Silicon Valley's overwhelming support of Hillary Clinton has one bug in it, according to tech billionaire Peter Thiel. With a week until the election, Thiel was in Washington Monday defending Donald Trump and criticizing Silicon Valley for failing to see outside its bubble.
"Where I work in Silicon Valley, people are doing just great," said Thiel, at a National Press Club event on Monday. However, he said, "Most Americans haven't been part of that prosperity.
"It shouldn't be surprising to see people vote for Bernie Sanders or for Donald Trump," said Thiel, who spoke in support of Trump at the Republican National Convention.
Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, is a successful venture capitalist and author, and on the surface at least seems unlikely to buck Silicon Valley's support for Clinton. But Thiel has also questioned Silicon Valley's contribution to prosperity, and sees the U.S. economy relying more on financialization than innovation for growth.
"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," said Thiel. "Nobody thinks his comments about women were acceptable. I agree they were clearly offensive and inappropriate," he said, referring to the Access Hollywood film clip.
But Thiel said voters aren't pulling "a lever in order to endorse a candidate's flaws; it's not a lack of judgment that leads Americans to vote for Trump," said Thiel. "We're voting for Trump because we judge the leadership of our country to have failed."
Free trade, for instance, "has not worked out well for all of America," said Thiel.
A strong view in Silicon Valley is that Trump will be "a disaster for innovation," and would lead a retreat away from science and technology spending and support. Silicon Valley leaders, in an open letter, criticized Trump for holding "a fundamental belief that America is weak and in decline."
But Thiel is arguing that the well-off sections of the nation aren't recognizing how certain policies have hurt many others.
"All of our elites preach free trade. The highly educated people who make public policy explain that cheap imports make everyone a winner, according to economic theory, but in actual practice we've lost tens of thousands of factories, millions of jobs to foreign trade," said Thiel. "The heartland has been devastated. Maybe policymakers really believe that nobody loses, or maybe they don't worry about it too much because they think they are among the winners," he said.
Silicon Valley "has been extremely successful over the last decade or so but it's been a success that is a success of specific companies," said Thiel.
The view in Silicon Valley is that if it's doing well, "everybody is doing well." But that's just not true, he argues.
Thiel, for instance, called Twitter, a "perfectly good company" with high-paying jobs. "It's just not enough to improve living standards for 300 million-plus Americans," he said. His critique of Twitter was summed up in his now-famous quote from his venture-capital company's manifesto: "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters."
"What Trump represents isn't crazy and it's not going away," said Thiel.