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Donald Trump. (Via Shutterstock)
Donald Trump has struggled to gain support among the tech community. (Via Shutterstock)

The country is at a crossroads.

Some see the political landscape as soiled, unsalvageable with two presidential candidates who are largely disliked by the majority of Americans. (Hillary Clinton’s unfavorable rating sits at 56 percent, while Donald Trump’s tops 60 percent).

There’s certainly a lot at stake in this year’s presidential election — especially for entrepreneurs and the people who back them.

During tonight’s Republican National Convention, we’ll get a small taste of the tech view as Peter Thiel — the PayPal co-founder, Facebook board member and outspoken angel investor — takes the stage to endorse Trump.

With such a high-profile Silicon Valley powerbroker at the Republican National Convention tonight, we decided to ask a handful of Seattle venture capitalists what they hoped to hear and what a Trump presidency might look like for the country.

As was to be expected — given the toxic political climate — not every VC wanted to participate in this column. Several declined to comment.  However, one venture capitalist told me privately that a Trump presidency would be catastrophic, and that his campaign didn’t dignify a response. Another said he could not contemplate the damage of a Trump presidency.

That echoes the sentiment felt by much of the tech industry, with more than 145 tech executives, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists signing a letter last week that concluded that a Trump presidency would be a “disaster for innovation.” Last month, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said that “Trump would destroy much of what is great about America.”

But not everyone feels that way, including Thiel whose remarks tonight are sure to spark headlines like this one from The New York Times: Peter Thiel’s embrace of Trump has Silicon Valley squirming.

Here are the responses of the five VCs who did get back in touch with me:

Heather Redman, Seattle angel investor

Heather Redman at Geekwire Startup Day 2016.
Angel investor Heather Redman at Geekwire Startup Day 2016.

—What do you think of Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel’s support of Donald Trump and his planned speech on Thursday night at the Republican Convention? What do you hope to hear?

“I’m very pro-free speech so I’m in favor of Peter Thiel speaking. I hope he uses his speech to educate the American people, Mr. Trump and the Republican party about what tech does and is. It is remarkable how little politicians as a whole know about what we do. I’ve been turned off by the tone of the convention thus far, so hopefully he’ll change the conversation.”

—What do you think a Trump presidency would mean to the innovation economy?

“It seems to me that Trump is mostly about nostalgia—trying to take the country and the world back to a hypothetical earlier era which has been falsely idealized. His stated positions on immigration, the internet, encryption, trade, research, climate and international relations would all be harmful to our industry (and the country as a whole) in my view.”

—What policy agenda would you like to hear Trump and the Republican convention speakers address in more detail?

“Education, trade, research, immigration to name a few.”

—On a scale of 1 to 10 — one meaning completely terrified of our country’s prospects at this historical crossroads and 10 meaning ultimate confidence in what’s ahead for our country — where do you fall?

“I’m a 7. I think we’re at a very risky point in our history, but I also have a great deal of confidence in our people as a whole, and take heart from the growing influence of the tech community on policy.”

John Connors, former Microsoft CFO and managing partner at Ignition

John Connors at Startupday 2015
John Connors speaking at GeekWire Startup Day 2014.

—What do you think of Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel’s support of Donald Trump and his planned speech on Thursday night at the Republican Convention? What do you hope to hear?

“Thiel is a wise and capable man who has contributed mightily to the country. I am looking very forward to his speech. I am hoping to hear a clear message on policies that are pro-growth and pro individual liberty. We are coming off a 15 year period of astounding expansion of the regulatory state. It began in Bush 43 administration and has been accelerated dramatically under the Obama administration. Large wealthy well-connected companies benefit from expansive regulation at the expense of family run, small and mid-size companies. It’s a major reason new company creation in the country has been at weakest levels in decades. Six or seven of the wealthiest counties in the USA surround Washington D.C. That pretty much sums up what has transpired the last 15 years.”

—What do you think a Trump presidency would mean to the innovation economy?

“The most important element for the innovation economy is the world economy growing and the public finances of the country being reset on a trajectory that doesn’t destroy growth for decades – ala Europe and Japan. It is difficult to determine what Trump’s specific polices will be as he has been effective at avoiding specifics. If elected, he is likely to adopt the detailed policies advocated by Paul Ryan in his Better Way agenda. Ryan’s agenda is — in my view — the best on offer in a country with a dearth of leadership on the difficult problems.”

—What policy agenda would you like to hear Trump and the Republican convention speakers address in more detail?

“Growth, Growth Growth. We cannot solve any of the most pressing issues without the country getting back to three percent plus growth. In 2016, for the first time in American history we will have had a ten year period with no year of thee percent or higher growth.”

—On a scale of 1 to 10 — one meaning completely terrified of our country’s prospects at this historical crossroads and 10 meaning ultimate confidence in what’s ahead for our country — where do you fall?

“I am not sure what the historical crossroads question means. The world has many very difficult problems. I wouldn’t trade America’s issues for Europe, China, Japan, Russia or Brazil! I think we will have extreme conflict the next ten years as we sort out the problems. We have finally reached a point where the decades of promises on entitlements and public pensions becomes visible to every American — no easy money to give away anymore. It will be difficult to sort where the money comes from and the reality sinks in that all the programs need major reform or restructuring.”

Bill McAleer, founding partner of Voyager Capital

—What do you think of Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel’s support of Donald Trump and his planned speech on Thursday night at the Republican Convention? What do you hope to hear?

Bill McAleer
Bill McAleer

“Peter appears to be drinking the Trump Kool-aid, seems odd that a well-respected VC hasn’t done his diligence on him, just like when we back an entrepreneur, it’s important to look at the character and track record of the leader. Once you dig below the veneer of Trump’s hyped image, it’s pretty clear that he’s not qualified to lead our country. Many of his companies have failed while he personally profited, he is inconsistent in his decision making; he exhibits all the characteristics of a narcissist in his interactions with others and is advocating isolationist and exclusionary policies. Have no idea what peter might say, hope he talks about how he thinks Trump would move the country forward rather than rewinding back to a past-era of isolationism.”

—What do you think a Trump presidency would mean to the innovation economy?

“Overall negative. He talks very little about one aspect of what makes America great — the power of entrepreneurship and innovation to drive economic growth; he seems against an open economy; advocates closing down parts of the internet; he proposes dissolution of key trade agreements; talks little of how to be more inclusive and belittles his enemies with rhetoric.”

—What policy agenda would you like to hear Trump and the Republican convention speakers address in more detail?

“How are we going to sustain our position as a leader in innovation; how do we provide better access and quality of education for all our citizens; what do we do to address our decaying infrastructure; what are the country’s strengths and how we leverage them (vs our citing all our weaknesses and what’s wrong, with no solutions being offered); an effective proposal for addressing the immigration issue (rather than closing off our borders and deporting thousands of people).”

—On a scale of 1 to 10 — one meaning completely terrified of our country’s prospects at this historical crossroads and 10 meaning ultimate confidence in what’s ahead for our country — where do you fall?

“If Trump is elected a 2! And applying for a Canadian VISA and dusting off our Vancouver investment strategy.”

Julie Sandler, principal at Madrona Venture Group

—What do you think of Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel’s support of Donald Trump and his planned speech on Thursday night at the Republican Convention? What do you hope to hear?

Julie Sandler
Madrona’s Julie Sandler

“It is more important now than ever that we make our best effort to not simply hear, but also listen to opinions that are dramatically different from our own and try to understand them… and not categorically delegitimize other points of view even if they directly conflict with our deepest, most absolute personal values. It’s important, and it’s really hard to do. So I have no idea what Thiel will present at the RNC, but I will be keen to watch and better understand his reasons for the Trump platform endorsement. To date, from a practical, economics, and values perspective, I’m completely confounded by it.”

What do you think a Trump presidency would mean to the innovation economy?

“I’m extremely concerned by the GOP nominee’s rhetoric around both immigration and diversity, and its implications for the future of American innovation should he be successful in his pursuit of the presidency. Anyone with even modest exposure to innovation economy dynamics will tell you that fostering every dimension of diversity is not only critical but a downright imperative for organizations and innovations to flourish. Both diversity and fluid migration of talent create opportunity, and anything that inhibits an innovation community’s ability to attract, grow, and import diverse talent ultimately stifles progress. A lack of ability to build workforces rich in diversity — diversity of background, perspective, and experience — creates as big an obstacle for innovation as a lack of just about any other ingredient… including capital.”

—On a scale of 1 to 10 — one meaning completely terrified of our country’s prospects at this historical crossroads and 10 meaning ultimate confidence in what’s ahead for our country — where do you fall?

“You have to remain optimistic. Young people in particular absolutely need to stay optimistic, and they also need to feel empowered to use their voices to speak out both in favor of the values that matter most to them, and against the values that they see as harmful to the future they want for their generation.”

Todd Warren, managing director at Divergent Ventures

—What do you think of Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel’s support of Donald Trump and his planned speech on Thursday night at the Republican Convention? What do you hope to hear?

Todd Warren
Todd Warren

“I’m not a fan. Peter is undeniably a smart investor; but being smart in one area does not make one expert in all areas. I, in general, do not agree with his approach to either social or political policy. My disagreements with Thiel begin with a disagreement on the value of higher education—I’m very passionate on it’s ability to create stronger, broad thinkers who impact systems more holistically. I think it’s an important ingredient in preventing class stratification. It’s why I teach at Northwestern and have supported and teach at Ashesi.

The underlying philosophy he seems to have is that if you are smart you can succeed, and those that accumulate the most must be the smartest. I think that’s very easy for a white American educated at a selective school who lives mostly among other white Americans educated at selective schools to hold that point of view—and I say that as someone who fits that profile! I believe being smart is necessary; but there are historical and systemic currents that get people stuck and prevent them from succeeding in the economy. While certainly people not from that background can make it; there are lots of odds against it and my belief is that government is necessary to keep the playing field both fair and level; and even put a thumb on the scale to help folks who have been historically disadvantaged.

My guess, however, is that Thiel is for Trump because — as a libertarian — he is hoping Trump will dismantle, wreck or starve the government ‘beast’; either intentially or through his operating incompetence that has been demonstrated in many Trump businesses. That strikes me as pretty cynical.

—What do you think a Trump presidency would mean to the innovation economy?

“I think having a president who is anti-immigration, anti-trade is bad. We have benefited greatly in tech and in Washington State in particular from both. We are generally a very trade dependent state.

The sheer number of engineers needed can’t be served without those here on H1B visas; and the cap has been a struggle for people for a long time. We need to address the base part of this shortage too—that means more vibrant community colleges, better STEM education at the primary and secondary level, most of which will require spending by the way by the government. I’ve also seen talented foreign students in my classes who weren’t able (to) give the country their best contribution because of restrictive Visa laws. Does it really make any sense to educate a PhD in Computer Science from another country here and then force them to go home?

Trump has also made statements that make me very fearful about free speech, especially on the internet. Whether it’s extending ‘Patriot Act’ like facilities to monitor communications or the strengthening of libel laws to protect the entitled; I fear at the extremes we are headed for a police state, and more control of speech on the internet makes a less vibrant tech economy.”

—What policy agenda would you like to hear Trump and the Republican convention speakers address in more detail?

“What is the real strategy to address economic dislocation because of productivity gains from technology. It’s this location that I think is at the root of much middle-class white anger.”

—On a scale of 1 to 10 — one meaning completely terrified of our country’s prospects at this historical crossroads and 10 meaning ultimate confidence in what’s ahead for our country — where do you fall?

“If Trump wins, we are more at the low end of the scale; but there is a scenario where he just sits in his office on Twitter and doesn’t really do much harm. I’m not betting on that, though. And, in my opinion, voting for Trump is a very bad idea for our country and industry. I’m trying to be optimistic that enough people will see Trump for the self promoting, racist charlatan he is and vote for Hillary. I’m much more optimistic if Hilary wins. I think her presidency will probably be higher drama than Obama’s. But she is very experienced, a strong leader, and more aligned with my views on policy at most levels.”

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