Peter Thiel Is Libertarian and Pro-Trump, But Silicon Valley Never Will Be

The member of the PayPal Mafia is alone in his convictions.

Getty Images / Drew Angerer

While there’s many men similar to Peter Thiel in Silicon Valley, there’s one distinguishing quality that majorly sets him apart from his entrepreneurial peers. Thiel, who is a part of the PayPal Mafia, a wide network of some of the wealthiest individuals in the country, has largely been open about his libertarian views and pro-Donald Trump stance. While Thiel’s status in Silicon Valley could signal that colleagues in the world of influential technology companies may share the same opinions as him, that’s not the case. Silicon Valley will never uphold the ideals that have recently brought attention to Thiel.

Over the years, Silicon Valley has been victim to the enduring myth that it’s actually some sort of libertarian enclave, full of industry titans with scorn for the government and a love of conservative politics. Thiel has done little to free the place of this image. Becoming known as a venture capitalist who invests in unorthodox, odd ideas — like a floating, sovereign libertarian utopia — Thiel’s one of the most recognizable names in the industry. That’s why, for those who don’t pay close attention, Thiel’s support for Trump and the recent announcement that Elon Musk will have a role in Trump’s administration might be cause for worry about whose politics the vast wealth of Silicon Valley will work to prop up.

Look a little deeper, however, and it becomes clear that such concern is far from warranted. Thiel, outspoken though he may be, is an outlier with precious few political disciples. But that’s not to say Silicon Valley is keeping clear of politics — far from it. In 2016, it actually edged out Hollywood as the largest source of campaign contributions. And the vast majority of those contributions went to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Getty Images / Joe Raedle

To debunk these Thiel-inspired libertarian rumors, look no further than those donor lists. FiveThirtyEight reported, using data gathered by Crowdpac, that most campaign contributions put out by Silicon Valley actually went to Clinton. “Of the $8.1 million given by tech employees or executives, Clinton got 95 percent, or $7.7 million.” By contrast, “Donald Trump got 4 percent, or $299,000; Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate and Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, each got less than 1 percent.”

Those are hardly the kind of numbers you’d expect to see if Silicon Valley’s values looked anything like Thiel’s. Judging by the money trail, Silicon Valley is actually an exceedingly liberal place. And its bigwigs don’t even try to make a secret of it. During the campaign, Apple CEO Tim Cook hosted a fundraiser for Clinton, where guests were asked to contribute up to $50,000.

Facebook and Twitter have also signaled that they would refuse to assist the Trump administration with the creation or implementation of the Muslim registry, the idea of which has not been refuted by Trump’s transition team. Twitter has an explicit policy against its software being used for any kind of surveillance. While it’s unclear if Thiel himself would even support such a registry, these companies are certainly keeping their distance from Trump.

The liberal nature of Silicon Valley is also apparent in the words and actions of the non-Thiel individuals who live and work there. In October, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook employees apparently pushed CEO Mark Zuckerberg to authorize the website to flag some of Trump’s posts as hate speech. Ultimately, Zuckerberg didn’t give the go-ahead. The CEO has not been explicit about his views on Trump. But Zuckerberg recently skipped out on a meeting between Trump and various tech execs, including Thiel, with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg attending on behalf of the company. And in a leaked memo to Facebook employees in October, Zuckerberg wrote, “We care deeply about diversity. That’s easy to say when it means standing up for ideas you agree with. It’s a lot harder when it means standing up for the rights of people with different viewpoints to say what they care about. That’s even more important.”

 President Barack Obama talks with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a town hall style meeting at Facebook headquarters on April 20, 2011, in Palo Alto, California. Obama held the Facebook town hall to answer questions about the deficit and the economy.

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

Yet more evidence of Silicon Valley’s liberalism can be found in the voting data from the presidential election. Counties in and around Silicon Valley rejected Trump by enormous margins. Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Mateo Counties all voted Clinton by upwards of 50 percent. It wasn’t even a contest, and the libertarianism that Thiel purports to speak of is nowhere to be found in this data.

Even some of Thiel’s longest and closest friends part ways with him on this issue. Reid Hoffman, another top member of the PayPal Mafia, said in an interview with Bloomberg that he and Thiel “have been arguing for nearly thirty years.” While he praised elements of Thiel’s speech at the Republican National Convention, he noted his own belief that Clinton was the candidate who was best suited to grow America and support Silicon Valley. He said that it seemed to him Thiel was “inventing policies for Trump, that Trump doesn’t have.” Hoffman went off to describe getting questions from others in the industry, “strong business people who invent the future,” about Thiel. “Has he gone crazy?” they asked.

As much as Thiel might hope, Silicon Valley is not, has never been, and will likely never become a libertarian wonderland. The numbers don’t support it, and neither do the deeds of its denizens. When Thiel speaks, he speaks loudly. But he’s only ever speaking for himself.

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