Among the many dreadful side effects of Donald Trump’s election is the growing prominence of Peter Thiel. The Facebook billionaire has always been a wellspring of weirdness, but now he has power that far outstrips his Silicon Valley wealth. He placed a bet on Trump when the candidate was still a long shot, and his bet paid off big time. Since Trump values loyalty above all other qualities (including integrity and honesty), Thiel is now gunning for a position of influence within the presidential inner circle (and, apparently, governor of California).
So much so that at an extremely awkward meeting of liberal-leaning tech giants after the election at Trump tower, Trump kept awkwardly fondling Thiel’s hand as an awkward sign of affection for the country’s only prominent openly gay Trump supporter.
In essence, Thiel sold his soul for a hand job.
Thiel has always been more concerned about mortality (or at least ending it) than morality, so it’s difficult to know whether he even considers selling his soul a legitimate concern. But what is clear from his recent interview with The New York Times is that Thiel is playing a long game, and Trump is merely a convenient vehicle.
“Everyone says Trump is going to change everything way too much,” Thiel said. “Well, maybe Trump is going to change everything way too little. That seems like the much more plausible risk to me.”
While Thiel relies on cryptic remarks so much that he sounds like he’s auditioning for the role of Yoda, his focus is clear. He wants a different political system altogether, an awfully radical idea for one of the people who has most benefited from the current one.
“The election had an apocalyptic feel to it,” he acknowledged to the Times‘ Maureen Dowd. “There was a way in which Trump was funny, so you could be apocalyptic and funny at the same time. It’s a strange combination, but it’s somehow very powerful psychologically.”
Most people don’t view the apocalypse as a laugh riot. But Thiel holds views that are blissfully at odds with our current democracy. His vendetta against Gawker was a signal that someone with deep pockets can ruin a media outlet over a story that had nothing to do with him. More to the point, Thiel has expressed the belief that he does not believe that “freedom and democracy are compatible.”
If that means rampant conflict of interest and even corruption, who cares? For Thiel, high ethical performance (such a President Obama’s) is a sign that something is terribly wrong: “There’s a point where no corruption can be a bad thing. It can mean that things are too boring.” Conflict of interest doesn’t bother him either: “I think in many cases, when there’s a conflict of interest, it’s an indication that someone understands something way better than if there’s no conflict of interest.”
That’s just plain scary: A seeming open invitation to the worst people in the world to run our country.
The real question is how much influence Thiel will have on his hand-holding pal Trump. The president elect is notorious for running with the opinion of the last person he talked with. He has no fixed opinion, other than the esteem with which he holds himself. That’s what makes him so dangerous. And while Thiel has described himself as a kind of firewall between the LGBTQ community and Trump’s far right minions, there is nothing so far to indicate he has that kind of influence–or willingness to stand up for anything other than another big Republican tax cut for the already rich. Will he stand up for his gay male brothers with HIV who may lose the pre-existing condition exemption in Obamacare that many Republicans have pledged to eliminate (in a few weeks from now). Not a word so far. In fact, Trump’s would-be cabinet is already stacked with more antigay activists than any since time since Reagan.
But equality does not seem like Thiel’s goal anyway. He has very firm opinions, many of them radical. (Poor people with similar opinions would be called uneducated crackpots.)
Trump wants to rig the system for himself. Thiel wants to blow it up. To fulfill that wish, Thiel is willing to make merry with some of the most reactionary segments of society, including the Mercer family, hedge fund billionaires who have spent tens of millions of dollars bankrolling the campaigns of some of the most conservative candidates in the country.
If you think being gay is a mitigating circumstance for Thiel, you’d be wrong. He thinks the potential for a backlash against gay rights from the likes of Trump’s cabinet is overrated: “People know too many gay people.” As for Mike Pence, who wore his homophobia with pride throughout his political career, Thiel is la-de-da. “You know, maybe I should be worried, but I’m not that worried.”
As for all the rest of us who aren’t protected by vast wealth and access to the corridors of power–we are indeed worried. Very worried. But in Thiel’s up side down universe, we’re the aggressors, not the target. “For speaking at the Republican convention, I got attacked way more by liberal gay people than by conservative Christian people,” he told The Times. Perhaps, Peter, that’s because you are working with and for “conservative Christian people” who are working against us.
We’ve hardly heard the end of Thiel. The sad part is that he’s just gotten a much bigger platform for his corrosive ideas. Just don’t look for any signs of a soul as he’s spreading them.
Photo by Getty Images