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Revisiting Peter Thiel’s Prophetic 2016 RNC Speech

Posted on Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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by Aaron Flanigan
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When Silicon Valley billionaire and Republican philanthropist Peter Thiel took the stage at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July of 2016, his remarks, which lasted less than six minutes, were broadly overlooked in favor of other keynote speeches and primetime addresses. But eight years later, it has become clear that Thiel’s largely unacknowledged RNC speech was an extraordinary ideological precursor to the Trump movement—and has proven to be politically prophetic.

“Good evening. I’m Peter Thiel,” he began. “I build companies and I’m supporting people who are building new things, from social networks to rocket ships. I’m not a politician. But neither is Donald Trump. He is a builder—and it’s time to rebuild America.”

Among the predominant themes in Thiel’s brief remarks was the economic decline and cultural decay inflicted upon many middle- and working-class Americans by power-hungry global elites, the political establishment, and unaccountable government bureaucrats.

“Across the country, wages are flat. Americans get paid less today than 10 years ago. But healthcare and college tuition cost more every year,” he said. “Meanwhile, Wall Street bankers inflate bubbles in everything from government bonds to Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees. Our economy is broken. If you’re watching me right now, you understand this better than any politician in Washington, D.C.”

Although this brand of anti-elitist rhetoric has since become a cornerstone of American conservatism, at the time of Thiel’s remarks such language was viewed as politically esoteric and notably out of step with the views of the old guard Republican Party.

Prior to the ascension of Donald Trump, most Republican leaders were firmly beholden to corporate interests, even when those interests conflicted with the interests of everyday Republican voters. This was perhaps most notably seen with the 2012 campaign of Mitt Romney, during which the Los Angeles Times wrote that the party “suckles at the breast of Big Business.”

Though Thiel did not expressly articulate the political trends that brought us to today’s “broken” economy, such as the effects of globalism and unbalanced trade deals like NAFTA, this attitude of skepticism toward corporate power is now a central plank of the national conservative platform.

As Trump put it in a speech last September at a United Auto Workers strike in Michigan, “For decades, you’ve watched rotten and crooked politicians… treat American jobs as disposable and American workers as expendable. They sat back and got rich by taking bribes to let other countries rape and pillage our jobs and our wealth.”

He continued: “The Wall Street predators, the Chinese cheaters, and the corrupt politicians have hurt you. I will make you better. Very simple. I will make you better.”

Another major theme of Thiel’s 2016 remarks was what is referred to today as the “competency crisis” plaguing the U.S. government and a wide swath of American industries.

“Today our government is broken,” Thiel observed. “Our nuclear bases still use floppy disks. Our newest fighter jets can’t even fly in the rain. And it would be kind to say the government’s software works poorly, because much of the time it doesn’t even work at all. That is a staggering decline for the country that completed the Manhattan Project. We don’t accept such incompetence in Silicon Valley—and we must not accept it from our government.”

Following four years of hopeless incompetence from the Biden administration, Thiel’s comments likely resonate with most Americans even more so than they did eight years ago. From Biden’s disastrous withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, which resulted in the death of 13 U.S. servicemembers, to his creation of the worst border crisis in American history, to his galling mismanagement of the U.S. economy, it’s no wonder 65 percent of swing voters describe the Biden administration as a “failure” marked by ineptitude and decline.

Thiel later went on to express his opposition to the hawkish foreign policy approach of the Bush and Obama years—another major pillar of the Trump agenda that has increasingly come into political fashion on the American right.

“Instead of going to Mars, we have invaded the Middle East,” he said. “On this most important issue, Donald Trump is right. It’s time to end the era of stupid wars and rebuild our country.”

Despite the prescient nature of Thiel’s 2016 remarks, he still missed the mark on one key issue. At the end of his speech, Thiel dismissed the left-wing culture wars as “fake,” lamenting debates over transgender ideology as a “distraction from our real problems,” namely our “economic decline.” In reality, woke culture, from Critical Race Theory to radical gender theory, has fueled every other crisis Thiel mentioned.

In the years since Trump officially accepted the Republican nomination for president in 2016, he has played a significant role in realigning the GOP into a culture war-oriented party. In the words of The American Mind’s Editorial Board, Trump had the courage to identify cultural problems and crises afflicting everyday Americans at a time “when few others would.” And today, issues like gender ideology, Critical Race Theory, and contrasting views of the American Founding are already front and center in his 2024 campaign.

Given the groundbreaking extent to which Donald Trump has reshaped the priorities, agenda, and outlook of the Republican Party over the last eight years, it can be easy to neglect just how far the conservative movement has come since 2016. Above all, this shift makes Thiel’s observations in 2016 all the more significant—and in the age of Biden, all the more relevant.

Thiel’s 2016 remarks can be viewed here.

Aaron Flanigan is the pen name of a writer in Washington, D.C.

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PaulE
PaulE
1 month ago

I remember watching that speech back in 2016 and how accurately Peter Thiel reflected the views of most of America’s honest and patriotic business leaders of how much cumulative damage the professional political class, via their control and manipulation of the federal government, had done to this country over the last few decades. Everything Peter Thiel said was an accurate description of the state of how the federal government operates under politicians more concerned with self-enrichment and personal power, than simply representing the best interests of the people and the country that elected them to serve them in Washington, D.C. What perhaps neither Peter Thiel nor Donald Trump recognized at the time was the degree to which the political class would fight back, by any means necessary, to protect their power, agenda and the status quo that produced the dismal results Peter Thiel spoke of.

President Trump soon learned, firsthand, the length and means the so-called administrative state and the professional political class would use to fight every reformative action he set out to implement towards making the necessary changes to fix what had become a one-sided corrupted system. Everything was a battle in either the federal courts or the Congress, as the left used every tool at their disposal to try and obstruct everything. President Trump still managed to accomplish more positive changes in one term, despite the non-stop obstruction from both the Democrats and the old guard establishment Republicans like McConnell, Ryan and others, who were intent on preserving the status quo at all costs than any other President in the last 50 years. Imagine if he didn’t have to waste at least 50 percent of his time on simply fighting back against a system that was aligned to protect their own agenda.

President Trump now has a much deeper understanding of not only all the players on both sides of the aisle, but also all the tactics and the levels of corruption that exist in the so-called administrative state and D.C. in general. Look for Trump and whatever team he assembles to hit the ground running on Day One, if the Democrats don’t succeed in pulling Old Joe across the finish line by the same sort of tactics they used in 2020.

J. FARLEY
J. FARLEY
1 month ago

We have found the Enemy, and they are us! — Pogo, 1960s
I don’t care whether it’s President Trump, or somebody else, but I do want them to have Trump Policy’s, I want someone strong enough to stand up to the American destroyers on the left, I am one of those who does not believe in appeasement or go along to get along mentality, I want someone that will defend the Constitution with every fiber in their Body.
If I could talk to President Trump, I would give him some sound advice, but unless someone comes along with the skill and toughness to stand up to the left and let the chips fall where they may. There is no room for compromise when the security and the sovereignty of America and Americans and the Constitution are at stake.
Tell as many as you can to vote and support President Trump, and for those how scoff at your choice SHUN THEM, you don’t need them!
God Bless America!

Mike Siroky
Mike Siroky
1 month ago

I guess what Thiel missed is Andrew Breitbart’s concept that politics is downstream from culture. So culture wars are not distractions, they are fundamental to politics.

Pauly Mack
Pauly Mack
1 month ago

AMAC readers should expect an increase of trolls and antagonists in the next several months leading up to the election. Read and respond with restraint. It is best to discuss articles and not respond to those who spout vulgar and/or inflammatory comments.

Leland Barber
Leland Barber
1 month ago

Was the Romney bashing citing the LA Times really necessary. Don’t you have enough enemies?

John Laws
John Laws
1 month ago

Reshaped the culture? In the wrong direction that is. So, which is it that this writer thinks have been a positive reshaping of the culture by Trump? His pro-abortion stance that would allow over 800,000 abortion a year? His pro-homosexual agenda? His wife raising funds for a GOP homosexual group? Holding an actual “homosexual wedding” at his house? So, what “culture war” is Trump fighting? AMAC needs to wake up to reality. The GOP is fast becoming like the Democrat Party. The Trumplican party, or maybe the Demopublican party.You can’t stand for life supporting Trump. You can’t stand for Biblical values supporting a man that supports the homosexual agenda.

Gene Frenkle
Gene Frenkle
1 month ago

The 13 service members killed in Afghanistan is on Trump because he surrendered to the Taliban but allowed boomer generals to slow walk the withdrawal.

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