Peter Thiel should rightly be admired for sometimes seeing what many others cannot. He understood the power of online money transfers well before most traditional financial institutions. He wrote Facebook a check when it was little more than an interesting startup from another Harvard dropout. Most recently, he anticipated what few of his peers predicted could possibly come to fruition: a Trump presidency.
Of course, Thiel more than recognized that Trump’s ascendancy was unstoppable. He spoke out publicly on Trump’s behalf, including in a keynote speech at the Republican National Conventional. He also donated to Trump’s campaign.
If Trump retreated back to the world of reality television and his real estate dealings after this year’s election, as was widely expected to happen, Silicon Valley and the rest of the business world would eventually forget about Thiel’s ringing endorsement of Trump. As distance grew between Trump’s political aspirations and his ability to initiate global annihilation, the tech community would have been increasingly willing to forgive and forget.
Instead, Trump is now President-elect of the United States of America. And no matter what your position on that outcome – whether you consider him a genius for acknowledging an angry republic and for cutting his way to the most powerful office in the world virtually single-handedly, or you deem him a shallow narcissist who has repeatedly displayed contempt for women, minorities, civility, and critical thinking — he is wholly inexperienced as a politician. Things will be said that can’t be unsaid. Mistakes will be made.
They will also serve as a persistent reminder of Thiel’s support for Trump.
You might think it’s good news for Thiel that Trump isn’t going away, that Thiel will become a powerful and sought-after conduit to the Oval Office. Maybe so. But unless the next president pleasantly surprises the tech world, it seems just as likely that the extreme opposite is going to prove true, that Trump’s years in office will turn Thiel into the pariah that many in Silicon Valley were eager to cast him as during this divisive campaign season.
Thiel made his contrarian bet, and he was right. Now he may discover how deeply unpopular it makes him.