that could be of particular value to others: the money these systems helped deliver to me, and a conviction that people who have experience with inequities are the ones best equipped to design solutions,” she wrote in a blog post.
In other words, speak softly and carry a big checkbook.
Which brings us to Mr. Trump’s target du jour, Ms. Powell Jobs, who is employing a varied and perhaps more creative approach to distributing her vast wealth.
Ms. Powell Jobs founded the Emerson Collective, an umbrella organization for her philanthropy and businesses focused on social change across many areas, like education, immigration rights, media, health and social justice.
That includes policy programs and, perhaps most interestingly, funding a number of artistic efforts. The Emerson Collective, for example, backed “Carne y Arena,” an immersive virtual reality show about the immigration experience of crossing the border, right down to letting the audience touch the actual shoes of migrants.
In 2017 I interviewed Ms. Powell Jobs along with Senator Kamala Harris. Ms. Powell Jobs talked about her willingness to work with all sides on the immigrant issue, including having a closed-door meeting with Mr. Trump about the plight of the so-called Dreamers.
“We have enormous talent and ingenuity and I.Q. dispersed throughout this world; we do not have equal opportunity dispersed throughout this world,” Ms. Powell Jobs said at the time, stressing the need to avoid partisan sniping.
But it is in impact investing in media that she is perhaps becoming best known. That includes majority ownership of The Atlantic, the well-regarded magazine that published a devastating piece last week about Mr. Trump’s disdain for military service members. The article said that Mr. Trump called those who died in battle “losers” and “suckers.” Much of the report has been confirmed by a wide range of other outlets, including Fox News.
Thus, the Trump tweet at Ms. Powell Jobs, in response to another about her political donations, also showed that he does not seem to understand that she is not guiding the editorial coverage of the magazine. (That would be the article’s author and The Atlantic’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg.) Still, as he does with Mr. Bezos and The Washington Post, Mr. Trump cannot conceive of owning a media entity without making use of it as a score-settler.
Not that Ms. Powell Jobs cares about a mean tweet. To her and these powerful women, it’s about the bigger picture of the future.
Speaking in a more recent Times interview about her husband’s influence on her, she said: “One profound learning I took from him was that we don’t have to accept the world that we’re born into as something that is fixed and impermeable. When you zoom in, it’s just atoms just like us. And they move all the time. And through energy and force of will and intention and focus, we can actually change it. Move it.”
So, my advice to Mr. Trump on facing powerful women like these? Tweet all you like, but you might want to get out of the way.