Written as editor of the New Statesman’s NS Tech and first published here.
It was slightly jarring to see Silicon Valley’s least favourite Libertarian Peter Thiel take to the stage at the Republican National Convention to give his unequivocal support to the Trump campaign.
Most tech folks might be hyper-capitalist, but they’re also pretty socially liberal and would probably seem out of place among the Republican Party faithful.
Thiel made much of his links to the world’s innovation capital, not least to launch an attack on how the US government has lost its way on tech.
“It’s hard to remember this, but our government was once high tech, too. When I moved to Cleveland, defense research was laying the foundations for the internet. The Apollo program was just about to put a man on the moon – and it was Neil Armstrong, from right here in Ohio. The future felt limitless.
“But today our government is broken. Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can’t even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government’s software works poorly, because much of the time it doesn’t even work at all.
“That is a staggering decline for the country that completed the Manhattan project. We don’t accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley, and we must not accept it from our government.”
Thiel’s ringing endorsement got me thinking about whether there are some tech smarts to Trump that I hadn’t yet seen. Tech policy has been pretty absent from the campaign, but it’s a key area of growth for the US economy.
And, indeed, after things got a bit quiet on the real estate market in the early part of this decade, Trump did start investing in technology companies.
He started out buying shares in Intel in 2011, followed a year later by an investment in Facebook.
Like many other tech companies, Facebook spends a lot of cash on lobbying the US government ($2.7 million this year alone), and a considerable amount on backing various election candidates.
So who were the top recipients of the total $469,369 spent by Facebook on campaign contributions in 2016?
Just for good measure, here’s where Apple’s $625,484 went this year too.
It’s little wonder the New York Times identifies Thiel as a member of a club “so endangered it might as well be called extinct: the Silicon Valley Trump supporter”.
But, at the risk of making himself very popular with many normal people who don’t live in the Silicon Valley bubble, Thiel, finished his speech by saying:
“When Donald Trump asks us to Make America Great Again, he’s not suggesting a return to the past. He’s running to lead us back to that bright future.”
Not to worry though, Trump is actually doing pretty well without Facebook and Apple’s campaign cash. And if Thiel’s backing another winner, let’s hope our new president fulfils the entrepreneur’s demand for better tech in government.
Wait. Did I just wish that Donald Trump wins the election?
While we’re on this stuff: those in the tech-know won’t need telling that Peter Thiel was the first institutional investor in Facebook way back in 2004.
He actually cashed in most of his shares to the tune of $1 billion in the same year Trump bought in, but retains his seat on the board.
This position was cast into some doubt because of the recent revelations that Thiel was waging a secret war with Gawker. A vote last month, however, saw him keep his spot.