Y Combinator is extremely influential in tech startups and startup culture.
Peter Thiel, an investor who often participates in Y Combinator, is donating $1.25 million to Donald Trump’s political efforts, which has incited outrage among the tech community with many calling for Y Combinator to sever ties with Thiel.
Y Combinator has apparently decided not to. President Sam Altman defended this position in a blog post, framed as a Clinton endorsement, that begins with a partial overview of how reprehensible and dangerous Trump is, but ends with a defense of continuing Thiel’s involvement in Y Combinator that’s effectively framed as a free-speech or tolerance issue:
Some have said that YC should terminate its relationship with Peter over this. But as repugnant as Trump is to many of us, we are not going to fire someone over his or her support of a political candidate. […]
The way we got into a situation with Trump as a major party nominee in the first place was by not talking to people who are very different than we are. […]
That kind of diversity is painful and unpopular, but it is critical to health of a democratic and pluralistic society. We shouldn’t start purging people for supporting the wrong political candidate. That’s not how things are done in this country.
Altman’s framing of Thiel’s Trump support as a diversity issue isn’t just incorrect — it’s a harmful distortion that reveals a deep misunderstanding of the tech industry’s actual diversity issues. (I don’t and can’t fully understand our diversity problem, but I at least won’t pretend to.)
To help illustrate why, here are some of Altman’s own words from the first half of that same post:
This election is exceptional. Donald Trump represents an unprecedented threat to America…
He represents a real threat to the safety of women, minorities, and immigrants…
Trump shows little respect for the Constitution, the Republic, or for human decency…
I do not understand how one continues to support someone who brags about sexual assault, calls for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the US, or any number or other disqualifying statements.
Wrapping reprehensible statements or actions as “political beliefs” doesn’t protect them or exempt their supporters from consequences. Racism is racism. Sexual assault is sexual assault. Labeling reprehensible positions as “political beliefs” is a cowardly, meaningless shield.
But even if such protection existed (it still doesn’t), this isn’t calling for someone to lose their job because they merely voted Republican — the scale of Thiel’s support and the conditions of this particular candidate matter.
Thiel, a non-employee (a “part-time partner”), is directly supporting Donald Trump at a massive scale — over a million dollars! — after we’ve learned even more of Trump’s horrendous statements, positions, and past actions than we could’ve ever imagined.
This isn’t voting for an economic or social policy — this is literally paying a huge amount of money to directly support a racist, sexist bigot with rapidly mounting allegations of multiple sexual assaults.
One more quote from Altman:
If Peter said some of the things Trump says himself, he would no longer be part of Y Combinator.
Funding Trump, especially at this scale, represents general support of what Trump has said and done. If saying what Trump said would be enough to override Altman’s “diversity” argument and sever ties with Thiel, giving over a million dollars to Trump’s campaign should qualify as well.
Y Combinator should be especially sensitive to diversity and inclusion issues due to its public presence and large influence in the technology business. We have so many diversity and hostility problems (that the industry is finally working to fix) that Y Combinator should be leading the way toward inclusive, progressive solutions.
Instead, they’re defending the large-scale support of racism, bigotry, and sexual assault by an influential partner and advisor to their startups as its own form of “diversity”.
Shame on Y Combinator.