Under polarization, governmental institutions can lead to disproportionate influence for a certain subset of citizens. Donald Trump has increased polarization in recent years and demonstrated executive aggrandizement. Political scientist Nancy Bermeo defines the latter term as an elected executive weakening checks on their power.  In doing so, Trump has enabled wealthy individuals to take advantage of those now-weakened institutions. Earlier this month, Peter Thiel exemplified this. The billionaire tech investor cut ties with Meta to focus on endorsing far-right Republican candidates in the upcoming midterms. He attempts to attack the government’s system of checks and balances, using Trump as a vessel to further his ideologies.
Thiel’s ability to do this stems from the 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC case, in which the Court decided that super PACs can play in the political arena with minimal regulations. This decision overturned election spending restrictions, breaking a norm that previous courts upheld. Given the party affiliation of each justice’s nominating president, this outcome is not shocking. The Supreme Court was the most conservative it had been in almost a century, calling attention to the partisan polarization at the time. Billionaires such as Thiel have since been pouring unlimited funds into campaigns and drowning the desires of ordinary citizens, which has proven to be very dangerous. Using his money and publicity to do so, Thiel supports many of Trump’s anti-democratic values that challenge “codes of conduct” and “common knowledge.” 
The American political system relies on elections to keep government leaders in line with the people’s preferences. However, Thiel is helping Trump stir false claims about its legitimacy. As political scientists Ellen Lust and David Waldner argue, “undermining democratic elections removes a foundation of vertical accountability.”  Vertical accountability is how the public can keep political figures in check, and elections help do this. Trump has denied the 2020 election results, refusing to accept Biden’s “equal right to exist, compete for power, and govern.”  The protests on January 6th, 2021, showed the danger this message presents for democracy. Now that Thiel has returned as a critical financier of the MAGA movement, he is backing candidates who embrace the lie that Trump won the election. By encouraging this false notion, he attempts to invalidate what political theorist Robert Dahl saw as the crux of democracy: “free and fair elections.” 
Additionally, Thiel funds candidates who share his radical views on American politics: the establishment has failed, the current immigration policy is hurting Americans, and the government is deranged. By donating large amounts to their campaigns, he attempts to compose the Senate and the House with candidates whose views align with his. Should Trump win re-election, Thiel’s actions would help him act “in increasingly autocratic ways” with government institutions that support him.  This would let Thiel use Trump as a means to pursue his own ideologies. So far, Thiel has given over $20 million to support politicians such as Ted Cruz, Blake Masters, J.D. Vance, Michael Waltz, etc. But this is just the start. Not only is he trying to help elect pro-Trump candidates, but he is also trying to unseat the 10 Republicans (the “traitorous 10”) who voted to impeach Trump. By using his wealth to support or undermine specific candidates, Thiel indirectly influences horizontal accountability – the independent state agencies’ ability to keep each other in check. 
While private citizens’ donations to candidates through super PACs may seem dangerous to democracy, this isn’t wholly true. Super PACs have traits that also encourage democratic values. Research has shown that the increased political spending due to super PACs improves voter knowledge. These political ads are often a better source of information than news channels. Additionally, super PACs increase political competition. They tend to support challengers and better offset incumbents’ advantage.
During his presidency, Trump demonstrated democratic backsliding – the steady decline in the quality of democracy through the institutions in place to protect it.  Political scientist Steven Levitsky argues that this “begins at the ballot box,”  which is where Thiel comes into play. By using his immense wealth to fill the Senate and House with candidates who believe that Trump won in 2020, he helps the former president spread doubt on the legitimacy of American elections. Peter Thiel is not unique in his ability to do this. He is just an extreme example of how, in times of democratic instability, wealthy private citizens can have great power and disproportionate influence. Trump’s presidency reduced the quality of the democratic institutions in the United States, thus allowing Thiel’s preferences to become over-represented by his ability to make large donations. Despite super PACs ability to increase engagement and information among the electorate, they present a slippery slope if they can reshape who gets elected and whether the elected individual is willing to subvert democracy. According to recent FEC campaign disclosures, both the Republican and Democratic national committees raised $400 million in 2021, but how can we ensure this money is not used to reach undemocratic ends? Bermeo, Nancy. “On Democratic Backsliding.” Journal of Democracy, 2016, 10.  Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. London: Crown Books, 2018, 128.  Waldner, David, and Lust, Ellen. “Unwelcome Change: Understanding, Evaluating, and Extending Theories of Democratic Backsliding.” USAID, 2015, 3.  Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. London: Crown Books, 2018, 129.  Dahl, Robert. A. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. Yale University Press, 1971, 1.  Waldner, David, and Ellen Lust. “Unwelcome Change: Understanding, Evaluating, and Extending Theories of Democratic Backsliding.” USAID, 2015, 15.  Waldner, David, and Ellen Lust. “Unwelcome Change: Understanding, Evaluating, and Extending Theories of Democratic Backsliding.” USAID, 2015, 65.  Bermeo, Nancy. “On Democratic Backsliding.” Journal of Democracy, 2016, 6.  Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. London: Crown Books, 2018, 13.