Pessimism and political success

In The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, George Packer chronicles the decline of the post-World War II American political economy in the face of globalization and neoliberalism. He tells this history through the experiences of both famous and ordinary people.

One of the individuals that Packer follows is Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel. One anecdote describes Thiel’s interaction with Mitt Romney, who wanted Thiel’s support. Thiel told Romney, “I think the most pessimistic candidate is going to win, because if you are too optimistic it suggests you are out of touch.”

Packer continues:

In other words, it would be a mistake for Romney just to argue that Obama was incompetent, and that things would automatically be much better with a new president. Reagan might have been able to make that argument against Carter in 1980, but in 1980 only 50 percent of the people thought that their children would be worse off than they were, while in 2011 it was closer to 80 percent. It would be smarter for Romney to say that things could be much better, but getting there would be very hard and would take more than changing presidents. But it was a point that Romney couldn’t grasp. He assumed that the more optimistic candidate would always win. He assumed that things were still fundamentally working. (382)

I thought that this was worth noting in light of Thiel’s support of Donald Trump. While Trump did not fully embrace this strategy (he promised a quick recovery), his campaign was characterized by a claim that much was not “fundamentally working.”


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