Peter Thiel has always ranked high on the Silicon Valley eccentric scale, as most already know. The PayPal co-founder and Facebook board member's support for building floating libertarian cities and interest in the blood of the young alone mark him as outside the mainstream in an industry known for its odd characters. And in a land where success is the highest virtue, the extremely successful Thiel has always been tolerated and frequently revered. That, however, appears to be changing as his stubborn advocacy for the Trump campaign has led to calls among the Valley elite to sever ties with Thiel — and, in a new development, the companies in which he plays a public role.
As co-founder of Project Include, an organization that seeks to promote diversity in tech, former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao yesterday penned an op-ed announcing the group's decision to cut ties with famed startup incubator Y Combinator. YC has drawn criticism in recent days for its decision to keep Thiel on as a part-time investor, despite his vocal and financial support of a candidate who has bragged about assaulting women and been accused of such assault by scores of them.
"While all of us believe in the ideas of free speech and open platforms, we draw a line here," writes Pao. "We agree that people shouldn’t be fired for their political views, but this isn’t a disagreement on tax policy, this is advocating hatred and violence."
"YC has cited many reasons for leaving Thiel in his current role, some of which we can understand," she continues. "But Thiel’s actions are in direct conflict with our values at Project Include. Because of his continued connection to YC, we are compelled to break off our relationship with YC."
The head of Y Combinator, Sam Altman, who was recently featured in a New Yorker profile for his zany view of the world, was quick to respond — writing that Trump "represents an unprecedented threat to America" before concluding that support for Trump shouldn't be disqualifying in a business partner.
"[Trump] represents a real threat to the safety of women, minorities, and immigrants, and I believe this reason alone more than disqualifies him to be president," explained Altman. "Trump shows little respect for the Constitution, the Republic, or for human decency, and I fear for national security if he becomes our president."
However, continuing to financially benefit from a public advocate and financial backer of such a threat seems to be AOK in Altman's book. "Some have said that YC should terminate its relationship with Peter over this," he noted. "But as repugnant as Trump is to many of us, we are not going to fire someone over his or her support of a political candidate."
The condemnation of Altman's stance has been quick.
Women applying to YCombinator, take a good look at their principled stand against a partner who supports a sexual predator— Pinboard (@Pinboard) October 16, 2016
Tech leaders: when you make excuses for Peter Thiel for supporting Trump, we hear you. Women and ppl of color are taking notes.— Catherine Bracy (@cbracy) October 16, 2016
Trump *is* a fascist. He has never called himself this, because fascists rarely announce themselves. We learn who they are by deed/word.— EricaJoy (@EricaJoy) October 17, 2016
None of it, however, appears to have changed Altman's mind. “I liked the choice I made,” he told Motherboad of his decision to keep Thiel on. It would seem that the rest of Silicon Valley, however, disagrees.
In related news out Palo Alto, the New York Times' Roger Cohen penned an op-ed about how slippery the slope into a dictatorship could be when a man like Trump can garner so much widespread support from politicians and voters and be so unapologetically racist, not to mention vindictive. He cites a recent incident in Menlo Park where El Salvadorean-born domestic worker Veronica Zuleta was confronted at the upscale Draeger’s Market, where a lovely man turned to her and said, "You should go to Safeway. This store is for white people." Guess who that asshole is voting for?