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Trump 42: Peter Thiel

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Donald Trump’s run for the presidency seems to be singularly oriented around Donald Trump; the drop from him to the next figure of real significance is steep. Theoretically, the secondary figure might be Mike Pence, the vice presidential nominee. But we mostly hear from him, it seems, when he’s disagreeing with some oddball statement by his principal. There may be good reason we don’t hear more from him.

Aside from family, political figures and other celebrity types, the one other notable figure at the National Republican Convention this year, the one other that Trump might actually think of as something of a peer, is Peter Thiel, who did get a convention speaking slot, and a prime one, shortly before Trump’s own acceptance speech.

Much of the attention went to the point that he was “the first person ever at a GOP convention to declare from the stage that he is gay.” Besides that, he is a major tech industry figure, a central leader in the development of Facebook and Paypal.

No problem with any of that. But when word began to circulate widely that Trump was interested in appointing him to the Supreme Court – Thiel is a lawyer – some reviews of Thiel’s views were prompted. Thiel seems to be one of the few people whose views Trump has sought out for reference and maybe implementation, and could take a major place in a Trump administration, so they are well worth the review.

And some of them, if turned into some form of reality, could be well into the range of scary.

Some sound simply creative and out of the box, such as his co-founding of the Seasteading Institute, which has the fascinating (for libertarians) idea of establishing cities relatively free of government out in the oceans. Other initial enthusiasts appear to have backed away as the details of making such a thing happen proved hard to pin down.

It’s the kind of thinking you might expect and – in its creativity – work for a high-tech executive, but not so much for a person tasked with running an actual, real-world government. (Which Thiel isn’t – yet.)

Of more concern are some more philosophical thoughts he has let loose, which again are fine coming from a private citizen but would be scary if put into office.

In 2009, he wrote this for a Cato Institute publication: “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible. […] 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.” He leaves no doubt that in a conflict between the two, his sympathies lie with capitalism, not democracy.

Red flags should shoot up all over the place on reading this, and some did in 2009. Thiel partially walked back his statement to say he didn’t want to take away anyone’s right to vote. He has also added, “We’re living in a representative republic, but then that’s modified through a judicial system. Of course, that’s been largely superseded by these very unelected agencies of one sort or another, which really drive most of the decision-making.”

When the Wall Street Journal ran a piece about Thiel, Trump and the convention, a commenter named Tom Channing offered this by way of putting the pieces together:

“Peter Thiel is explicitly against the concept of democracy. This isn’t something people concluded about him, it’s something he proudly said himself. This is a conclusion he came to after a lot of deep thought. Unlike Trump, who is personally stupid and child-like, Peter Thiel is a very smart guy and doesn’t say or do things without understanding their full implications.”

The Guardian newspaper put it this way: “Trump isn’t just a flamethrower for torching a rotten establishment, however – he’s the fulfillment of Thiel’s desire to build a successful political movement for less democracy. A Trump administration would diminish democracy, lending credibility to white supremacy and ultranationalism. Trump is openly campaigning on the idea that American democracy should belong to fewer people. . . . Such an outcome would fit Thiel’s purposes well. For Thiel, a smaller, more easily manipulated mob is preferable to a bigger one. If democracy can’t be eliminated, at least it can be shrunk through authoritarianism. A strongman like Trump, by exploiting the racial hatred and economic rage of one group of Americans, would work to delegitimize and disempower other groups of Americans.”

A quarter-millennium of progress toward expanding democracy, voting participation and human rights in America could stand on the edge of reversal in this coming election. – rs

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