Donald Trump reportedly offered Bill Gates his science advisor role. Gates turned him down

Here’s a fascinating insight into what happens when you get a one-on-one audience with Donald Trump and have several billion dollars in the bank.

Donald Trump reportedly offered Bill Gates his science advisor role. Gates turned him down

Bill Gates recently did an interview with Stat News where he talked about trying to interest the president in getting behind his mission to find a universal flu vaccine. While Trump was apparently “super interested”, the real intrigue came when Gates made a passing comment about how the president might want to get a science advisor, given that vacancy has been open for 15 months and the interim holder of the role is a 31-year-old with political science qualifications.

“I mentioned: ‘Hey, maybe we should have a science adviser,” Gates recalls. The response: “He said: Did I want to be the science adviser?” Gates was diplomatic in reply: “That’s not a good use of my time,” he recalls responding.

“I didn’t put him to the test, whether that was a serious thing or not. He probably himself didn’t know if he was serious. It was a friendly thing. He was being friendly.”bill_gates_snubbed_president_trump_over_science_advisor_role_1

There seems little doubt that this is how Trump sees friendliness: flattery and great promises in person which then evaporate later. Just ask PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, one of the few Silicon Valley figures to back Trump. According to Michael Wolff’s book on the Trump presidency, Fire and Fury, Trump offered promises and similar flattery to Thiel before vanishing and not returning his calls.

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At the same time, Bill Gates is in a whole different league to Thiel: the Microsoft founder was, until recently, the world’s richest man – and might still be if he wasn’t systematically giving his wealth away through charitable action. Jeff Bezos aside – and for fairly specific reasons – the president seems to treat billionaires with a great deal more respect than those just trying to do a good job in their field, as the most qualified science advisor likely would.

(Related point: At another point in Fire and Fury, Trump expresses disdain for career civil servants, baffled at their acceptance of salary caps: “He could understand politicians, but he was finding it hard to get a handle on these bureaucrat types, their temperament and motives. He couldn’t grasp what they wanted. Why would they, or anyone, be a permanent government employee? ‘They max out at what? 200 grand? Tops,’ he said, expressing something like wonder.”)

So on that level, it doesn’t really matter that as a scientist, Gates isn’t actually that much more qualified than the political scientists currently squatting in the post. But that might not matter: it’s worth remembering that it’s not entirely clear Trump understands what Bill Gates does or did – lest we forget that moment on the campaign trail in 2016 when Candidate Trump called on Bill Gates to help get ISIS off “our” internet:

“We’re losing a lot of people because of the internet. We have to see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that internet up in some ways.”

In other words, Trump associates Bill Gates with both intelligence and wealth, and maybe that is all he needs to fill a role which – let’s face it – Trump doesn’t take very seriously anyway.

Would someone like Gates have been able to convince Trump back into the Paris Climate Accord if he had taken the job? It’s not very likely: there are forces at work far beyond a temperamental president with a limited attention span. Not only that, but he has a tendency to turn his back on former favourites when he tires of them:

“Not a good use of my time” was the perfect answer on multiple levels.

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