Since it was announced back in May that PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor and eccentric multibillionaire Peter Thiel, famous for investing in outre longevity technologies, building free cities in the ocean, paying kids not to go to college, and dissing democracy, was going to serve as a delegate for Donald Trump at the Republican Party convention, those who found Thiel at least inspirationally bizarre were at the very least confused.
Most other big Silicon Valley money and minds were openly hostile to Trump, for many issues including his hostility to immigration and desire to force American companies to make things where he thinks they should make them, neither policy very good for Silicon Valley. Thiel's colleagues tend to just sigh about why Thiel has become a Trump booster. (Thiel is an immigrant himself, born in West Germany.)
Was he doing it because he secretly believes a Trump presidency will actually discredit democracy and government? Is he trying to position Palantir, his data surveillance company, for even more government financing and deals?
In his speech before the Republican convention tonight, you wouldn't know he had particularly radical political commitments at all. (Nor did he talk about his most recent media notoriety, for funding the lawsuits aimed at taking down the website Gawker, a move upsetting to many fans of a free press.)
Thiel sort of alluded to being anti-political, noting Trump is also not a politician. Thiel in tonight's speech implicitly believes, against most of his earlier politician statements, that somehow the federal government has the smarts, the right, and the ability to "rebuild America" with Trump at the helm, and that government ought to be spending more on high-tech.
A couple of elements that seemed at least dog whistles to the libertarian community: he does seem to speak from a perspective, common among libertarians and not very common outside of them, that bankers are guilty of creating inflationary bubbles.
He also spoke of the one area where some libertarians have strong commitments to Trump: the belief that he would be far less likely to wage "stupid wars" (although so much of this convention was about a strong commitment to overseas wars to allegedly end the terror threat of ISIS).
As much of the pre-speech chatter stressed, Thiel is gay, supposedly the first openly gay speaker at a GOP convention since then-Rep Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) 2000, and announced he was "proud" to be so and seemed the right guy to mock debates over gendered bathrooms. He admits he does not agree with every plank in the Party platform.
In summation, Thiel claims to sincerely believe that "When Donald Trump asks us to Make America Great Again, he's not suggesting a return to the past. He's running to lead us back to that bright future."
How? Why? What makes him think this? What makes him think this is a valuable and proper use of his reputation? (By all current accounts, Thiel has yet to donate any of his estimated $3 billion to supporting Trump's campaign or Trump PACs.) With no mention of any specific Trumpian governing or economic policy (certainly not his immigration and trade stances), largely bromide filled, delivering little based in Thiel's particular political pre-commitments except being interested in technology and the future, this speech did not quite make that clear.
The history-making "proud to be gay" line did not seem, from my perspective watching on TV, to bother many and got a perfectly fine reception from the crowd on the floor at the convention.