The Heartland Has Been Devastated: Peter Thiel Speaks Up


In a speech at the National Press Club on October 31, billionaire businessman and tech pioneer Peter Thiel defended his controversial decision, which has caused intense debate and earned Thiel the wrath of Silicon Valley liberal elites, to back Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“Everybody knows we’ve been living through a crazy election year,” so begins Thiel’s speech. “Real events seem like the rehearsals for Saturday Night Live. Only an outbreak of insanity would seem to account for the unprecedented fact that this year a political outsider managed to win a major party nomination.”

Thiel’s speech was streamed live and a full recording on YouTube had half a million views so far. In his introduction, Thomas Burr, Washington correspondent for The Salt Lake Tribune and 109th president of the National Press, recalled Thiel’s impressive track record as PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor, among many other success stories. Burr also mentioned the recent storm caused by Thiel’s political choices – after speaking in support of Trump at the Republican National Convention, Thiel is donating $1.25 million to Trump’s campaign.

Thiel agrees that Trump’s words about women in a recently leaked 2005 video were “clearly offensive and inappropriate,” but is persuaded that Trump’s voters have more important concerns to worry about. “[We]’ve lost tens of thousands of factories and millions of jobs to foreign trade,” he said.

The heartland has been devastated.

“[Money] flows into financial assets; it distorts our economy in favor of more banking and more financialization; and it gives the well-connected people who benefit a reason to defend the status quo,” continued Thiel. “But not everyone benefits, and Trump voters know it. Trump voters are also tired of war.”

Clinton’s proposed course of action would do worse than involve us in a messy civil war; it would risk a direct nuclear conflict.

According to Thiel, there are loud voices that do not intend to tolerate the views of one half of the country.

“This intolerance has taken on some bizarre forms,” notes Thiel. “The Advocate, a magazine which once praised me as a ‘gay innovator,’ even published an article saying that as of now I am, and I quote, ‘not a gay man,’ because I don’t agree with their politics.”

The lie behind the buzzword of ‘diversity’ could not be made more clear: If you don’t conform, then you don’t count as ‘diverse,’ no matter what your personal background.

The Advocate article Thiel is referring to is here, and it does seem intolerant indeed, to say the least. The Advocate replied with a disclaimer, saying that commentary pieces “represent only the views of the writer, not the entire publication.”

Thiel’s point about diversity has been recently emphasized by Mark Zuckerberg, one of the few Silicon Valley tech titans who have spoken up in support of Thiel. “We can’t create a culture that says it cares about diversity and then excludes almost half the country because they back a political candidate,” said Zuckerberg. “There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault.”

Similarly, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos doesn’t consider Thiel’s personal political views as a valid reason to boycott Thiel. “It’s way too divisive to say if you have an opinion, you can’t sit on my board,” said Bezos. “That makes no sense.”

We Have Fallen Very Far From the Apollo Standard

Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel

Thiel is known for his Libertarian views, but he recognizes that the government has a job to do, and doesn’t claim that the government never works. On the contrary, he recalled past government success stories.

“[The] government wasn’t always this broken,” Thiel said. “The Manhattan Project, the Interstate Highway System, and the Apollo Program – whatever you think of these ventures, you cannot doubt the competence of the government that got them done. But we have fallen very far from that standard.”

These words echo Thiel’s famous remark: “We were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters.” It’s no surprise that Silicon Valley, which these days does too much 140 characters and not enough flying cars (with some exceptions though) doesn’t like Thiel.

“It is better to risk boldness than triviality,” says Thiel in his “Zero to One” book on startups and how to build the future. In the book’s conclusion, Thiel proposes to accelerate “takeoff toward a much better future,” perhaps toward “new technologies so powerful as to transcend the current limits of our understanding.” In his speech in support of Trump at the Republican National Convention, Thiel criticized the triviality that seems to dominate today’s politics. “When I was a kid, the great debate was about how to defeat the Soviet Union,” he said. “And we won.”

Now we are told that the great debate is about who gets to use which bathroom. This is a distraction from our real problems. Who cares?


Images and video from National Press Club and Wikimedia Commons.

Giulio Prisco is a freelance writer specialized in science, technology, business and future studies.