So I thought my column this week would be a fun one, focused on the what-the-f&#k article last week in the New Yorker about some deeply narcissistic tech titans — are there any other kind? — who are “prepping” for the apocalypse by hoarding gold, stashing weapons and even buying spreads in remote places to hide.
Aside from commenting on their base inanity and deep selfishness, I even had the best joke to impart that one techie told me:
In the event of doomsday, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is I have a bunker in New Zealand. The bad news? Peter Thiel is my neighbor.
Ahahaha. Imagining the end times spent with the quirky tech investor — who does, in fact, have one of those Kiwi escape pods — is certainly surreal. But it’s not much more bizarre than Thiel’s response this weekend as he tried mightily to spin an epic fib he told last year about President Donald J. Trump.
It took place in the question-and-answer part of a speech in D.C. that Thiel delivered in late October about his support of Trump, after a reporter asked him about the Muslim ban threat the candidate had clearly made.
As I reported then:
“The media is always taking Trump literally,” says Peter Thiel, while his supporters take him “seriously.” Well, thank goodness Peter Thiel is here to translate words that are said by someone who may be running the most powerful country in the world. He’s just kidding! Sort of! Not really again, but another nice pivot.
Dear Peter Thiel: Words. Matter. A. Lot. Look at me writing them down here on my keyboard.
I was being quite sarcastic then, because at the time I thought that Trump very much meant to do exactly as he said and that Thiel was either very stupid or very disingenuous for pretending otherwise.
Let me state for the record, I do not think Peter Thiel is very stupid.
But a fabulist? Well, let’s fast-forward to this weekend, when Thiel tried to launch another whopper in a pathetic attempt to defend Trump’s appalling executive order to bar the entry of refugees and also travelers from seven Muslim nations into the U.S.
A Thiel spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that “Peter doesn’t support a religious test, and the administration has not imposed one.”
Oh. Peter. Words. Still. Matter. A. Lot.
So please, for the love of Facebook, stop manipulating those words when everyone can see the real-life actions and consequences they have resulted in.
More to the point, every time you open your mouth, you look more and more like you got played by Steve Bannon and his army of hobgoblins to the detriment of tech leaders whom you somehow got to bow and scrape to the new administration.
It was bad enough that you pulled off that frightful kumbaya by trooping the most powerful people in Silicon Valley into Trump Tower for what amounted to a photo op for Trump and managed to get them to do so without uttering a word about key issues at the core of tech, like immigration, publicly (though several execs in attendance like Apple’s Tim Cook and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella did bring up the issue in the private part of the meeting). I called them “sheeple” at the time for doing that and staying silent publicly before and after the meeting, with you as their unlikely shepherd.
Now worse, you have dragged your pals, like tech icon Elon Musk and Uber’s Travis Kalanick, onto the president’s advisory council, with the promise that engagement with Trump will give them the chance to change his mind.
Not so, as it turns out, since they now look like quislings in the wake of the immigration disaster. After asking for suggestions on Twitter this weekend of how to approach Trump later this week on the ban, they are getting pilloried on social media for even being affiliated with the whole sorry mess.
This one from well-known techie Erica Joy was a typical response:
.@travisk Resign from anything to do with Trump, Travis. Stop being complicit in working with a fascist regime or keep losing customers.— EricaJoy (@EricaJoy) January 29, 2017
As for the vast majority of tech leadership and pretty much all of their employees, they are now making a break for the wall-free border with the government’s capricious and ill-conceived crackdown on immigrants and refugees.
The burn started slowly on Friday, with muted opposition largely focused on the impact on their workforces. Only a few strong voices, such as the very brave Reed Hastings of Netflix, made powerful moral statements about the Trump order.
Hastings’s this-shall-not-stand tone was infectious, as it turned out. By the end of the weekend, techies were ratcheting up the volume by the hour with increasingly more emotional, moral-high-ground statements, as well as offers of gobs of money (Google, Lyft, Uber and high-profile techies like Chris Sacca and Tony Faddell), food (DoorDash) and even homes (Airbnb).
Google founder Sergey Brin’s appearance at San Francisco International Airport was a heartening visual of that. While he said he was there as a refugee and not as a rep for the search giant, his presence spoke volumes about the way this was headed.
I knew that would be the case after I tweeted this note below late Friday night and it quickly started to garner a plethora of responses, including from some prominent techies, all of whom wanted in.
Will tech leaders come out strongly and publicly against Trump's Muslim ban? I'm taking names. First part of that expression to follow.— Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) January 28, 2017
That included Laszlo Bock, former head of Google People Ops, who wrote: “former tech leader here, but still 100 percent against excluding people from our nation based on religion, origin, etc.”
It went on like that as opposition to the Trump immigration order has grown and I expect it to do so even more, as those very rich and very powerful and very influential tech companies start to act like they actually have money, power and influence. And, thank goodness, some of the loudest people on earth finally realize they have a very loud voice.
Behind the scenes, where all the real stuff happens, I am told the political arm-twisting has commenced and that there are a number of joint efforts that are under way. We’ll see how effective and long lasting they are, especially since there are many things tech wants from the Trump administration, as I have outlined before.
But given Trump has literally made good on several of his more heinous campaign promises that everyone thought he would not, I think cooperation between tech and Trump is going to be rarer than more opposition.
For example, what of Trump’s hard-line stance in the campaign on encryption or his appointment of very anti-net neutrality FCC chairman Ajit Pai? Neither will be easy to find common ground on.
And just today, Bloomberg is reporting another executive order being drafted focused on work visas that tech companies depend on, which will have a big impact on how critical talent is recruited. According to the report, “companies would have to try to hire American first and if they recruit foreign workers, priority would be given to the most highly paid.”
Well, that’s not going to go over well at Coupa Cafe in Palo Alto. No, no. no. (Fly-on-the-wall dream: I’d love to be in the boardroom at Facebook, where Peter Thiel is a director, to hear him explaining this one away.)
More: I was at a chock-full event in Palo Alto last week, as tech types planned their attack on the defunding of Planned Parenthood and the reinstatement of the global gag rule by Trump and the GOP that restricts foreign aid to those organizations that reference abortions in family planning. It was a move that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg spoke out against last week. “We don't have to guess,” she wrote, noting that the move is a disaster for women globally. “We know what this will do.”
What else? Well, now there are rumors that Trump could sign another executive order aimed at restricting advances in rights made by gays and lesbians, such as allowing people to refuse to do business with them due to religious objections (expect federal legislation here too). And, earlier this week, press secretary Sean Spicer said, “I don't know,” when asked if Trump would rescind a Barack Obama executive order banning anti-LGBT discrimination by federal contractors.
Given tech leaders have been very vocal in their support of gay issues, which are important to their employees, if Trump does any of this, it should go off like a Roman candle in Silicon Valley.
I’ll be curious what Thiel, who is now famously gay after his speech at the Republican National Convention this summer, will say about it if that comes to pass. I am guessing declaring that “Peter doesn’t support anti-gay orders, and the administration has not imposed one” will not work quite as well the second time around.
And neither will Silicon Valley not taking Trump both seriously and literally anymore. Because these are serious times and we need serious people who will literally be compelled to act and speak out on all this and more. (And if you think I am going to stop nagging you all, you should ask my kids how that goes.)
It’s probably a bummer for many of tech’s leaders that car execs or finance types or Hollywood moguls are not held to this high standard. In fact, the New York Times’ Mike Isaac tweeted about that yesterday.
whispers im getting from some inside tech co's who feel unfairly targeted: "you dont see other fortune 500 company CEOs speaking out."— ಠ_ಠ (@MikeIsaac) January 29, 2017
As I replied, you don't see other Fortune 500 CEOs brag endlessly and loudly about changing the world when times are good. So, stop your whining, because if your brand has always been about changing that world, you better be ready to take responsibility when it does actually change.
That or go buy a place in New Zealand.
Until then, we have Bette Davis to comfort us:
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.