Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Tina Casey headshot

At RNC in Cleveland, PayPal's Peter Thiel Will 'Make America One Again'

By Tina Casey

This week, the whole world is talking about the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The hot topics run the gamut: Donald Trump, Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Melania Trump, although not necessarily not in that order. Far behind in the dust is Silicon Valley tycoon Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and a board member of Facebook. However, Thiel's public status is about to blow up, because he has been tapped to deliver a speech on Thursday during the climactic final night of the RNC.

To ice the cake, Thiel was awarded an A-list position just one spot behind Ivanka Trump, who will introduce the main speaker of the entire four-day event. That would be her father and official Republican nominee for U.S. president, Donald Trump.

Peter Thiel and Ezra Pound

So, how did the billionaire investor nail down such a juicy spot at the RNC, and how will he add his 2 cents to the goings-on?

We'll leave the how for another article. But some clues about the content of Thiel's RNC speech might be found in the commencement speech he delivered last May at Hamilton College in New York state. Thiel also received an honorary decree on the occasion.

The tiny East Coast liberal arts college may seem like an odd choice of venue for a high-flying West Coast capitalist. Perhaps he was attracted by the idea of sharing an alma mater with the highly influential 20th century poet and notorious fascist sympathizer Ezra Pound.

Pound's anti-semitism is well documented in scores of radio addresses he wrote in support of Mussolini's Italy during World War II, many of which he delivered himself. They were intended to tamp down U.S. support for entering the war. The first one, for example, warns the U.S. against getting involved in an "Anglo-Jew empire." Written in a folksy tone, it includes nuggets like this:

"Well, is Vic Sassoon, that Jew pseudo-parsee, head of the Shanghai rackets, opium, brothels in probability and so forth, night life of Shanghai? IS he YOUR idea of David Copperfield and Mr. Pickwick?"

And this:
"And Mr. Streit? And of course there are MILLIONS behind it. Any one of 86 Jew millionaires can start a publishing firm and any one of the 4,000 hired troops in the British Embassy can print all the crap he likes."

Though written more than 75 years ago, the tone is consistent with the safety zone that the Trump campaign appears to have established for the anti-semitic, racist and nativist rhetoric of its supporters.

Peter Thiel and Ron Paul

The pursuit of an honorary degree from Pound's alma mater also dovetails with Thiel's affinity for former U.S. congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas).

In political circles, both men are widely known for sharing strong libertarian views. And Thiel was Paul's biggest financial backer during his 2012 presidential campaign.

Somewhat less widely known is a series of newsletters containing racist content written under Paul's name during the 1980s and 1990s. Here is a representative sample cited by The New Republic:

"An October 1990 edition of the Political Report ridicules black activists, led by Al Sharpton, for demonstrating at the Statue of Liberty in favor of renaming New York City after Martin Luther King. The newsletter suggests that 'Welfaria,' 'Zooville,' 'Rapetown,' Dirtburg,' and 'Lazyopolis' would be better alternatives — and says, 'Next time, hold that demonstration at a food stamp bureau or a crack house.'”

In the run-up to the 2012 campaign cycle, Paul claimed that he did not write -- or even read -- the publications bearing his name. However, when the newsletters first came to attention during his 1996 campaign, he repeatedly and vigorously defended them. According to a record compiled by Think Progress, the earliest date at which he denied his authorship and denounced the content did not occur until 2008.

The Property and Freedom Society

Thiel also recently agreed to speak at the Property and Freedom Society's annual conference this September in Turkey. The group, founded in 2006 by noted libertarian Hans-Hermann Hoppe, has crossed the radar of the civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center for its strong relationships with white nationalists in the U.S. and Europe.

As cited by SPLC, Hoppe's writings support a rising criticism of libertarianism as a cloak for racism and nativism. In one passage, he advocates for a return to centuries-old border control practices:

“… to post signs regarding entrance requirements to the town, and once in town for entering specific pieces of property (no beggars or bums or homeless, but also no Moslems, Hindus, Jews, Catholics, etc.); to kick out those who do not fulfill these requirements as trespassers …”

The Hamilton commencement speech

The theme of the Thursday session of the RNC is "Make America One Again." Given the divisive rhetoric of the Trump campaign, Thursday's speakers all have a giant task ahead of them if they are to address that theme in any kind of way that unites all Americans.

More likely, the appeal will be limited to those who support Donald Trump for president, which seems to include a lot of people who believe that America is in the blackest depths of the deepest nadir in its history.

It's anybody's guess what kind of speech Thiel will deliver. But based on his Hamilton commencement speech, my money is on the nadir.

For the most part, the Hamilton speech is standard boilerplate inspirational fodder.

However, Thiel does demonstrate the same blinkered perspective on the state of the nation as any other RNC speaker has so far. In a somewhat less restrained echo of the over-the-top warnings expressed by Trump and his supporters, he argues that we are in a state of national malaise compared to the technological revolutions of the 1960s:

"... it is an open secret that the truth is closer to stagnation. Computers are getting faster, and smartphones are somewhat new. But jets are slower; trains are breaking down; houses are expensive; and incomes are flat. Today, the word 'technology' means 'information technology.' The so-called 'tech' industry builds computers and software ... "

Thiel does go on to exhort his audience not to let the country continue to stagnate. But the folks at NASA would certainly take him to task for comparing their current efforts unfavorably with the 1960s.

For that matter, take any science profession today and you will find a beehive of activity comparable to any breakthrough period in history. The same goes for medical research, energy, robotics and any number of other fields.

If the trains don't run on time, it's not due to a lack of high-flying imagination. It's the result of simple, ordinary public policy that places personal profit above civic welfare.

Thiel might come up with some surprises for the RNC. But my best guess is that he'll hammer on the theme that the past eight years have been an unmitigated disaster for the U.S., and that only a strong man unfettered by constitutional norms can save us from certain doom.

Image (cropped and enhanced): by Eric Drost via flickr.com, creative commons license.






Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey