On Trump, Microwaves, and Robots

Somehow, some way, the Daily Beast’s David Cay Johnson and MSNBC host Rachel Maddow got their hands on Donald Trump’s 2005 tax returns. Well, part of them, at least. We don’t know how this leak of private information happened, but I can safely confirm one thing: a microwave was not involved in the procurement of this document.

It was only a couple days ago that Americans were fretting over White House aide Kellyanne Conway’s unfounded assertion that microwaves can be used to spy on people. We all had a nice, hearty laugh over that one. “What a rube,” we thought. I could certainly make a strong case for putting cameras in microwaves, mostly for the purposes of producing superior meal-time Instagram posts, but such devices are currently not on the market. That the White House press secretary had to chalk it all up to a poorly thought-out joke is merely a sign of the times.

I’d hate to give the Trump administration credit for anything, but what we think of as insane ramblings are, in a sense, tapping into a low-level paranoia in a world where most of our everyday activities might as well be performed by magic. In an era where Russian spies are being investigated for charges of hacking into 500 million Yahoo accounts and the memory of the Snowden NSA leaks are still being grappled with, it’s no surprise that President Trump can casually declare his belief in massive cyber crimes without much in the way of corroboration. A casual glance at Breitbart reveals a curious low-level cyber panic on the right: a story about a blogger on trial for playing Pokemon Go in a church, a fun little ditty about an app that lets people stalk you simply by taking your photo, and an op-ed warning conservatives to not allow “leftists” from owning the “robot economy” issue. In that same article, the author states that “the public’s fear of robots shouldn’t be underestimated.” The header photo on the article is a picture of the Terminator.

Trump won blue collar voters (those without a college degree) by a whopping 39 percentage points. These are the same people who would be most adversely affected by technological advancements like automation of factories or any other tool that renders the human element unnecessary; like microwaves. Microwaves cook food. Some of them aren’t even good at that. If I had a nickel for every time I tried to reheat a bowl of leftover pasta only to find that half the food is still ice cold, I’d probably have to report that income on my 2017 tax return. Microwaves do not have the ability to record the things I say behind closed doors. In fact, my microwave is one of the last things that doesn’t have internet capability in my house. Even coffee machines can access the internet now. The Nespresso Prodigio comes with, as the official website describes it, “connectivity benefits.” What that means in practice is that through the magic of a smartphone app, the Prodigio can tell you when to get your machine repaired and when to buy more pods. I can confirm that it also makes coffee, in case you’re wondering.

Of course, someone has already tried to shove an internet-connected computer system into a microwave. The Maid smart oven promises to be the “world’s smartest oven.” It features voice activation, a cloud-based database of recipes, and a “personalization engine that continuously learns you,” whatever that means. The makers of the Maid smart oven, SectorQube Inc, raised $123,920 on Kickstarter, but never released a product, according to a litany of furious comments on their page’s message board. Perhaps they didn’t see the unexpected espionage application of their invention before giving up on the dream of a continuously learning radiation box.

Surely, a product like this would be a huge success if it ever made it to store shelves. After all, in 2017, the appetite for products that learn about you continues to grow. Digital assistants, phones, cars, televisions, washing machines, and security systems are all being designed to better serve us by picking up on our tendencies, our habits, and our foibles. I’m convinced that the navigation system in my car knows exactly when I’m most likely to break down and drive through a Taco Bell while my wife is away on business. It’s just that good. The rabid conspiracy theories of President Trump are a twisted reflection of a world where everything is listening and everything talks back.

Despite a lack of evidence to the contrary, the Trump administration persists in rattling sabres over the idea that Barack Obama had Trump Tower bugged. While all of that is going on, a WikiLeaks info dump claims the CIA has the technology to turn any smartphone or connected TV in a recording device. The paranoia builds up so much that you just want to stick your head in a microwave.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that in 2015, Donald Trump popped out of an Easy Bake Oven as a fully formed avatar for an America that simply doesn’t trust itself. Instead, his rise to power was that of a perfectly timed spokesperson for a percentage of the population that would gladly swallow the idea that appliances are out to get you. Everyone is a liar, but him. It’s not news unless he says so. Even the everyday gadgets that control our lives are now enemies of the state. Every leaked tax document or unflattering revelation merely reinforces the real Trump Doctrine: Trust No One.