Tech billionaire Peter Thiel claims Silicon Valley exists in a “coastal bubble” and can’t abide the nonconformism of his support for Donald Trump.
Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and a board member of Facebook, appeared at the National Press Club in Washington on Monday to tout Trump a week before the election. His appearance came amid a tech world backlash over his support for Trump, which includes a $1.25 million campaign donation.
Thiel said Trump backers didn’t take their candidate’s controversial pronouncements literally. The support for Trump, he said, is based on a belief that the nation’s leadership has failed.
“It’s certainly been hard to accept for Silicon Valley, where many people have learned to keep quiet if they dissent from the coastal bubble,” Thiel said. “Louder voices have sent a message that they do not intend to tolerate the views of one-half the country.”
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
There have been calls for Thiel’s removal from the Facebook board and criticism of Y Combinator, a leading Silicon Valley start-up incubator where Thiel is a part-time partner. Arlan Hamilton, managing partner at the Los Angeles venture firm Backstage Capital, said she had turned down a $500,000 investment because the investor had ties to Thiel.
“By lending his image, his voice, his influence and substantial capital to Trump, Thiel isn’t simply exercising his legal right to vote: He is fueling and enabling racism, sexism, sexual assault, violence and tyranny,” Hamilton wrote in a blog post.
Thiel said Monday that Trump’s bragging about groping women was “clearly offensive and inappropriate.”
Thiel also declined to endorse Trump’s earlier proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country. He suggested that Trump supporters don’t expect such policy proposals to actually happen.
“The media always is taking Trump literally but never takes him seriously,” Thiel said. “I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally.”
“So when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment or things like that, the question is not ‘Are we going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China?’ or ‘How exactly are you going to enforce these tests?’ What they hear is we’re going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy,” Thiel said.
No matter what happens in this election, what Trump represents isn’t crazy, and it’s not going away.
tech billionaire Peter Thiel
Thiel argued that Trump would do a better job than Hillary Clinton at keeping the U.S. out of wars. He praised Trump’s criticism of free trade agreements and said that while places like San Francisco and Washington were doing well, the country’s heartland had been left behind.
“No matter what happens in this election, what Trump represents isn’t crazy, and it’s not going away,” Thiel said.
Thiel said he was surprised at the level of outrage in Silicon Valley over his advocacy for Trump.
Trump is deeply unpopular in the tech world. Nearly 150 tech leaders, including Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, wrote an open letter this summer saying Trump “would be a disaster for innovation” and that he campaigned on anger, bigotry and fear.
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, though, defended the company’s ties to Thiel this month, writing 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.”
Trump is not Thiel’s only cause. He secretly funded the lawsuit by wrestler Hulk Hogan that resulted in the shutdown of the website Gawker, which had published a sex tape involving Hogan. Thiel had his own history with Gawker, which had revealed in 2007 that Thiel is gay.
Thiel, discussing his bankrolling of the lawsuit, asserted Monday that “if you are a single-digit millionaire like Hulk Hogan you have no effective access to our legal system. It costs too much.”