Few big-name Trumpkins have prompted as much bewilderment and turmoil as Thiel. His headline speech at the Republican nominating convention was weird enough. But then in mid-October, he announced he was giving $1.25 million to the Trump cause. Not a huge sum by the standards of fat-cat donors, but enough to send Silicon Valley into a flurry of How could hes! and No he did nots!
Admittedly, Thiel has always been an odd bird, with his passion for, as he called them Monday, “fringy” causes (seasteading, anti-aging measures, the development of a civilization-altering artificial superintelligence somewhat creepily known as The Singularity…). And Thiel’s libertarian political leanings led him to back the decidedly fringy Ron Paul in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential races.
But to actually provide material aid to Donald Trump in all his race-baiting, immigrant-bashing, misogynistic, sexually predatory, religiously bigoted vulgarity? That was beyond the pale for many in the left-leaning Bay Area--not to mention the immigration-friendly Silicon Valley. There were immediate calls from within tech world for companies to sever ties with Thiel. Both Facebook (on whose board he sits) and Y Combinator (with whom he is a part-time partner) felt compelled to defend their continued relationship with him. At the press club, Thiel downplayed the drama, even as he voiced surprise at “the pushback.” He allowed, “I really didn’t think that there would be this sort of visceral reaction.”
Maybe. But from what we’ve seen and heard from Thiel, one gets the feeling that Trump’s gift for provoking outrage is central to the nominee’s appeal for his fellow billionaire. Like Trump, Thiel himself takes great pride in being a disruptive force. He favors revolutionary ideas and people with big plans for blowing things up and remaking the world. (His foundation even set up a grant-making body aimed at turning “wild ideas into world-changing technologies.”) He loves to slam Silicon Valley for thinking small. (A Twitter critic, one of his pet quotes is, “We wanted flying cars, and instead what we got was 140 characters.”) And in 2010 he established a fellowship to provide $2 million in grants to urge young entrepreneurs to quit college and start their own enterprises.
Also like Trump, Thiel loves to grump about multiculturalism and political correctness. (He in fact wrote an entire book on “The Diversity Myth”). He seems to feel strangely vindicated by the abuse he is taking over Trump. Early in his prepared remarks (which ran about 15 minutes), Thiel mentioned that the LGBT-interest publication The Advocate, which had once praised him as a gay innovator, was now asserting that in fundamental ways he is “not a gay man.” He informed the assembled journalists, “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.”