Peter Thiel is an icon of the tech community and entrepreneurs everywhere. So whatever he says or does is closely watched the world over. When he took the stage at the Republican Convention, his speech was probably the most significant besides those by the Trump family. So what happened to the iconoclastic Peter Thiel? Is he just a regular guy riding the Trump gravy train of free PR? How did a staunch lifelong supporter of libertarianism end up on that stage?
First some background on Mr. Thiel. Born in West Germany he moved with his family to California when he was a year old. He went on to get his BA and JD at Stanford, and his big entrepreneurial success came with his founding of PayPal -- made around $50 million from that. His big investor success came when he wrote the first $500,000 check to Facebook and joined its board -- made over $1 billion from that. Then there are dozens of other investments such as in LinkedIn and Palantir that made him a ton more money. All notable achievements but nothing that would set him apart from a couple of hundred tech stars in Silicon Valley.
What made Peter Thiel interesting were his grand visions for America and for humanity. When he was at Stanford he started The Stanford Review, a Libertarian college newspaper. And his libertarian streak has been visible in many of his initiatives. He funded something called "seasteading" which is a plan to establish independent ocean communities (think floating countries in international waters) with their own social and legal structures, not tethered to any nation. Besides being a member of the Libertarian Party he has funded various candidates that share those views, including supporting Ron Paul for president.
An iconoclast like Mr. Thiel could have impacted libertarianism with a $100 million check that would have finally broken the stranglehold of the two-party system...
Mr. Thiel's other initiatives include funding anti-aging research that will help us live forever, fellowships for kids who drop out of college to start companies, supporting causes to protect freedom of journalists, various gay rights causes, and so on. All of these initiatives coupled with his strong libertarian views made him a very special person, often mentioned in the same breath as Elon Musk.
2016 is a unique year in American politics. Two very unpopular and flawed candidates are set to battle it out. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton arouse such passions of hate from the opposite camps that this election is dividing this country as never before. The libertarian ticket consists of two tested former governors, Gary Johnson of New Mexico and Bill Weld of Massachusetts. Both conservative libertarians, much in the mould of Peter Thiel and everything he has stood for his entire life.
An iconoclast like Mr. Thiel could have impacted libertarianism with a $100 million check that would have finally broken the stranglehold of the two-party system, paving the way for a responsive political system in the future. But what does Mr. Thiel do when presented with this opportunity that he is so uniquely placed to capitalize on? He gets on the stage with Mr. Trump and lends his support to causes that are anti-immigrant, sexist, racist and religiously bigoted. So much for Peter Thiel.