Remember the full-throated endorsement of Donald Trump that Silicon Valley mogul Peter Thiel gave at the Republican convention? Thiel got a prime-time spot to echo the convention theme that America was going down the drain, adding “fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline, and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.”
At first glance, Thiel’s support for Trump was a bit of a mystery, since the Facebook billionaire used to be more of a libertarian than a Trumpist. Of course, he might have liked Trump’s willingness to weaken the First Amendment by loosening libel laws, which could have saved him some lawyer fees when he destroyed Gawker. Or maybe it was the idea that Trump could appoint him to the Supreme Court.
But right now, instead of telling the world how great Donald is, all the world is hearing from Thiel is crickets.
Both Gizmodo and The Hill have been badgering Thiel’s PR people for an answer to the question of whether Thiel still backs the nominee in light of his boasting about sexual assault. They haven’t gotten a single response to their inquiries.
Instead, Thiel is using the language he’s most fluent in to express his support: money. A source close to Thiel said that he will donate a total of $1.25 million to Trump’s campaign and a pro-Trump Super PAC. That puts Thiel among Trump’s biggest donors, who are increasingly few and far between in any event.
The donation is a clear signal that Thiel has no intention of abandoning Trump despite the candidate’s erratic public behavior, unending stream of lies and falsehoods, and boasts of sexual assault. If anything, Thiel is doubling down on Trump.
Unfortunately, many of those crazy ideas have a very dark side to them. Chief among them is Thiel’s statement that “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” He’s expressed this idea more specifically about women’s suffrage and acted upon it quite forcefully when it comes to freedom of the press.
Of course, it just so happens that those are two big themes among Trump’s supporters these days. After Nate Silver tweeted a map of Trump being buried in a landslide if only women voted, Trump supporters started tweeting #Repealthe19th, the amendment that granted women the right to vote. As for the press, with their display of unbridled hatred for the media, Trump rallies are often a frightening experience, even for reporters used to being reviled.
Perhaps the scariest thought of all is that Thiel is backing Trump because he sees Trump as a chance to break our nation’s attachment to democracy. (Jeff Bercovici of Inc. eloquently outlined this idea last July.) In essence, we all think within the box when we think about how to repair the damage that Trump is causing our institutions. But Thiel thinks outside the box.
Thiel has already opined that his idea of freedom and our current system cannot co-exist. For Thiel, maybe Trump’s willingness to destroy political norms and ruin institutions isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.
That might be the most frightening idea of all.