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Transcript of Peter Thiel’s Speech On Trump

2016 November 1
by Ian Welsh

This isn’t a crazy speech.


To the people who are used to influencing our choice of leaders, to the wealthy people who give money and the commentators who give reasons why, it all seems like a bad dream. Donors don’t want to find out how and why we got here. They just want to move on. Come November 9th, they hope everyone else will go back to business as usual.

But it is just this heedlessness, this temptation to ignore difficult realities, indulged in by our most influential citizens, that got us where we are today. A lot of successful people are too proud to admit it, since it seems to put their success in question, but the truth is: No matter how crazy this election seems, it is less crazy than the condition of our country

Just look at the generation that supplies most of our leaders: The Baby Boomers are entering retirement in a state of actuarial bankruptcy: 64 percent of those over the age of 55 have less than a year’s worth of savings to their name.

That is a problem, especially when this is the only country where you have to pay up to 10 times as much for simple medicines as you would pay anywhere else. America’s overpriced healthcare system might help subsidize the rest of the world. But that doesn’t help the Americans who can’t afford it, and they’ve started to notice.

Our youngest citizens may not have huge medical bills, but their college tuition keeps on increasing faster than the rate of inflation, adding more every year to our $1.3 trillion dollar mountain of student debt. America has become the only country where students take on loans they can never escape, not even by declaring bankruptcy. Stuck in this broken system, Millennials are the first generation who expect their own lives to be worse than the lives of their parents.

While American families’ expenses have been increasing relentlessly, their incomes have been stagnant. In real dollars, the median household makes less money today than it made 17 years ago. Nearly half of Americans wouldn’t be able to come up with $400 if they needed it for an emergency.

Yet while households struggle to keep up with the challenges of everyday life, the government is wasting trillions of dollars of taxpayer money on faraway wars. Right now, we’re fighting five of them: in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia.

Now, not everyone is hurting. In the wealthy suburbs that ring Washington, DC, people are doing just fine. Where I work in Silicon Valley, people are doing just great. But most Americans don’t live by the Beltway or the San Francisco Bay. Most Americans haven’t been part of that prosperity. It shouldn’t be surprising to see people vote for Bernie Sanders, or for Donald Trump, who is the only outsider left in the race.

Very few people who vote for President have ever thought of doing something so extreme as running for President. The people who run are often polarizing. This election year, both major candidates are imperfect people, to say the least.

I don’t agree with everything Donald Trump has said and done — and I don’t think the millions of other people voting for him do, either. Nobody thinks his comments about women were acceptable; I agree they were clearly offensive and inappropriate. But I don’t think voters pull the lever in order to endorse a candidate’s flaws. It’s not a lack of judgment that leads Americans to vote for Trump; we’re voting for Trump because we judge the leadership of our country to have failed.

This judgment has been hard to accept for some of the country’s most fortunate, socially prominent people. It’s certainly been hard to accept for Silicon Valley, where many people have learned to keep quiet if they dissent from the coastal bubble. Louder voices have sent a message that they do not intend to tolerate the views of one half of the country.

This intolerance has taken on some bizarre forms. 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.

Faced with such contempt, why do voters still support Donald Trump? Even if they think the American situation is serious, why would they think that Trump, of all people, could make it any better?

I think it’s because of the big things that Trump gets right. For example: Free trade has not worked out well for all of America. It helps Trump that the other side just doesn’t get it: All of our elites preach free trade. The highly-educated people who make public policy explain that cheap imports make everyone a winner, according to economic theory. But in actual practice, we’ve lost tens of thousands of factories and millions ofjobs to foreign trade. The heartland has been devastated. Maybe policymakers really believe that nobody loses, or maybe they don’t worry about it too much because they think they’re among the winners.

The sheer size of the US trade deficit shows that something has gone badly wrong. The most developed country in the world should be exporting capital to less developed countries; instead, the United States is importing more than $500 billion dollars every year. That 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. But not everyone benefits, and Trump voters know it.

Trump voters are also tired of war. We have been at war for 15 years, and we have spent more than $4.6 trillion dollars. More than two million people have lost their lives, and more than 5,000 American soldiers have been killed. But we haven’t won. The Bush administration promised that $50 billion dollars could bring democracy to Iraq; instead, we’ve squandered 40 times as much to bring about chaos.

Yet even after these bipartisan failures, the Democratic party is more hawkish today than at any time since it began the war in Vietnam. Harking back to the no-fly-zone that Bill Clinton enforced over Iraq before Bush’s failed war, now Hillary Clinton has called for a no-fly zone over Syria. Incredibly, that would be a mistake even more reckless than invading Iraq. Since most of the planes flying over Syria today are Russian planes, Clinton’s proposed course of action would do worse than involve us in a messy civil war; it would risk a direct nuclear conflict.

What explains this eagerness to escalate a dangerous situation? How can Hillary Clinton be so wildly overoptimistic about the outcome of war? I would suggest that it comes from a lot of practice. For a long time, our elites have been in the habit of denying difficult realities.

That’s how bubbles form. Whenever there is a hard problem, but people want to believe in an easy solution, they will be tempted to deny reality and inflate a bubble. Something about the experience of the Baby Boomers, whose lives have been so much easier than their parents’ or their childrens’, has led them to buy into bubbles again and again. The trade bubble says everyone’s a winner. The war bubble says victory is just around the corner. But these overoptimistic stories simply haven’t been true. And voters are tired of being lied to.

It was both insane and somehow inevitable that DC insiders expected this election to be a rerun between the two political dynasties who led us through the two most gigantic financial bubbles of our time. President George W. Bush presided over the inflation of a housing bubble so big that its collapse is still causing economic stagnation today. But what’s strangely forgotten is that last decade’s housing bubble was just an attempt to make up for the gains that had been lost in the decade before that. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton presided over an enormous stock market bubble and a devastating crash in 2000, just as his second term was coming to an end. That’s how long the same people have been pursuing the same disastrous policies.

Now that somebody different is in the running, someone who rejects the false reassuring stories that tell us everything is fine, his larger than life persona attracts a lot of attention. Nobody would suggest that Donald Trump is a “humble” man. But the big things he’s right about amount to a much-needed dose of humility in our politics. Very unusually for a presidential candidate, he has questioned the core concept of American “exceptionalism.” He doesn’t think the force of optimism alone can change reality without hard work.

Just as much as it’s about making America great, Trump’s agenda is about making America a normal country. A normal country doesn’t have a half trillion dollar trade deficit. A normal country doesn’t fight five simultaneous, undeclared wars. In a normal country, the government actually does its job.

And today, it’s important to recognize that the government has a job to do. Voters are tired of hearing conservative politicians say that government never works. They know the government wasn’t always this broken. 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, and we cannot let free market ideology serve as an excuse for decline.

No matter what happens in this election, what Trump represents isn’t crazy and it’s not going away. He points toward a new Republican party beyond the dogmas of Reaganism. He points even beyond the remaking of one party to a new American politics that overcomes denial, rejects bubble thinking, and reckons with reality. When the distracting spectacles of this election season are forgotten and the history of our time is written, the only important question will be whether or not that new politics came too late.

20 Responses
  1. November 1, 2016

    As for Thiel’s thoughts, speaking as a self-identified Leftist and Progressive, with the credit card receipts for Sanders donations to prove it, I think most of what he says is right. But then he veers way off the road, in my view, by saying that the Trumpistas want to make America a normal country, and are harbingers of “a new American politics that overcomes denial, rejects bubble thinking, and reckons with reality.” No – that’s not the Donald Trump that’s making speeches. The people are angry, and Trump is a Molotov cocktail, as Michael Moore has put it. But those who are wearing “Make America Great Again” baseball caps are not looking for reality-based solutions.

  2. November 1, 2016

    OK – now the Thiel piece appears where one would expect it to. Just leave out that stuff in my previous comment, thanks.

  3. Peter VE permalink
    November 1, 2016

    Remarkably, this seems to be somewhat different that what has been reported in the house organ of the American Empire.

  4. November 1, 2016

    Only one thing:
    Isn’t Trump an elitist as well?
    What really makes him (ultimately) all that different?

  5. EmilianoZ permalink
    November 1, 2016

    Millennials are the first generation who expect their own lives to be worse than the lives of their parents.

    I believe that distinction belongs to the Gen-Xers.

  6. anonone permalink
    November 1, 2016

    What Trump represents IS utterly crazy even if it is not going away.

    Peter Thiel is just perpetuating the craziness.

    As horrible as things are (and I do agree that they are horrible), “change” can be either for the better or for the worse. Trump represents a “change” that would be dramatically and horribly worse than even the current national SNAFU in which we find ourselves.

  7. Pelham permalink
    November 1, 2016

    Trump may be elitist, as Tal Hartsfeld suggests. But he’s not a meritocrat in the Clinton mold. Maybe that’s the key distinction.

    The fact that he talks like a member of the ring-a-ding-ding Rat Pack of the ’60s indicates something else. Quite what that means politically, I’m not sure, but as Thiel notes, Trump manages to be on the bright side of some very big issues.

  8. Tom W Harris permalink
    November 1, 2016

    Bye, Felicia.

  9. Lizzy L permalink
    November 1, 2016

    The Trump Peter Thiel describes is not the Trump I see, nor is it the Trump many of his voters support. The Trump Peter Thiel describes is a fantasy. The man I see is not thoughtful, curious, interested in a new Republican party, or indeed, interested in anything except self-aggrandisement and how to make money. The Trump I see is not stable or reliable. The points Thiel makes are good ones, but to believe that Donald Trump (and the Republicans in the Senate and the House) will reject war and free market ideology and point the way to “hard work” (what does that even mean?) is to believe in the Tooth Fairy. Sorry, Ian, it is a crazy speech.

  10. S Brennan permalink
    November 1, 2016

    Lizzy;

    I don’t know what YOU see, but from your post I garner you see what the corporate media tries to make everybody see…well…enough to get their way in all matters great & small.

    Where I live, Trump voters are about half former Democrats who have left the party in disgust over [D]’s 40 years of ignoring the working class, the others I know are upper middle class Republicans who feel that Bush [the 2nd] let them down by lying about Iraq.

    Those I know that despise Trump fall into two broad categories, those who would vote for Satan so long as a [D] followed his name and Republicans who still think Dick Cheney is the smartest guy in the room…both groups are voting for Hillary.

    I’ll add there are very few political posters/bumper stickers to be seen, I think the most popular is “Hillary for Prison 2016”.

    So, as far as I can see Lizzy L, it’s you that imagines TV’s fantasy world to be real, it’s, you who are living in a media cocoon.

  11. atcooper permalink
    November 1, 2016

    EmilianoZ, I had the same thought lol

  12. Oaktown Girl permalink
    November 2, 2016

    @EmilianoZ – the tail end of the “Baby Boomers” largely screwed, too. I can’t stand that I’m even categorized as a Boomer. I was not even old enough to vote the year Reagan got elected. Boomers were already deep into pulling up the ladder behind them before I even graduated high school.

  13. Hvd permalink
    November 2, 2016

    Although the boomers are not without fault not nearly enough attention is paid to the pre-boomer generation that reaped all of the benefits of the post war boom – set the late sixties casino economy in motion – rode out the 70’s crash and profited from its inflation and provided the most significant support for the Reagan revolution.

    We boomers knew better but didn’t clean up their mess.

  14. Hugh permalink
    November 2, 2016

    Thiel is right that the anger of the Trump supporters, and I would add of most ordinary Americans, is not going to go away because the sources of it continue, are growing, and remain unaddressed. Before the latest return of the Clinton email scandals, our out of touch media were trumpeting Clinton as healing the division and divisiveness of a hard campaign. What this largely entailed was that the losers and the non-elitists STFU and suck it up. So serious people, that is the rich and the elites could back to business as usual.

    Trump reminds me of the libertarians. They too are right about a few issues, but for all the wrong reasons, and for the rest they are batshit crazy. We don’t need a wall. We need punitive penalties against those who hire illegals. We don’t need to repeal Obamacare and move to even more worthless “personal medical accounts”. We need to go to Medicare for All. He says he wants to help ordinary Americans and raising taxes on the rich, but what he proposes is cutting taxes on the rich and slashing them for corporations. He’s against free trade agreements. What his supporters hear is that he wants to return the good paying jobs, but what he is actually saying is that he wants to help American companies, their workers not so much. He is a climate change denialist and a promoter of fossil fuels. He’s pretty much a movement conservative on women’s issues. While he says he wants to reduce our foreign military involvements, he favors a big increase in Pentagon spending and wants to bomb the hell out of ISIS. While he has nothing good to say about NATO, he is a big defender of Israel. It all sort of goes like that. If you think Trump is the answer, then you’re asking the wrong question.

    As for Thiel, I don’t like his generational shtik. Dividing up the rubes and setting them against each other is standard class warfare. I also have a problem with billionaires like Thiel and Trump not discussing how their own wealth is largely unmerited and the product of a corrupt and rigged system or how their wealth contributes to virtually all the problems ordinary Americans are experiencing.

  15. John permalink
    November 2, 2016

    Thiel and the Trumpsters obviously have been singing the old Dusty Springfield hit ” Wishin’, Hopin’, Thinkin’, Prayin'” a bit too much. Good luck guys. How’d that little thing with W Bush work out? Beer in the backyard and all that? Trump will be played like a prison punk in D C. His ego makes him waaay too easy to manipulate. Man child king.

  16. V. Arnold permalink
    November 2, 2016

    John
    November 2, 2016

    Yep. Me? Comment fatigue. Done with the whole shitstorm.
    Good luck y’all; you need to find a different way forward…

  17. Tom_b permalink
    November 3, 2016

    Thiel should have left it at “Trump has some good points about trade”. Who can doubt that “free trade” is bad for America; it is a giving away of what we have to the undeserving for meager return–cheaper trinkets? I expect, at this point, shrewder economists will have come to the same conclusion. This is why I predicted Trump had at least a 50/50 shot at the dubious honor of topping the ticket for the “Party of ‘NO'” back around June 2015.

    The rest of it, Thiel gets wrong. Trump would absolutely be more interventionalist than Clinton; I have no doubt of this. HRC is more hawkish than Sanders would have been, but she is a rational and sane person. She is not a beast.

    It is absolutely true that poor wage growth, inefficient healthcare infrastructure, and tuition inflation are huge problems for the middle class. But, the Democrats are at least cognizant of these problems; they are outside the sphere of Trump’s experience and attention span. His healthcare plan? Healthcare spending accounts. Really? The only powers with the ear of the GOP are the fossil fuel magnates and the NRA. They have no connection to working people.

    All said, though, the Democrats need to be more visionary and flamboyant. The GOP is not afraid to run extreme candidates; we Democrats are still timid and gun-shy from drubbings of the distant past, Nixon/McGovern. The world has changed: keep up or fall behind.

  18. S Brennan permalink
    November 3, 2016

    “Trump would absolutely be more interventionalist than Clinton; I have no doubt of this. HRC is a rational and sane person. She is not a beast.” – Tom_b

    Above; a commentator, Tom_b, who believes his counterfactual, emotionally based conjecture trumps reasoned analysis of recent historical events.

    Below; Hillary publicly cackles over the death by a bayonet sodomization of Muammar Gaddafi. Yeah Tom_b…she’s no beast, she is evil incarnate. Hillary’s apologists are either sociopaths or nihilistic narcissists who believe their endless lies will triumph over truth.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jY93bW_1SkI

  19. November 6, 2016

    Well said. Kudos.

  20. Rustycuss permalink
    November 6, 2016

    The millennials are not the first generation to do less well than their parents. I was born in 1953 and I am in that boat. I was working in the stock market when the bankruptcy laws were changed so that student loans could not be discharged under bankruptcy laws. Corporations could still salvage executive pay, shred leases and pension obligations…and get an entirely fresh start! Bernie put it in one statement “Congress doesn’t regulate Wall Street, Wall Street regulates Congress.” Our government is “Of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations.” It’s called government capture. Reagan changed the tax code that allowed corporations to pay executives with “incentive stock options” that were tax deductible for the corporations. Suddenly “shareholder value” meant compensation for CEOs, not shareholders. Reagan (I share his birthday) started a war on the New Deal by cracking down on the Air Traffic Controller’s union. As a snitch to J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and Governor of California, his attitude was “Why should my tax dollars go to support the education of people protesting a war (Viet Nam) that I agree with? Hence the UC system going from the best tuition free college system in the world, to what it is today! My mother worked for the Pat Brown campaign. She moved from Ohio to California in part because of the excellence of the UC system. In Ohio, she and my father were associated with the “World Federalists”. This brought them to the attention of the McCarthy Commission. The Powell memo led to the Trilateral Commission and extended the war on an over educated, overly affluent working class that could afford things like the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement. This had to be stopped by the elites, and it was. So no, the millennials are not the first…it’s simply an order of magnitude worse. Financially and environmentally, they are well and truly “royally screwed”.

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