The Silicon Valley billionaire and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has been appointed to Donald Trump’s transition team. He was Facebook’s first outside investor and is worth almost $3bn. A well-known entrepreneur in the tech world, like Elon Musk he is a member of the influential PayPal diaspora.
Thiel, 49, is perhaps an unlikely Trump supporter. He was born in Germany, is gay, and has called John F Kennedy his favourite president. And it’s unlikely that his staunch libertarianism drew him towards the Republican candidate; Trump is infamously no supporter of free trade, free movement or cutting back on state spending.
Perhaps their starkest similarity is their dubious relationship with the electorate. “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” Thiel wrote in a 2009 essay. In the same piece, he lamented female voters’ tendency not to lean towards libertarianism, and the influence of left-wing voters who claim welfare.
The two men also appear to share a hatred of multiculturalism. In the Nineties, Thiel co-authored a book questioning the pursuit of diversity on campuses, and opposing affirmative action, called The Diversity Myth. He argued against courses in African-American history, gender studies, sex education and special support centres for ethnic minorities. The book also says that this progressive college culture leads to rape claims which are actually “seductions that are later regretted”. The authors asked: “Why is all blame placed on the man?”
Thiel has since apologised for some of his statements in this book, saying he now has a “much more nuanced” understanding of identity politics, and “rape in all forms is a crime. I regret writing passages that have been taken to suggest otherwise.”
The billionaire is notorious in the media world for his part in the downfall of digital news site, Gawker. Stung by a story that he claims outed him as gay, Thiel went on to fund a third-party lawsuit against the site, underwriting wrestler Hulk Hogan’s case over Gawker’s publication of his sex tape. The lawsuit bankrupted Gawker, which was ordered to pay out more than $32m in a settlement. Thiel revealed he’d spent around $10m bankrolling lawsuits against the site.
A lonely voice of support for Trump among the tech world, Thiel has earned his place in the President-Elect’s inner circle. Some Silicon Valley figures were put out when he donated $1.25m to Trump’s campaign in October, following sexual assault allegations against the candidate (though Mark Zuckerberg defended Thiel, saying it was important to have “diversity” on the Facebook board).
It seems appropriate that Thiel, as one of Donald Trump’s top team, has a stake in Facebook. He is an investor and board member of the social network, whose news trend algorithm has been accused of influencing the US election. Now it’ll be Thiel influencing its aftermath.