As a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, Hunter Walk, a partner at seed-stage venture fund Homebrew, tweeted: “Don’t be putting Jared Kushner on cap tables when this is all said and done.”
Walk’s call to peers to not accept money from President Trump’s son-in-law got nearly 200 retweets, many of them by other investors. One was by Upfront Ventures’ Mark Suster, who’d already tweeted four times during the riot himself, including: “I say this without hyperbole, if we don’t accept the legitimacy of elections we don’t live in a democracy.”
The high-profile VCs’ remarks came amid a moment of reckoning that had already seen even the most buttoned-up executives take rare dives into the national political conversation. A letter signed by close to 200 CEOs on Monday urged Congress to accept the election results and ensure “no further delay in the orderly transfer of power.” The Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers also called on Congress to “respect the rule of law.” While all these executives spoke out for a very practical reason–the turmoil of political instability is distinctly bad for business, as it can cripple planning and decision-making–it also reveals genuine concern for the future of the government. Their raised voices may well be a sign of a shift in businesses’ rhetoric and policies.
For many business groups, Trump and his supporters’ brazen attack on the democratic process appeared to be the tipping point. For example, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, generally reticent on political issues, called organizing the insurrection a “crime against the United States and its people.” The Retail Industry Leaders Association, meanwhile, was earlier even than some news outlets to blame Trump himself for the violence.
Over the past several days, a broad de-platforming of the president and others who advocated violent demonstrations has surged through Silicon Valley as well. Twitter and Facebook banned Trump’s account after years of tolerating bad behavior, and Apple, Google, and Amazon cut off Parler, the social network that had been favored by extremist conservatives. The list goes on, straight up to banks like JPMorgan Chase and Citi shutting down their political funding for the near term.
Sinan Aral, a professor of management, information technology, and marketing at MIT, and author of The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health–and How We Must Adapt, wasn’t surprised to see the typically nonpartisan voices speak out. “Business decisions made amidst a great deal of uncertainty are more risky,” he says. “It’s not surprising that the business community is vocally advocating a return to less uncertainty.”
Walk, the venture capitalist, thinks the events of the past week are enough to cause a real surge in activism among business leaders–or at least stop them from hiding behind a professional curtain of nonpartisanism. “As horrific as the last four years have been for our democratic norms, the ‘silver-lining’ might be that it has challenged many of us in the tech community to find our voice politically,” he writes in an email to Inc.
Many in Silicon Valley and beyond are hoping for a return to a smoother reality after inauguration day–meaning that any political awakening that occurs may be short-lived. “My best guess is that sanity is resumed on January 20, and that will decrease political chatter across the tech industry on this particular subject,” Nikhil Trivedi, a founder of online art marketplace Artsy who’s now a startup investor, tells Inc. in a Twitter message. He thinks the conversation around Washington in the tech sector will turn from Trump to antitrust issues.
But Aral says the need for reform of social media has never been more pressing–and shouldn’t be overlooked. “I feel this is sufficiently dramatic and different, where it should not just be a blip, where it’s ‘return to normal’ afterward,” he says.