With partisanship affecting even the highest levels of corporate America, politically moderate, Republican-leaning executives have found themselves adrift. Traditionally, executives have used political donations to candidates as a way to maximize their influence within a new political establishment and minimize the risk of regulation. Personal politics were not often the deciding factor. That changed with Trump. Immigration, family separation, discrimination against transgender Americans, and a host of other assaults on progressive values forced corporate chiefs to take sides. For those unwilling to do so, such as Intel’s Krzanich, they have tried to sever any explicit connections with Trump and redirect support to the Republican party apparatus instead.

Favored candidates:

Image for article titled Silicon Valley is a political force, or five of them

The neo-reactionaries and the alt-right (light)

Who’s in this camp?

What do they believe?

Supporters of the extreme alt-right likely don’t have many adherents in the Valley. That hasn’t stopped the movement’s most noxious figures from claiming them. “The average alt-right-ist is probably a 28-year-old tech-savvy guy working in IT,” claimed white nationalist Richard Spencer in 2016. “I have seen so many people like that.” As head of the white nationalist National Policy Institute, Spencer needs to inflate his support, especially among the tech elite. In spite of the headlines, there is no evidence supporting the claims that the Valley is a hotbed of right-wing extremists.

That’s not to say some of their beliefs don’t have traction there. The Valley’s far-right tends to hold highly intellectualized positions associated with the “neoreactionary movement,” or “Dark Enlightenment.”  One of its central figures, Curtis Yarvin, writes under the pen name Mencius Moldbug. The programmer (whose company Urbit was funded by Thiel’s venture fund) believes society took a wrong turn at the Enlightenment and we should return to feudalism or an absolute monarchy. Headlines on his posts include, “Why I am not a white nationalist” and pose questions such as “What’s so bad about the Nazis?”

Less extreme are people like James Damore. In 2017, the former Google engineer penned a 10-page manifesto titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” It purported to show the gender gap in tech was partially caused by innate biological differences between men and women, and accused Google of unfairly favor women and minorities when hiring. Google later fired him for creating a harmful workplace for women. While denying any connection to the alt-right (he calls himself a “classical liberal”), Damore quickly became a rallying figure for the movement. He staged a publicity tour with its most popular online personalities and posted a fundraiser on WeSearchr, a site created by Trump booster and prominent alt-rightist Chuck Johnson, to raise more than $50,000 for “financial and potentially legal assistance.”

For Damore and his ilk, the persecution complex is key to their identity in the Valley’s liberal milieu, says Hammond of the Niskanen Center. “They basically feel like they’re in hiding all the time,” he says. But the far-right’s presence in the Valley is meager, enjoys no political support on the ballot, and is most notable for enjoying visibility that’s disproportionate to its actual influence.

Image for article titled Silicon Valley is a political force, or five of them

A reckoning

The debate playing out in Silicon Valley is an almost perfect microcosm of the larger debate playing out in America: how to reconcile two thus far opposing priorities: socially progressive views and a radical free market. Calling them liberal or libertarian or conservative misses the point. While the vast majority of its residents and workforce are Democrats, traditional liberal ideals (such as building strong unions and regulatory bodies) are fracturing as new political coalitions form.

Just as the technology Silicon Valley created has radically changed how we live, we should expect Silicon Valley’s battle to define the rules for our changing society to leave an indelible mark. Will the technocratic left reshape US policy by marrying a generous welfare state with minimal regulation of startups? Or will the egalitarian ethos ascendent in the Democratic party mute Silicon Valley’s clout over the economy.

That story is still playing out. But one thing we can all be sure of: This is about far more than how to balance pro-technology regulatory policies and the public interest. Silicon Valley executives and employees may never agree on regulation, but with a few exceptions, they profess the same desire for a multicultural society, a generous welfare state, and a system that works for everyone, and they’re spending their money and influence on making those America’s priorities too.

As the region’s political power grows, expect this to be the defining political battle in Silicon Valley, and in the Democratic party itself.

Correction: The story has been updated to reflect that Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil” rather than “Do no evil.” 

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.