Why LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman is standing up to Donald Trump
Editor’s Note: LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman is passionately anti-Trump. He has likened Trump to the schoolyard bully he had to stand up to in boarding school, and he even bankrolled Trumped Up Cards — a Cards Against Humanity like game, but with a singular focus on the New York businessman.
Economics correspondent Paul Solman sat down with Hoffman to discuss why he feels so strongly about speaking out against Trump, why he thinks others in Silicon Valley ought to and why he thinks Hillary Clinton is the woman to address Americans’ economic anxieties. For more on the topic, tune in to tonight’s Making Sen$e report, which airs every Thursday on the PBS NewsHour. Tune in tomorrow for Paul’s conversation with businessman Tom Barrack, an avid Trump supporter and long-time friend of the real estate mogul.
The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
— Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor
On speaking out
PAUL SOLMAN: You’re passionately anti-Donald Trump.
REID HOFFMAN: I am.
PAUL SOLMAN: You say that lots of your fellow business people are too, but they won’t say so publicly.
REID HOFFMAN: Yes. There are two reasons, one is well-intentioned, which is the classic kind of American notion. We want to be inclusive, we want to have our shareholders, our employees, our customers, whether they are Democrat, Republican, Green or Libertarian, to feel comfortable with how we’re doing business. And so that tends to be apolitical. People say, “No, no, I just simply shouldn’t get involved in politics.”
PAUL SOLMAN: Not because it isn’t necessarily good for me or my company; it’s just not good for the country for companies to be partisan.
REID HOFFMAN: Yes. And actually, I don’t even agree with this stance, but I understand it. It has a good intention. The other reason why people don’t take a stand, which is very true in this election, is looking at Trump and fearing reprisal, fearing reprisal from someone who is seeking the highest, most powerful role in the land, who has had a history of doing everything from attacks, threats and lawsuits and who has a complete kind of vengeful, narcissistic behavior, which makes people legitimately worried, almost like a schoolyard bully, that if I step up, am I going to be targeted, too?
PAUL SOLMAN: Isn’t it a reasonable fear? If you’re running a company, you’re beholden not just to your shareholders necessarily, but your stakeholders, your employees and so forth, and so for a very good reason you might not jeopardize them by antagonizing the guy who could be the president of the United States.
REID HOFFMAN: It is, of course, a completely reasonable fear, but one of the things is when you think, “Wait, I’m fearful of retaliation, I’m fearful of oppression because of someone who is going into a public office, who might be vengeful for their own personal reasons, that’s actually not a reason to hide — that’s a reason to step up, right?”
This is part of what we learned from the 1920s. How do you step up to anything from a bully to a would be dictator and say, “No, no, we actually value a free society, we value a society in which people have intelligent discourse and views and can actually articulate them and say them truthfully and openly.”
On Hillary Clinton
REID HOFFMAN: I think Hillary hears the anger in a broad swath of the American people, and she says, “OK, how do I help create a future that’s good for you?”
PAUL SOLMAN: But she’s no revolutionary; she’s part of the establishment and has been, as Mr. Trump points out, for 30 years.
REID HOFFMAN: She is part of the establishment, and that’s good for foreign policy and for understanding the ongoing health care system. There’s a bunch of good in that, and that good should not be discounted. She’s also smart, she talks to people, she hears, and she says, “OK, I need to update, we need some much bigger changes.” And you can see her talking about how do we help small businesses? We understand that most of the middle class doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t feel like they have economic progress, and she goes, “OK, I realize that’s my top agenda item. That’s the thing I need to do.”
I don’t think you need to blow up the whole thing in order to accomplish that. There’s a lot of people in the world that would love to trade places with American citizens, and we are very fortunate to be here.
PAUL SOLMAN: So Hillary Clinton has suddenly woken up to the plight of the middle class? Have you suddenly woken up to it?
REID HOFFMAN: So I think Hillary has and is working toward it in a democratic process.
We’ve been working for years on how we can use technology to help people make their own jobs, become entrepreneurs, create their own small businesses. Those are the kinds of things that I and a bunch of other people at LinkedIn actually work on. Now, that being said, I think we realized the depth of frustration through the current political process. So we said, “OK, we know there’s a serious problem here, we know we need to work on it,” and now it’s “Oh, we need to work on it a lot faster.”
PAUL SOLMAN: Did you know how angry people were?
REID HOFFMAN: No. I think I knew how frightened people were, and I think I knew that people were worried about their future. I don’t think I realized that they would be willing to risk kind of a 1920s Germany in order to blow it all up, not realizing that we’ve accomplished a lot as Americans, and we want to keep the good things and revolutionize the new things.
On politics in Silicon Valley
PAUL SOLMAN: Aren’t there a lot of people here in Silicon Valley who don’t believe in democracy at all anymore at this point?
REID HOFFMAN: Democracy tends to be a collaborative process, a committee, a consensus. Silicon Valley tends to believe in the individual who creates a small group and does something big. Democracy is always frustrating. I think most of them are not very well educated themselves to understand the Winston Churchill line — democracy is the worst of all governments until you consider all the other ones.
PAUL SOLMAN: But if you have a really strong, effective leader, that can make a huge difference to a country. Think of Singapore for example.
REID HOFFMAN: So benevolent, enlightened, wise dictators are the most efficient form of government. The problem is what comes afterwards, right? Part of the reason we like democracy is it’s the portfolio of decades, which is to say you don’t also get the disastrous dictator who completely destroys a society, engages you in wars and so forth. And so I’m sympathetic to the people who go, “Whoa, we’d like to have the benevolent, wise dictator. It will all work much more efficiently,” but the reason that we remain staunch democrats — with a small d — is it’s a decades long, it’s a centuries long, it’s a country long process for being inclusive.
PAUL SOLMAN: You must be trying to convince your fellow business people to come out as you have and take the risks you’re taking. Any success?
REID HOFFMAN: I am. I think we’ll see more of it. I think Steve Case published a great column in the Washington Post recently. I think the right way to do this is just to step up and do it, so I actually think we’ll see more of that over the next coming weeks, because I think they’ll say, “We’d like to be good for business and quiet on politics, but this is too urgent, it is too much of a key crisis in who we are going to become as Americans. We can risk too much, and so we have to step forward.” And I think you will see more and more people stepping forward, like Howard Schultz, Steve Case and other folks, in order to try to make a difference in this election.