In a two-party political system such as our own, parties have to be big tents. Anyone who has studied the American political party system and the course of its history might notice not only realignments of those parties over time, but the need for broader and broader tents as the country has gotten bigger and more diverse. It only stands to reason, then, that our party coalitions, both Republican and Democrat, would be broader, more fractured, and even contradictory today than ever before.
Up until Trump, it wasn’t really clear that either party had a monopoly on something one might call “Americanism.” Even if Republicans felt like the patriotic party during the Bush years, there is something to be said for those who opposed interventionism on principle, or risking American lives for what could be argued was an unnecessary war. There was still an argument to be made that both parties represented parts of the historic America, even if just barely.
This election has become an existential referendum on what America is. We saw one of the choices laid out for consideration last week at the Republican National Convention: the premiere of the New GOP. And Peter Thiel, of all people, seems the best symbol of a new wing of the GOP big tent. Thiel’s bravery in breaking with Silicon Valley’s lockstep Leftism alone should be applauded: simply showing up at the GOP will cost him, at least socially. As an unintentionally amusing article in the New York Times pointed out: “Though Silicon Valley has well-known problems with diversity in its work force, people here pride themselves on a kind of militant open-mindedness. It is the kind of place that will severely punish any deviations from accepted schools of thought.” [Emphasis mine.]
But why is Thiel embracing the GOP now? First, because he and most GOP bigwigs realize that the culture war is over: the Left won. The issue of homosexuality and gay marriage may still be a question for many GOP grassroots activists, but there is little reason for the party to keep out open homosexuals like Thiel. Therefore, he was able to note in his speech that he was a gay man, but more importantly, an American. Not only an American, but an immigrant who made good.
Furthermore, Peter Thiel became a hero to Right-wing activists earlier this year when it was revealed that he had secretly bankrolled Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, which he won. This has led to seething hatred of Thiel from the professional Left, especially because he was supposed to be one of them. The man sits on the board of Facebook. He isn’t supposed to break ranks.
It’s not exactly surprising that Thiel would be simpatico with the Trumpian agenda. While often described as a libertarian, a Cartesian, or a transhumanist, Thiel resists the more common boxes of American political thought. He was, until recently, scheduled to speak at Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Property and Freedom Society, and though his name has been removed from the program of speakers, this isn’t his first flirtation with what is now called the alternative Right. In his book Zero to One, Thiel’s initial outline of the problem of the future lies in the fact that, in his view, globalism and technological development are incompatible. So, as we saw in his speech last Thursday, the only way that America can become a technologically innovative country again is if they move away from globalism and towards nationalism. Thiel’s speech described a kind of progress and return: a return to an America where “the future felt limitless.” As he put it at the end of the speech: “When Donald Trump asks us to Make America Great Again, he’s not suggesting a return to the past. He’s running to lead us back to that bright future.”
Thiel is less a Cartesian than a Spenglerian. His vision of the American spirit of progress is what Spengler called the “Faustian” spirit, a deep longing to explore the unknown and conquer the secrets of the universe. And perhaps in that vein, along with his transhumanism, Thiel is also an “archeofuturist.” Whatever one thinks of that, it can’t help but remind us of the Romantic line from Ivanka Trump’s speech on Thursday night: “Come January 17, all things will be possible again.”
Thiel’s presence at the Republican National Convention emphasizes not only that the GOP has become the “anti-war” party (as opposed to Bill Kristol’s “pro-war” GOP), but also that it has become the American nationalist party. While the tent still encompasses other parts of the conservative coalition, this remarkable transition was only helped this year by the fact that many prominent neo-conservative war hawks abandoned the party en masse with Trump’s nomination. The gap was quickly filled.
The Democratic National Convention is currently underway, presenting the American people with the other choice that they could make this fall. But Thiel made it even clearer that Hillary Clinton’s DNC is the globalist party. It will be difficult for Democrats to refute that charge.