Jake is like many people working in Silicon Valley.
The software engineer works for a big tech company, went to top-tier university, and loves doing innovative work.
But there’s one thing that makes him very different: He supports Donald Trump.
In Silicon Valley, which prides itself on open-mindedness, a system of meritocracy and a thirst for innovation, Jake’s support of Trump is more than just outside the mainstream. It’s a dangerous liability.
Since he’s told people of his support, friends who he thought were close have stopped talking to him. His co-workers shrink away from the subject. What used to be personal relationships at work are now only professional conversations, he says.
Now Jake tries to keep his Trump support a secret. Despite supporting the candidate both financially and in person, Jake believes his entire career could be at risk if his name was publicly linked to Trump. Business Insider agreed to interview him over email on the condition of anonymity and that we change his name in the story.
Jake points often to Brendan Eich, a millionaire and creator of the Mozilla browser, who had to step down after his financial support of Prop 8, a California measure aimed at blocking gay marriage, came to light a couple of years ago. And unlike Eich, Jake says he doesn’t have the millions or the untouchable public stature of Peter Thiel to be out as a Trump supporter.
The sense of risk was driven home on Thursday when
140 Silicon Valley bigwigs, including Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak and “Shark Tank” judge Chris Sacca, came together to decry Trump in an open letter. Y Combinator President Sam Altman has compared Trump to Hitler.
“Silicon Valley these days is a very intolerant place for people who do not hold so called ‘socially liberal’ ideas,” Jake says. The experience of the former Mozilla creator is “Exhibit A of the lack of tolerance in Silicon Valley for certain ideas, ideas which [by the way] were mainstream in American society until very recently or that in fact, ideas that continue to be divisive today,” Jake says.
No one knows how many other “Jakes” are out there in Silicon Valley. But his existence in Silicon Valley shows the power of Trump’s appeal in some of the most unlikely places.
Bloomberg called a Trump supporter in tech’s cradle “rarer than unicorns” — although in Santa Clara County, home to the likes of Google and Apple, there were 49,771 people who voted for him in the primary. Like this Jake, there are others who opt for secrecy and silence over the potential repercussions.
Here is the story of one Trump supporter’s existence in Silicon Valley’s politically hostile environment.
Unworthy of the tech tribe
Jake didn’t say much at first when his colleagues at work would make jokes about Trump — after all, he had himself initially thought Trump’s campaign was a joke. His first donation was meant as a “middle finger” to the Washington establishment.
Eventually though, he began to see Trump as a serious candidate and he soon revealed to his team that he was in Trump’s camp. His colleagues “couldn’t believe it.”
“In Silicon Valley, because of the high prevalence of highly smart people, there is general stereotype that voting Republican is for dummies,” he says. “So many people see considering supporting Republican candidates, particularly Donald Trump, anathema to the whole Silicon Valley ethos that values smarts and merit.”
He’s talked about his positions more with coworkers and he feels like he’s earned respect back from some, although no one has come to team Trump with him. But the collegial work atmosphere is now tense and stilted.
“The relationship with those who were more upset is different. Now it is strictly professional whereas before we talked more about personal stuff,” he says.
Some of his friends have demonized him and stopped talking to him entirely.
“A couple of friends thought that me supporting Trump made me unworthy of being part of the Silicon Valley tribe and stopped talking to me,” Jake says. “Honestly, I couldn’t care less. This says more about them than about me.”
Even with the thinly-veiled malice towards Trump by members of the tech elite, Jake has no plans to leave his job or his career. For the most part, he’s found tech employees have an indifference towards politics.
“The main reason I stay in Silicon Valley is that I love my work and doing innovative stuff. I am willing to put up with the rest. And as I said, most people are not very ideological so the situation is not that bad,” he said. “It is mostly the motivated few that I am concerned about that could go the extra mile to do to me what it was done to Brendan Eich.”
Why does an educated, well-compensated Silicon Valley engineer support the man who is such a pariah among his Silicon Valley peers?
Like many Trump supporters, Jake believes the country is in trouble, saddled with too much debt, not enough good jobs and a political system that benefits the wealthy and the elite. In his view, it’s the very rich that have benefited from the Obama economy, including the banks that got bailed out after the financial crisis.
Jack has historically voted Republican, although he skipped the last two elections, and describes his political views as closer to libertarian. Government is a “necessary evil, but evil nonetheless.” He’s socially conservative on some issues (particularly abortion) and is against gay marriage for utilitarian reasons, but fine with civil unions.
After months of studying Trump’s message, Jack says that he found himself to be a true believer.
“At the end of the day, we choose our politics the way we choose our lovers and our friends. Not so much out a rational analysis but based on impressions and our own personal backgrounds. My main reason for supporting Trump is that I basically agree with the notion that unless the trend is stopped, our country is going to hell,” Jake says.
Of course, much of the backlash against Trump in Silicon Valley is due to the candidate’s comments about immigrants, Muslims and Mexicans, which are considered by many to be xenophobic and racist.
Jake says he doesn’t agree with Trump on many of those points, but says he doesn’t really take them seriously either, describing them as a “sideshow.”
On Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims? Jake thinks Trump’s perceived extremist remarks won’t be backed up with actions.
“I do not agree with a blanket ban (and personally I think he never meant it) but I do agree with the notion of increasing the scrutiny of people who come from high risk countries or zones,” he says.
Nor does he expect Trump to build his famous wall on the US-Mexican border and evict millions from the country. “He might complete the fence that already exists and probably make it stronger, but I have no doubt that Trump is a smart guy who won’t be deporting massively millions of people,” he says.
Jake describes himself sympathetic to the idea of making it easier for highly qualified immigrants to stay legally in the US, and even finding a solution for the problem of illegal immigration that doesn’t involve deportation. But he also believes many companies abuse the H1-B program that allows skilled foreigners to come work in the U.S., bringing in not only highly-qualified engineers but also barely-qualified service contractors to staff their data centres.
“The Silicon Valley elite is highly hypocritical on this matter. One of the reasons, I assume, they don’t like Trump is because on this area, as in many others, he is calling a spade a spade. I believe Trump is right in this case,” he said.
Help Silicon Valley do what it does best
From his position, “supporting Trump only offers upside.” Electing Hillary Clinton would keep the status quo, he says. If Trump wins, there’s a whole set of new possibilities that would emerge for the nation.
While most tech leaders predict doom and gloom during a Trump presidency, Jake sees the opposite for Silicon Valley: a return to the contrarian spirit that’s fuelled it in the past.
“Even if it remains socially liberal, it would be good for it if the President were to be a Republican so that the Valley could recover a little bit of its rebel spirit (that was the case during the Bush years for instance). I believe that the increased relevance in national politics of companies like Google (whose Chairman Schmidt has been very cosy with the Obama administration) and Apple (at the center of several political disputes) has been bad for the Valley,” he says. “A Trump presidency would allow the Valley to focus on what it does best: dreaming and building the technology of the future, leaving politics for DC types.”