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Silicon Valley’s biggest grifters love Trump. Who could have guessed?

Trump's new crypto buddies are convicted fraudsters, alleged gropers and bilkers fined billions of dollars. The ‘disrupters’ are lining up early in hopes of a pardon pipeline.

A man in a suit holds a large piggy bank. There are prominent Bitcoin symbols overhead and a line of men holding Bitcoins in the background against an urban setting.
Source: AI illustration by Clark Miller for The Standard

By Paul Bradley Carr

It’s official! Donald Trump will be America’s first pro-crypto president! This exciting news was announced at Trump’s recent San Francisco fundraiser, conveniently attended by a gaggle of high-profile crypto boosters. It also came just days after Trump became the first major presidential candidate to accept donations in Bitcoin.

Of course, it’s easy to be cynical and ask: Why might Trump—a newly convicted fraudster with a history of baseless hype, whose most vocal supporters are either in jail or headed that way—possibly feel a kinship with the crypto industry?

Or perhaps: Why on earth might attendees like the Winklevoss twins (whose Gemini crypto firm just paid a $37 million fine for “significant” compliance failures), or executives from Coinbase (a $100 million fine), or Ripple (almost $2 billion in fines), or Shervin Pishevar (forced to quit his own investment firm following allegations of groping and forcible kissing) gaze across David Sacks’ living room towards Trump and think: That’s our guy?

Those cynics are in luck because Sacks himself is happy to explain: “The Biden administration has been very hostile toward innovation,” he told Fox News. “It’s been extremely hostile toward the crypto industry … and that does lead to support for President Trump.”

Sacks is alluding, of course, to industry anger at U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler and his so-called ‘war on crypto,’ fought through increased rules and regulations. By framing Trump as the crypto candidate (as opposed to something else), the right hopes to unlock millions in donations from Bitcoin billionaires and NFT moguls who sold at the top of the market. In return, the crypto bros expect a president who will slash regulation and thus reduce the risk of their peers becoming bunkmates with Sam Bankman-Fried.

It’s not just the Bitcoin bandits who are all in for Trump. Sacks predicted a ‘cascade’ of Silicon Valley support for Trump, including luminaries in the hot-as-hell artificial intelligence sector. And, for once in his life, he might have a point.

Take the New York Times report by Erin Griffith, headlined “Some of Silicon Valley’s Most Prominent Investors Are Turning Against Biden.” Griffith cites investors like Keith Rabois and Chamath Palihapitiya, who have both come out as Trump supporters, as well as Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz and Shaun Maguire of Sequoia Capital, who have criticized President Joe Biden without explicitly endorsing an alternative. A few days later, Sequoia’s former managing partner, Doug Leone, announced that he too was backing Trump.

So what gives? Why the hell would the famously liberal denizens of Silicon Valley and the idealistic dreamers behind Bitcoin and AI possibly be in the tank for such a nakedly fascistic candidate? 

… is a question you would only ask if you’ve been asleep for the past 15 years.

Silicon Valley’s lurch to the right could more accurately be described as a glide, a steady assholification that began at least in the first decade of the 2000s. That was when the cult of disruption first saw startups funded with the explicit goal of moving fast and breaking laws. Chief among them was Uber, which famously vowed to disrupt the big evil taxi cartels before very quickly, “Animal Farm” style, becoming the exact thing it claimed to hate. Under the leadership of Travis Kalanick, the company was accused of ripping off workers, smearing rape victims, hiring opposition researchers to silence journalists and (of course) flouting every imaginable law. With each subsequent wave of companies—Theranos, WeWork, Secret—and each new batch of industry leaders—Bankman-Fried, Elon Musk, Sam Altman—the bullshit increased and the accountability dropped.

Sure, there were plenty of high-profile liberal holdouts. In 2016, dozens of tech luminaries signed an open letter opposing Trump. As recently as 2018, some tech investors spoke against taking investment money from murderous regimes like Saudi Arabia after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

But fast-forward to 2024 and the disrupters are fully in charge. We find ourselves in a world where the two most exciting areas of tech are chatbots that encourage you to eat glue and a crypto industry whose biggest proponents are either in jail or dancing perilously close to the prison gates. Andreessen Horowitz is reportedly partnering with the Saudis on a $40 billion AI fund. Crypto geniuses like Jesse Powell are donating huge sums to recall governors whose policies they oppose (and occasionally suing to get the money back). Musk is our prom king, driving ever forward on his ludicrous silver chariot.

And yet. And yet. I challenge anyone to describe, with a straight face, any of the above men as “former liberals.” 

An elegant multi-story building features large windows and a balcony. Black cars park on the street, and a group of people gathers near the trees.
Source: Paul Kuroda for The Standard

It might be true that Sacks and his co-host Palihapitiya once donated to Democrats and Pishevar donated to Hilary Clinton. And, yes, both Sacks and Leone also loudly denounced Trump right after Jan. 6 … but the key phrase there is right after. Only after it was clear Biden was headed to the White House did Valley power brokers rush to tell the president and the world what they needed to hear. Leone had previously donated more than $100,000 to Trump’s re-election campaign and Sacks has long fashioned himself as a baby Peter Thiel. Now, with Trump headed for a second term, the mask is safely back off again. 

The truth is, what we’re seeing is not a change in Valley politics but a shift in power and attention away from the kind of leaders and companies who would sign a letter opposing Trump, towards the kind who would do whatever it takes to elect the guy who will keep their pals out of jail. An industry that once elevated innovators and mavericks today elevates grifters and jailbirds.

Still, it is in that reality that we can also find relief. Because it means the people who wrote that anti-Trump letter in 2016 are still mostly active and influential in Silicon Valley. For every Leone, there’s still a Reid Hoffman, for every Sacks, a John Doerr, for every Palmer Luckey, a David Barrett. Similarly, there remain hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tech workers across the country who still believe in things like human rights and the rule of law and will vote accordingly in November. The notion of Silicon Valley turning red is as unlikely as Altman staying un-fired or Musk keeping a promise.  

And that’s a truth that should keep Trump-supporting crypto bros awake at night and give the rest of us hope: The grifters might get all the attention and they might even buy themselves a president, but they’ll never have the numbers.

Paul Bradley Carr has written about Silicon Valley for 25 years. His next book, The Confessions, will be published next year by Atria.

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