PayPal founder and a Silicon Valley iconoclast gave a rousing speech at the RNC convention in support of Donald Trump.
Thiel is a measured thinker, calculative and reserved. Trump is impulsive and the type introverted Thiel probably encountered in high school: brash and aggressive. It’s unlikely the two would have been friends.
It is, however, not unusual for two individuals who are polar opposites to form a political alliance in the face of a common enemy. But Thiel is a puritan libertarian whereas Trump is a protectionist who wants “good deals”; in essence opposing the invisible hand of laissez faire capitalism. Trump wants to control the outcome whereas Thiel wants to maximize liberty and free capitalism from constraints holding it back.
So why is a Peter Thiel, different in temperament and political philosophy supporting Donald Trump?
In a Wall Street Journal essay, a prelude to his book Zero to One, Thiel chastised companies for being competitive. Instead, he urges companies to create monopolies and to dominate their respective industries.
“By “monopoly,” I mean the kind of company that is so good at what it does that no other firm can offer a close substitute. Google is a good example of a company that went from 0 to 1: It hasn’t competed in search since the early 2000s, when it definitively distanced itself from Microsoft and Yahoo!”
As the founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, Thiel has a history of discovering new industries and consequently establishing companies that exist to win. Trump, while not an innovator or a visionary of Thiel’s caliber, is in it to win, whether real estate, booze or food products. Trump’s appetite for success seems insatiable.
The drive to dominate is arguably one common denominator between the two. Trump wants America to start winning again. For Thiel this unapologetic demand is a welcome disposition in a sea of professional politicians all campaigning too much and governing too little.
As a shareholder, wouldn’t you want the CEO of a company you invested in, to crush competition? As a voter, wouldn’t you want the candidate for president to do what’s best for the country even it meant trampling on existing treaties’?
Similar thought patterns exist between men and women who answer both questions in the affirmative. The hell with the rest, as long as your team is winning, right?
Peter Thiel has argued that except for computers, we’ve been experiencing an innovation deficit in the past forty years, and the rate of technological advancements has decreased compared to the first half of the 20th century. Trump’s complaint “we don’t make things anymore”, fits nicely into Thiel’s vision of current stagnation.
It’s likely that Thiel believes that only unbridled capitalism can save innovation. In his famous 2009 Cato essay, Thiel made the argument that the expansion of democracy is threatening capitalism.
“Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women — two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians — have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.”
You could replace the word libertarians with the word Trump and the sentence would still make for a reasonable argument.
Thiel concludes his essay with a warning that contains a wish for a messianic figure to save capitalism from the many threats it faces.
“The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.”
By this Thiel seems to suggest that politics must be disrupted by a forceful figure who does not care about existing social or political boundaries. Thiel is telling his fellow libertarians to look for solutions such as commercialization of space, settling oceans and the creation of a new currency to escape the shackles of social democracy.
Seven years later it seems that Thiel is settling for Trump. But it’s hardly foolish to assume that Trump is exactly the candidate to reverse the current trend of social democracy and its many side products such as political correctness and safe spaces. For Thiel, Trump is a good start and a glimmer of hope.
Pundits have suggested that Thiel is arguing for a post-democracy America. While this may be the case it’s important to remember that America is a republic in which the people choose representatives who make policy decisions on their behalf.
It’s obvious both Trump and Thiel don’t have much love for their political opponents. Ingrained in their political philosophies is an authoritarian strain that wants to bypass democratic means in order to achieve a goal.
This is not to suggest that President Trump’s America would be a fascistic regime. It simply implies that Trump’s America would be fundamentally different from what we have seen and potentially pave the way for a future less concerned about democracy and more focused on winning – whatever that may be. For Thiel, a Trump presidency comes with a promise of a very different tomorrow and that’s enough to satisfy the man’s quest for political disruption, for now at least.