Donald Trump has few supporters in liberal Silicon Valley: Even Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder and Facebook board member, who spoke for Trump at the Republican National Convention, hasn't given a cent to the campaign. Yet the tech world doesn't unanimously favor Democrats.
Consider, for example, the financial support that Oculus founder Palmer Luckey has given to a pro-Trump trolling campaign. Luckey, 24, sold his virtual reality startup to Facebook for $2 billion after Oculus became a crowdfunding star. He has confirmed to the Daily Beast that he's donated money to a group called Nimble America to produce memes and negative posts about Hillary Clinton. Nimble America also put up a billboard outside Pittsburgh with a large image of Clinton's face and the legend, "Too Big to Jail." Luckey explained that he'd met the meme-makers behind the group on Facebook and offered them money because he "would love to see more of that stuff." It's this kind of surprising support that has made Trump a strong contender for the presidency.
Nimble America was set up by two moderators of the r/The_Donald thread on Reddit, which is full of not just anti-Clinton, but also anti-immigrant and outright racist memes. Luckey made it sound as if he just enjoyed the trolling as "a real jolly good time." That would ring hollow to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who offered to launch Trump into outer space after the candidate lashed out at him as the owner of The Washington Post. Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, wouldn't see it the same as Luckey either: He withdrew Apple's support for the Republican National Convention this year after Trump called for a boycott of Apple products because of the company's reluctance to help U.S. law enforcement decrypt a terrorist's iPhone.
The Silicon Valley has long leaned Democratic or even further left. This year, the most typical donor of the Green Party candidate Jill Stein is a male software engineer from California, according to Crowdpac, an organization that analyzes political donation data. Trump's right-wing views are unappealing to this constituency. A group of tech executives and venture capitalists, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and a few other important names in the industry, published a strongly-worded anti-Trump letter in July. Trump hasn't been nice to the Valley's aristocracy such as Bezos and Cook, and they have no reason to back him. According to data from Crowdpac, the technology industry has donated all of $225,000 to the Trump campaign.
Clinton has collected $6.1 million from tech donors, according to Crowdpac, out of her total of $510 million. Barack Obama did better with tech workers in both of his presidential campaigns.
Neither Thiel nor Luckey has described himself as a hardcore Trump fan. The PayPal co-founder is a libertarian who believes that an increasingly incompetent government has run down the economy. Luckey claims to be a believer in politically incorrect fun. It's not easy to find people in tech who would be against trade or immigration as Trump says he is: The industry wins from both. Those who back the billionaire do so out of contrariness, the spirit of disruption and rebellion that is as important to Silicon Valley's soul as social liberalism.
The rare open Trump backers are not so much pro-Trump as anti-Clinton. To them, she stands for the bland, faceless status quo; Thiel says that the U.S. needs to be "rebuilt" and that Clinton would be a one-term president because she'd drive the economy into a new crisis. Luckey, in one of his Reddit posts as "NimbleRichMan," wrote of "fighting the American elite."
This doesn't present any serious danger to Clinton in Silicon Valley, where polls show she has more than double Trump's support. It's just that the backing, at least initially, was less enthusiastic than for Obama, and techies' belief that she can shake things up and bring positive change is weaker than it was with the outgoing president. That's a bad sign for her nationwide. So is the departure from their peers of Thiel and Luckey: The U.S. is at least partly built on the same contrarian spirit that drives these two successful startup founders, and it can outweigh many voters' distaste for the Republican's views.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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