The big news out of Silicon Valley this week, has nothing to do with technology. Peter Thiel, iconic not only in his ability to pick a start-up winner but also due to his political beliefs, has donated $1.25 million to Donald Trump’s campaign, sending shockwaves through the predominantly ultra-tolerant region.
While Thiel has been vocal in his support for the Republican Party and Donald Trump, this is an unprecedented move and one which has far-reaching ramifications.
Thiel is now and investor, and partner with start-up incubator Y Combinator (YC), founded by Paul Graham, and run by Sam Altman. With Silicon Valley already a safe Democrat electorate before the Trump campaign began, many influential executives have latched on to the anti-Trump cause, ironically, including Graham and Altman who have issued a series of scathing tweets regarding Trump’s nationalistic agenda. Now as Thiel becomes a Trump surrogate in all but name, many of those outside YC are calling for his head, or at least his removal from YC.
Social bookmarking tool Pinboard, warned women to be wary of applying to YC, referring to Trump as a sexual predator.
They were not alone, with many long-term supporters of YC pointing out what they see as hypocrisy at its worst.
Sam Altman has responded on Twitter, admitting that he disagrees with Thiel’s donation and rhetoric, but then goes on to make an interesting point – regardless of someone’s political beliefs YC isn’t going to remove them.
Perhaps this is where the real hypocrisy lies, as freedom of speech comes under fire. In the midst of an especially heated election cycle, many in Silicon Valley, are pointing out the lack of tolerance that comes from the Trump camp, but in doing so are calling for the head of those who support him – in essence, cancelling out their argument.
YC are stuck between a rock and a hard place; removing Thiel would not only be detrimental to their business but also their standing as a free-thinking, an open-minded business that accepts people based on merit, not the colour of their skin, hair colour or sexual preference, let alone their political beliefs.
Altman’s point that removing someone for liking a politician that you don’t is wrong, is a bold and relevant one to make. It’s likely that Thiel will continue to alienate himself in the Silicon Valley community – and he probably won’t care – but the impact on YC is likely to fizzle out as the election season passes.