Billionaire venture capitalist and professional contrarian Peter Thiel hailed a new political reality this morning with another public endorsement of fellow billionaire Donald Trump just days before the US elections.
The Paypal cofounder and early Facebook investor travelled from Silicon Valley to Washington DC to hold a press conference, in which he warned at length that the entire country had gone down the wrong path. Just like Trump, however, he failed to move from diagnosis to cure and outline any actual proposals to fix things.
A worrying 64 percent of people over age 55 have less than a year’s worth of savings, Thiel warned. Healthcare is 10 times in the US what it is in the rest of the world. College tuition continues to rise above inflation. Incomes aren't moving. And the government is "wasting trillions of dollars" on wars.
What's he going to do about it as someone with access to huge amounts of capital and brainpower? Complain, of course.
"No matter what happens in this election, what Trump represents is not crazy, and it's not going away. He points to a new Republican Party beyond the dogmas of Reaganism," said Thiel, adding: "When the distracting spectacles of this election season are forgotten, the only important question will be whether or not that new politics came too late."
At a time when the political establishment has increasingly and publicly distanced itself from the Republican nominee following months of racist, sexist and other similarly offensive comments, it is perhaps unsurprising that Thiel – who relishes taking the opposite view to whatever becomes commonly accepted – has become a fervent supporter. He recently donated $1.25m to Trump's campaign.
Who's in Peter's file?
In 2012, Thiel supported Ron Paul for the presidency, then Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan when Ron Paul dropped out. That was a dead-end move. Next in 2016, Thiel supported Carly Fiorina; when she dropped out, Ted Cruz. Only when Cruz dropped out did Thiel express his support for Trump, later appearing on stage at the Republican convention to express his pride at being gay – to a political party that "supports traditional marriage."
In just one of a list of seemingly endless contradictions, Thiel's pride at being gay comes after tabloid rag Gawker told the world that he is indeed very gay – a decision that so infuriated him that he secretly funded a number of lawsuits, including Hulk Hogan's, against Gawker in an effort to bankrupt the online publication. He succeeded.
Asked specifically about that funding effort, Thiel argued that Hogan was not able to use the legal system properly himself because he was only "a single-digit millionaire." Thiel said:
If you're a single-digit millionaire like Hulk Hogan, you have no effective access to our legal system.
He also claimed that a number of journalists had told him privately that they supported his secret legal campaign against Gawker – a claim that, again, matches Trump's willingness to say whatever helps his argument at the time, regardless of whether it is based in reality.
As for his sexuality, Thiel was asked if he had asked Republicans behind the scenes if they would protect gay rights – in particular recent decisions on equality such as same-sex marriage. Thiel said he had not had any such conversations.
So... when Donald said...
Inevitably, Thiel faced a series of questions asking how he excused the enormous range of concerns against Trump. The religious test for immigrants aka Ban the Muslims? Thiel "wouldn't support the specific language that Trump has used."
The "grab 'em by the pussy" and related offensive remarks going back decades? They were in "extremely poor taste and extremely inappropriate" but, according to Thiel, Trump wouldn't say such things today. Trump's failure to follow long-standing precedent and release his tax returns? Thiel thinks the government is too focused on transparency.
The problem, according to Thiel, is that the media is taking what Trump says literally.
"I think one thing that should be distinguished here is the media is always taking Trump literally. They don't take him seriously, but they take him literally," he argued. "I think a lot of voters take Trump seriously but not literally. So when they hear things like the Muslim comment or the wall comment or things like that, the question is not 'are you going to build a wall like the Great Wall of China' or 'how exactly are you going to force these tests' – what they hear is we're going to have a saner, more sensible immigration policy?"
Of course, as many people have pointed out before now, taking the words that someone says and assuming that they meant them is pretty much how human communication works.
For example: Peter Thiel announced that he was going to sell all his shares in Facebook and spend hundreds of millions of dollars harvesting the blood from thousands of young gay men which he would then drink while naked.
Not literally of course. He didn't literally say that. He just has a lot shares in Facebook and has been investing in technology to inject young people's blood into older people as a way of keeping them young. We just added a few words about him selling the shares and harvesting blood and homosexuality.
"Nobody would suggest that Donald Trump is a humble man, but the big things that he is right about amount to a much-needed dose of humility," argued Thiel.
Thiel went on in a similar vein for some time. All of which begs the question: why is he doing this? It's hard to tell. Thiel has always been a private person, so his recent decision to put himself in a very public position at the height of an election campaign is truly odd behavior, even for him.
It is possible that Thiel is being contrary to his own nature. It is also highly probable that his taste for using his position and wealth to try to bring about change in the direction he wants things to move has become insatiable. And, with so few establishment figures actively supporting Trump, in the event that Trump actually does win the presidency, Thiel could find himself in a position of some influence.
Thiel certainly had a lot to say about himself during the conference, spending long chunks of time dissecting his own wisdom and insight in a way that only politicians, billionaires and the clinically insane are really capable of.
Of course the other question is: why are we even listening to the views of Peter Thiel, especially when it has little or nothing to do with his area of expertise – technology?
And the answer to that is the same that has given us Donald Trump in the first place: the strange fascination society has for people willing to say the unsayable and stick by their comments regardless of fact, reason or self-reflection.
In just over a week, we will find out whether Thiel and Trump's particular brand of contradictory fear mongering is something that the US is going to have to endure for four years, or whether we can all go back to mocking – and ignoring – egomaniacal billionaires. ®