It’s come to this: the worst threat to the Republic isn’t Donald J. Trump. It’s Michael Bloomberg.
Bloomberg is the billionaire flyover candidate who knows the American presidency is now officially for sale. As the ninth richest man on the planet, he intends to buy it. And the way to do it, courtesy of the Supreme Court’s infamous “Citizens United” ruling that opened the floodgates to corporation-funded elections, is to swamp the airwaves and the internet with countless ads beckoning us to the inevitable coming of the Leader.
“Mike Will Get the Job Done.” That’s the tag line of the messaging. What job? Whose job? And for whom?
No need to ask. There the guy is, ubiquitous as Big Brother could only dream of being, not only in your face, but in your dreams, too. The perfect plutocratic authoritarian, telling us what we all know by now: that we all have our price, and only Michael is rich enough to pay it.
And when you get Michael, you can be sure he’ll stick around. Donald Trump has mused about extending his presidential term indefinitely, as dictators do. Bloomberg is the only politician who has actually done so. Faced with a two-term limit, he extended his New York mayoralty to a third term by ramming a revision of the city charter through and buying his way back in. And when he was ready to leave, he reinstated the limit so that no wise-guy could follow in his footsteps.
Divine right, dollar by dollar.
Bloomberg’s strategy in the presidential race — like Trump, his eye has always been on that prize — was to skip the first four contests in our ridiculous primary system, with its absurdly meager haul of delegates, and swoop down on the Super Tuesday bonanza in March. Let the yokels slug it out for prime time exposure on the endless circuit of demeaning debates, spending their bucks to collect pennies in delegates and spook each other in the process. Mike is right there day and night, with a stage all to himself. Say, Mister Mayor, aren’t you the one who sent Rudy Giuliani’s ugly stop-and-frisk policy into overdrive and slammed 685,724 black and Latino residents up against the wall in a single year for the crime of being outdoors until the courts finally slowed you down? Aren’t you the multibillionaire who opposed raising the $7.25 minimum wage? And the one who’s had charges of sexual harassment running back decades?
Questions, questions. They do get asked, sort of, but not on any stage where Mike might have to give answers.
Democracy’s obituary was supposed to have been written with “Citizens United.” Politicians took note — instead of rushing to pass legislation overriding the Supreme Court decision, they flocked to the donors who would line their pockets. But, in a plot-line no one could write, a hitherto obscure Senator with floppy arms and wild hair decided to run for president four years ago on small donations only and nearly won the nomination of a party he didn’t even belong to.
Bernie Sanders has thus far repeated the feat in 2020, has a committed base and is the Democratic front-runner — for the moment. But Bloomberg has figured out the way to silence him and his fellow competitors as well. All Democrats are united, at least publicly, on the need to vote Donald Trump out of office. All of them, thus far, have taken the pledge to support whoever wins their party’s presidential nomination. Bloomberg has taken this pledge too, but with a twist: he has promised to contribute a billion dollars to elect whoever becomes the nominee.
Does anybody want to turn that loot down? Does anybody want to take a real swipe at Bloomberg on a debate stage? I guess Sanders would. I can guarantee you no one else will. And so Michael Bloomberg can’t lose: if he’s not the candidate, he will be the kingmaker. No one debates a billion bucks. Could even Bernie turn that down? And could he stop it being spent if he did?
I’m not going to say that Michael Bloomberg is evil incarnate. He has spent some of his money on causes such as climate change and gun control, though always with an eye to his own political bottom line. But every Democratic candidate is going to do something about these things if they win the presidency.
After the climate crisis, the most critical challenge facing the country will be the vast gap in wealth between its elites and the population at large, a gap that has distorted every aspect of our society and all but swallowed our politics. Michael Bloomberg is the poster boy for this issue. Whatever he would do in office, he would do incalculable damage merely by occupying it. So far, we have had presidents of a republic, Donald Trump’s best efforts to the contrary notwithstanding.
With Michael Bloomberg, we would have the first president of a plutocracy, because he would have bought the White House. To put it more directly, we would have our first king. A king, in the old-fashioned sense of the term, is someone elevated above the political process and public institutions.
Donald Trump would be a king if he could, but he is a smasher rather than a master of institutions. Tyranny, not monarchy, is the most he can aspire to. Bloomberg is his own bank; he has his own media empire; he has already bought the silence — and submission — of many who might have opposed him, including the Democratic National Committee. He’d be less crude than Trump; he’d throw no public tantrums. He’d just own us as the biggest hedge fund property in the world.
Democracies can die in many ways, but this would be a helluva way to go.