You can imagine the hypothetical advisory board meeting at Y Combinator can’t you. “So, Peter, you know that latest allegation of sexual harassment against Donald Trump? Well, we have a womens’ safety startup in the next cohort. As you’ve met him, do you think The Donald could help us beta test it?”
This bizarre, imaginary scenario might sound utterly far-fetched, given the storm of controversy in the industry this weekend after it emerged that Peter Thiel was doubling-down on Trump with $1.25m in cash. But we got a glimpse of the ethical knots YC is having to twist itself into when talking about this subject.
YC partner Sam Altman said he would issue an official YC response soon, but for now his personal statement has come out in the form of a tweet storm, in a series of tweets Sunday night, as follows:
The upshot is Altman won’t cut ties with his business partner (and friend) Peter Thiel for supporting Donald Trump because: “Cutting off opposing viewpoints leads to extremism and will not get us the country we want.”
Yes, Altman finds Trump “an unacceptable threat to America” despite calls for YC to cut ties with Thiel and is “not going to fire someone for supporting a major party nominee… That’s a dangerous road to start down.”
The fact that Trump has more or less departed any kind of mainstream Republican principles at this point seems not to figure in this argument, but I digress.
Few industry observers will be surprised at Altman’s position, as Y Combinator founder Paul Graham has already put on record that he would not cut ties with Thiel, despite his “eccentric, but earnest” political views, saying he’s “no surrogate” for Trump.
Unfortunately that is not ‘cutting the mustard’ with critics of this position in the Valley.
The problem here — which is the kindest thing one cans say about the situation — is that Thiel is ascribing moral equivalency to Trump when set against Clinton, his opponent. Personally, I don’t think that stands scrutiny. Just comparing their public lives: one releases taxes, one does not. One makes inclusive public statements, one does the opposite, and so on. That’s even leaving Trumps abusive private behaviour towards women — which is now on the record as having happened — to one side, which in almost every business scenario would mean ties with that person were cut dead.
Perhaps Thiel sees something in Trump we don’t? A chance to throw all the chips in the air and see where they fall? A chance to throw out the democracy baby with the bath water? Perhaps we’ll find out soon enough.
UPDATE: YC’s Altman has written more about his views here.