Peter Thiel addressed the crowd at the Republican National Convention Thursday night, calling Washington broken and urging to expand the opulence of Silicon Valley beyond its narrow borders. How Donald Trump’s policies would achieve that was left unsaid.
“I’m not a politician, and neither is Donald Trump,” said Thiel, continuing a theme of the night.
Most surprising in the context of a GOP convention was Thiel’s embrace of his sexuality as well as a seeming acceptance of transgender Americans, when he said “who cares” who uses what bathroom.
Thiel is the openly gay co-founder of PayPal, an early supporter of Trump, and a huge figure in Silicon Valley. His libertarian political views are well known, and he has argued against democracy because he sees it as a threat to capitalism.
In his speech, Thiel criticized presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for her hawkish foreign policy, including her advocacy for U.S. intervention in Libya. “She pushed for war in Libya, and now it’s a training site for ISIS,” said Thiel. Trump has similarly criticized Clinton for her support for the war in Iraq and the U.S. bombing campaign in Libya. Trump has presented himself as opposed to those wars, though he supported the Iraq war before opposing it, just like he did with the Libya intervention.
Most recently, Thiel made headlines for backing Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker. Thiel has had a longstanding beef with Gawker publisher Nick Denton after Gawker’s sister site Valleywag outed Thiel as gay, though some think Thiel’s real problem with Denton was that his Valleywag’s coverage was unusually antagonistic toward Thiel’s Silicon Valley friends and interests.
Beyond PayPal, Thiel is also a founder of Palantir, a data analytics firm with ties to U.S. intelligence agencies. In 2011, Palantir circulated plans to attack journalists, specifically Glenn Greenwald, in an attempt to discredit them following critical coverage. Palantir later apologized for the plans.
Many have pointed out that Trump, who is running a nativist campaign based on anti-immigrant bias and Islamophobia, seems like an unlikely political ally of Thiel. In reality, Thiel’s anti-democratic positions aren’t far away from Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. Tech companies like Twitter and Facebook comprise more and more of our shared experience and the decisions made in their boardrooms have an outsized effect on society, for good or ill. (Thiel stayed on the Facebook board) after a vote in June.) Whether those trends are ultimately emancipatory or oppressive remains to be seen, but the heady early days where tech seemed to equate to an open society are gone.
Thiel’s endorsement of Trump is just the most obvious example of the potential dangers that come when people with limitless amounts of money begin to question basic democratic norms. It’s a trend that will likely continue, and Thiel’s speech tonight could be just the beginning.
“When Donald Trump says make America great again, he’s not talking about the past,” said Thiel. “He is running to lead us back to that bright future.”
Whatever that future looks like, Thiel and his friends will have a large role in shaping it. Given his history, that is more than a little bit troubling.
Watch the six-minute speech in-full: