Peter Thiel On Backing Trump: The Establishment 'Glosses Over' All The Problems In Our Society

Chris Menahan
Jul. 31, 2018

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel discussed his support for President Donald Trump in an interview released Sunday in the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche and why he feels we're in an "apocalyptic battle" with a "center-left establishment in both Western Europe and the US" which "glosses over all the short- and long-term problems in our societies."

From Die Weltwoche:
Tell us about how your support for Donald Trump for president of the United States was received in the Silicon Valley.

That was quite striking. My support for Donald Trump was, on some level, the least contrarian thing I have ever done. If it is half the country, it cannot be that contrarian. And yet, in the Silicon Valley context it has felt extraordinarily contrarian. It is not that politics is the most important thing. I think there are many things that are much more important than politics: Science is more important, technology is more important, philosophy, religion... We normally think that political correctness is literally about politics. But politics is sort of a natural place to start. If you cannot even have differences of opinion in politics, that’s a sign that things are very unhealthy.


Because in a democracy, we believe that the average person should be able to make some judgements: Do you like the funny man with the strange hairdo or do you like the mean grandmother for president in the United States? These are some common sense things that people should be able to debate. And if you say that you are not allowed to think about that, then you probably should not be allowed to think about anything.

At some point, you described that the last presidential election felt like an apocalyptic battle. What exactly did you feel was at stake?

There are these essays by a person called Michael Anton. They are all written pseudonymously because he felt it was too dangerous to write names. One of them was titled “The Flight 93 Election”. Flight 93 was one of the four flights that was hijacked after 9/11 but it was the one where the passengers took over, they charged the cockpit – plane still crashed. And it was like that it felt that the country had been taken over and it was on a catastrophic trajectory, that people were going to try to charge the cockpit. It didn’t mean that they would be able to ride the plane or the ship or whatever the metaphor is, but “we’re gonna try”. So I do think that “The Flight 93 Election” is a powerful metaphor and, emotionally, that certainly resonated with me.

What is the explanatory power of this metaphor?

It is this very deep sense that the United States – the western world as a whole – are not progressing in the direction they should. We have a center-left establishment in both Western Europe and the US that mainly glosses over all the short- and long-term problems in our societies. And if something is not done, at some point it becomes too late to fix things. And the hour was very late.

What was unique about the Trump campaign?

Republican candidates have always been way too glibly optimistic about everything. I’ve thought for many years that it was critical for the Republicans to somehow run a more pessimistic candidate just because that was a more honest description of what was going on. It is very hard to know how to do that because if you are too pessimistic, you demotivate people: If everything is just going down the drain, no point even voting for me. Somehow, the genius of Trump was that it was extraordinarily pessimistic, and yet still extraordinarily motivational. The slogan “Make America Great Again”, the most pessimistic slogan of any presidential candidate in a hundred years: The country used to be great, it is no longer great. That is a shocking, shocking statement!

Which offended some people.

I can understand why it is extremely offensive and why it is maybe uniquely offensive in Silicon Valley. It is the substance of reason why Silicon Valley had some justification to be upset with Trump. Since Silicon Valley tells itself a story that it is making the world dramatically better, in a way that Wall Street does not, there was something about that slogan that was uniquely offensive. But I think the question that Silicon Valley and the country would do well to ask, is: Is it true? How much real progress have we had?

And the answer is?

My judgement certainly is that there is a lot more truth on the Trump side than on the, let’s call it Google Propaganda, the alternative where everything is just automatically getting better. Certainly, one of the experiences throughout the western world is that the younger generation, for the most part, does not expect to have lives as good as those of their parents. We can say they are wrong, they don’t understand anything about their lives. But, again, the common-sense, anti “political correctness” intuition is that you trust people’s common sense, you trust their judgements and that judgement is an incredible indictment of our elites.

In 2016, you switched your party affiliation from Libertarian to Republican…

You should not believe everything on Wikipedia. I have always been a registered Republican. But I still think of myself as philosophically quite libertarian: I do believe in a smaller government, free markets, socially moderate positions, less interventionist foreign policy… I would actually strongly defend president Trump on libertarian grounds. I know lots of libertarians would not agree with this. The dimension that is always very important is the foreign-policy one from a libertarian point of view. Trump represents a major break from the super-aggressive foreign policy of the Bush administrations or even the Clinton and Obama administrations. If the US goes into another major war like Libya or Syria, I will have misgivings about it. But so far, we are a year and a half, and I feel very good about it.

You were on Donald Trump’s transition team. In which respect is he different than everybody else you’ve met before?

I think it is his extraordinary ability to understand people. If he interviewed you for a job, he would right go to the essence. In the Western world, we are behind layers and layers and layers of political correctness, where we cannot say things, we cannot make judgements about people, we cannot evaluate people, we can’t say this person is better than this person because this or this reason. If you can just cut through this political correctness, that is tremendously valuable and it is hard to understate how much it distorts things.

How happy are you with his performance so far?

I think it is impressive how much President Trump has achieved in the first year and a half. And it has been very rocky, more polarized than I would have thought. I am struck by how much the debate has shifted on topics…

Even in the Silicon Valley?

The trade debate has shifted. There is nobody in Silicon Valley who defends China. They won’t officially agree with Trump. I think the immigration debate has shifted a decent amount in the US, and even more so in Europe. Nobody wants to give President Trump credit for that, but when I talk to people in Europe, well they dislike President Trump, but there has been a sea change on that. I think he shifted the debate quite significantly on NATO and China – even in Germany, everybody agrees that they are not paying enough. That’s important. It’s not: Can you overwhelm the other side? It’s when you get the other side to change their mind. That’s where policy really shifts. And it’s striking how much this has happened given how polarized things are.

If you would have to bet on the Midterm elections, what is your best bet?

I think they will keep the Senate, House will be hard. But I would say that there is a better-than-50-percent-chance that President Trump gets reelected. I think if he runs, he will get reelected.
Read the full interview on Die Weltwoche.

Here's a short overview of some of the short- and long-term problems in our society Thiel was likely alluding to.

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