Peter Thiel, the technology billionaire, PayPal co-founder, and Facebook board member, is solidifying his image as a contrarian in Silicon Valley with his outspoken support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Some find his position mystifying: Why would a man who says he is "proud to be gay" support a candidate from the party that fought against gay marriage? Why would an entrepreneur risk alienating investors by speaking out in the largely anti-Trump Silicon Valley?
In a speech at the National Press Club on Monday, Mr. Thiel said he is pushing against the "coastal bubble" in Silicon Valley that is immune to the hardship faced by most Americans. He says tech entrepreneurs hold the mindset that if they’re doing well, "everybody is doing well."
"I don't agree with everything Donald Trump has said and done, and I don't think the millions of the other people voting for him do, either," he said, reported ComputerWorld. "Where I work in Silicon Valley, people are doing just great … [but] most Americans haven't been part of that prosperity."
Thiel is echoing one of Trumps common arguments, that the country’s elites – whether in politics or business – are running the country while leaving middle and lower-class Americans behind. Thiel says he supports Trump’s positions and shrugs off reports of the candidate’s sexist, racist, and violent comments. To him, it’s content over character – and he thinks that others should join him in taking Trump "seriously" but not "literally," he said.
"The millions of people who vote for Trump are not doing it because of the worst things he said or did," he told The New York Times in an interview. "That’s ridiculous. The Americans who are voting for Trump are doing it because they judge the situation of the country to be urgent. We’re at such a crucial point that you have to overlook personal characteristics."
Thiel argued that the lack of dissenting voices and suppression of pro-Trump speech contribute to the "coastal bubble" that keeps Silicon Valley insulated from middle America. While places like San Francisco and Washington are doing well, he says the country’s "heartland had been left behind," reported the Miami Herald.
He repeated Trump's frequent assertion that free trade agreements, crafted by highly educated policymakers promising "cheap imports," have led to millions of job losses. As The Christian Science Monitor reported in an August cover story, the real implications of free trade are more complicated, and have led to both positive and negative effects on American wage-earners.
"No matter what happens in this election," Thiel said, "what Trump represents isn’t crazy, and it’s not going away."
While Thiel is the most public Trump surrogate in the Valley, Trump also has the support of Brian Krzanich, chief executive of Intel, and according to Crowdpac, the candidate has drawn donations up to $706,000 from the technology industry so far – about 5 percent of the $15 million donated to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Thiel’s position places him sharply outside the tech mainstream. In July, nearly 150 tech leaders wrote an open letter criticizing Trump for trafficking in "ethnic and racial stereotypes" and saying his election would represent a "disaster for innovation."
In response to Thiel's statements, critics have called for his removal from his positions at Facebook and a start-up incubator Y Combinator. At least one venture firm has turned down a project with ties to Thiel, claiming that by supporting Trump, Thiel is "enabling racism, sexism, sexual assault, violence, and tyranny."
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has defended Thiel’s association with the company, stating that "we can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate," though he did say that he doesn’t endorse Thiel’s views.
Thiel’s words may not align with his actions, suggested Emma Roller in a New York Times op-ed, as he opposes Trump’s plans for a religious test for Muslims entering the country, plus his company, Palantir, has fought for military contracts despite Thiel's criticisms of US military involvement overseas.