It’s hard to think of a place less friendly to Donald Trump’s campaign than Silicon Valley — liberal, pro-immigration, pro–free trade, and enamored of rationality and elite technocratic government. Given that, it wasn’t particularly surprising to see investment luminary Paul Graham — founder of beloved start-up incubator Y Combinator — tweet this weekend that “If Trump wins, I’m joining the resistance.”
The problem, such as it is, is that Graham would be joining the resistance against a Vichy government supported by his friend and business partner Peter Thiel, the PayPal founder and Facebook investor who is both Silicon Valley’s biggest Trump backer and a “part-time partner” at Y Combinator.
From a PR perspective, Graham might have been better advised to take the path of Mark Zuckerberg, a Clinton supporter who has so far declined to comment at length about Thiel, a Facebook board member. But Graham tends to be unable to resist a certain kind of argument, and when Basecamp founder David Heinemeier Hansson responded, Graham immediately engaged.
Graham’s response went something like this: Peter is a part-time partner, and I don’t make partnership decisions, and even if I did, I wouldn’t want to “ditch people for their political views.” (“Obviously there is a line,” Graham clarified, “and I’d never want David Duke, but Peter is not David Duke.” Which, well, no, but he’s donating $1.25 million to David Duke’s preferred candidate.)
So what about the guy who is in charge? After Thiel’s $1.25 million donation to the Trump campaign was revealed this weekend, current Y Combinator president Sam Altman felt compelled to weigh in.
Leaving aside that, as Graham points out, Thiel is not an “employee” getting “fired” — cutting ties with a business partner is not the same as firing someone — and Graham and Altman’s elision between political views and political action, the message is clear: Trump represents an “unacceptable threat,” but not so unacceptable as to require social pressure on his rich and high-profile backers.
As for Graham’s and Altman’s queasiness about letting politics interfere with business relationships, well, in 2011, Graham banned companies that supported the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act from Y Combinator’s demo day. YC isn’t a nonpartisan organization. It just only takes strong stances when partisanship interferes with their business plans.