That stigma no longer seems to apply. There may not necessarily be more who lean right, but you no longer see stories with titles like “The Secret Republicans of Silicon Valley.” They’re tweeting! They even have a role model: Elon Musk, the closest thing that tech has to a philosopher-king. Last May, he startled people by tweeting that his political steering wheel had veered to the right. “In the past I voted Democrat because they were (mostly) the kindness party,” he wrote. “But they have become the party of division and hate, so I can no longer support them and will vote Republican.” (To keep this column moving, I won’t deconstruct the logic here.) And just last week, another much-admired industry leader, former Y Combinator CEO Sam Altman, went on Twitter to gripe about “the failure of government” in liberal California.
“Those who were what you’d call centrist a couple of years ago, or people avowedly conservative, are much more willing to go publicly counter-narrative,” says Antonio García Martínez, an ad-tech exec who once had his own problems with woke foes.
A possible turning point came during the June recall election of San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin, whose opposition was largely funded by tech money. García Martínez says that another key data point was Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong’s controversial edict banning political speech on the company’s internal chat boards. The move was seen as silencing voices for diversity, something that might previously have led to Armstrong’s being shunned. He hasn’t been. “They basically canceled cancellation at Coinbase and fired everyone who disagreed, and … nothing happened,” he says. (Actually it wasn’t so simple, but Coinbase did get past this and is dealing with other issues.)
Another incentive to go full-conservative is the crypto movement. For some reason, embracing regulation-resistant blockchain tools, notably cryptocurrencies, seems to vibe with the “freedom” celebrated by not wearing masks. Under cover of the hot new trend, formerly stealthy conservatives may feel empowered to unleash their inner William Buckley–or Steve Bannon. Maybe that’s why crypto conferences seem similar to MAGA rallies.
Nonetheless, many of those involved in the “rightward shift” that Agrawal speaks of want nothing to do with Trump. (Agrawal says that for him, it’s not about choosing one political party over the other.) Also, certain parts of the GOP agenda, particularly on immigration, repel these newly declared conservatives.
It could be that the change in politics, particularly for the wealthy people who now find Democrats unsavory, reflects their circumstances. When you reach a certain status, you might be less excited about woke politics than you are about, say, the value of your home. Last week, for instance, we learned that Marc Andreessen, the Valley’s best-known advocate of “building,” is an all-caps opponent on building when it comes to multifamily homes in his own cloistered community.
Agrawal himself says his views are not linked to his bank account. “I think that the issue of whether somebody is wealthy or not, and low taxes versus high taxes, is actually a non-issue. None of the people I talk to bring that up. There is more a kind of existential angst: Will this still remain the place where building is encouraged, where we celebrate the act of creation?”