I see it said and written on a regular basis that conservatives are afraid and oppressed in Silicon Valley, unable to speak their ideas. As a conservative, I take issue with this idea.
I think that if we want to understand what’s Silicon Valley believes and what is unacceptable here, we need to get a little bit more precise about our language, and then tease out what we’re actually talking about.
Let’s start with the word conservative. We use this word in a couple different ways in everyday language.
The traditional definition of the word is shorthand for classical liberal. These conservatives are in favor of big ideas like free markets, individual liberty, small government, etc. All good stuff.
The more contemporary definition of this word simply means Republican, and this is how it’s generally used by Donald Trump an members of the party that aren’t focused on classically liberal ideas. These folks don’t even like the “other” conservatives (e.g. #nevertrump).
These aren’t the same at all.
I would argue that Silicon Valley is very much the first kind of conservative (with our fair share of Bernie Bros as well), and what it isn’t is aligned from a values perspective with many of the things that fall under the “conservative” umbrella put forth by folks running the Republican party. We have a lot fewer of the former kind of conservatives, and not very many of the latter.
If VC twitter isn’t convincing enough, I found the voting data interesting.
As an example, we’d probably all agree that Bernie Sanders had a much less conservative platform than Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic Primary. Yet in Santa Clara County (home to Google), Hillary beat Bernie by 15.6%. Meanwhile in Travis County Texas (home of Dell), Bernie squeaked out 3.2% victory.
So, somehow liberals in liberally biased California chose the conservative candidate by a 5x greater margin than liberals in Texas. Talk about extremism!
In the general, Hillary won by about 50 points (taking 74% of the vote) in the general in Santa Clara, so she’s probably about where the bulk of voters are. The Libertarian candidate twice the votes of the green candidate in Googleville, which again suggests those outside the main prefer radically conservative to radically liberal ideas, and most Silicon Valley folks prefer a centrist candidate to radical populism.
This brings us to the other definition of conservatism, being a contemporary Republican. I do think it’s fair to say, the Republican party isn’t very popular in Silicon Valley, precisely because we prefer the other kind.
We work in innovative industries that thrive in competitive markets, and with plenty of immigrants, gay folks, brown folks (though we have our problems here), etc. Some of us take recreational drugs, and we’re frankly not all that religious as a group, though maybe we just have a different one.
So, we like a conservatism that promotes free trade, not tariffs.
We like the kind of conservative immigration policy that allow workers to go where the jobs are, not self-defeating restrictions and the zero-sum mentality of closed borders.
We like a conservatism that promotes individual liberty to choose one’s sexual orientation et al, and aren’t that interested in the war to make marriage and bathrooms free for some, and turning things like abortions and drugs into dangerous black market.
We like markets that work without government subsidies, not massive implicit carbon subsidies that prop up big oil at the expense of our environment and our kids’ tax rates.
We are believers in the conservative principle equal protection under the law, and not so much fans of efforts to suppress any voters and disconcern for an extra-judicial killings of citizens by government (even if they’re police officers).
The list goes on.
So, when people conservative ideas aren’t welcome, what they really mean is that the above ideas, are poorly received in our conservative culture.
And realistically, why would Republicans expect anything else? When the party demonizes our foreign-born friends and colleagues in the media, advocate for policies that will hurt our businesses, or characterize our lifestyles as problems we need government to “fix,” as conservatives and individuals we object.
It’s time to put an end to this idea that the Republican Party owns the mantle of conservatism, when it has strayed so far from these values, or that Silicon Valley is biased against conservatives. Silicon Valley is biased against nativism, protectionism, etc.
Republicans are certainly welcome to argue that these ideas are better than conservative values if they’d prefer to earn more support in Silicon Valley, or to come up with ideas that better compete in our particular idea marketplace.
Until then, Republican friends, please don’t call what you’re doing conservative. The kids these days don’t all know what’s up, and it’s really bad for the brand.