There have been a lot of explanations offered for the unlikely victory of Donald Trump in 2016. Russia, racists, James Comey, economic distress, sexism, voter suppression, and the missteps of the Clinton campaign, have been the most common. There has probably never been an election in American history more pored over and dissected in the aftermath than the one that made a (maybe) billionaire reality TV star, with no previous political experience, the leader of the free world. And while with Clinton having crushed Trump by 3M in the popular vote, the electoral college has gotten a lot of attention, our undemocratic way of practicing democracy long pre-dates 2016, and can only be blamed on the nation’s founders. But there’s one explanation that no one has ever offered for Donald Trump’s victory; no one has ever said that he bought the office. The reality is quite the opposite. Trump won in spite of a huge cash deficit, being outspent 2 to 1 by the Clinton machine. Thus, whatever strange brew of unlikely events you believe led to his presidency, you can’t really say that Donald Trump wasn’t duly elected, based on the admittedly unfair terms by which we’ve been deciding these things for 200-plus years, or that his ideas didn’t have greater appeal to roughly half the population (or at least 46% of the population, located in just the right places), than his opponent’s. By contrast, if Mike Bloomberg were to emerge victorious, it could only be through means that would end up making Trump’s campaign look like a Capraesque paeon to the virtues of representative democracy. While Trump may be anti-democratic, Bloomberg is post-democratic, and once we go down that road as a nation, it’s unlikely we’ll ever recover.
If Bloomberg wins it will not be because a majority of voters were persuaded by his ideas; it will be because he used his wealth to buy up all the political operatives who might have gone to other campaigns, by paying them double; it will be because he saturation-bombed every media platform with campaign ads; it will be because he’s been buying the allegiance of politicians and activists with the strategic use of grants and donations for decades; it will be because the corporate media wouldn’t go against a candidate who was able to significantly boost their annual revenue with his ad buys.
Bloomberg isn’t running a campaign so much as he’s running a political marketing experiment that was perhaps inevitable in the wake of 2016. Trump’s victory demonstrated loudly and clearly to the nation’s oligarchs that the door to the White House is wide open to anyone with enough money to fund their own campaign, who can also command the media’s attention. Bloomberg and others like him were surely watching Trump’s run with keen interest and not a little bit of envy. Why didn’t I think of that? If this half-bright, trust fund, con man can do it, anyone with a few billion dollars lying around is a shoe-in, must have been the gist of their thinking, along with, Why keep giving millions of dollars to these politicians, when there’s always the off-chance that they go against our interests under public pressure? Why not just cut out the middle-man?
Before 2016 it probably never would have occurred to Mike Bloomberg that a controversial mayor with a horrific history on race, and almost 40 workplace discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits to his name, could actually win the Presidency. AS A DEMOCRAT. But all bets are off now. And we can be sure that everyone from Mark Zuckerberg to Jeff Bezos is watching Mike run this cruel experiment on an already shaky and strung out target population, in the hopes that it will end with proof of concept. Because if Bloomberg can pull this off, any of them can. And if any of them can, a lot of them will. And if that happens, it will be the end of democracy in a far more profound sense than the election of Donald Trump portended. If Bloomberg succeeds, you will never again see a Presidential race in which candidates who simply go around to oligarchs with hat in hand begging for donations, are viable. That kind of campaign will come to seem as quaint and innocent as a small town Mayor’s race circa 1900, in light of what will come after.
To be clear, I don’t think Bloomberg has a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Trump, were he to become the nominee. For Trumpsters, the Michael Bloomberg Show will never have the sheer entertainment value of the Trump Comedy Hour, and for the left, Bloomberg is the one blue they just can’t “no matter who” for. While the media might tell you otherwise, the vast majority of Sanders’ primary voters, ended up biting the bullet and voting for Hillary, and in far greater numbers than Hillary ‘08 voters supported Obama. That won’t be the case for Mike Bloomberg. Whereas there was no mainstreamed ‘Never Hillary’ effort in 2016, progressive journalist Shaun King has already written a persuasive article about why Bloomberg is the line he just can’t cross, and he isn’t alone. The result will be the kind of Trump landslide that will ironically evoke memories of the Nixon victory over McGovern that the establishment is so fond of attaching to Bernie.
In spite of all this, I know a lot of people are so conditioned to see Trump as the source of all our evils, that some of them are incapable at this point of seeing anyone running against him as an even greater evil. If Rep. Lucifer Morningstar ran with a D next to his name, these folks would line up to sign their voter registration forms in blood if they thought he could win. And the truth is, a second term of Trump will be devastating to the country, there’s no doubt about that. But Bloomberg’s defeat would have the limited virtue of discouraging all the Lex Luthor wanna-bes out there (am I the only one who’s noticed Bezos’ uncanny resemblance?) from grabbing for the brass ring the next time around. ‘Cause if there’s one thing narcissistic billionaires don’t like, its abject public humiliation. Seeing Mike get spanked by the voters will likely make them stick to the old ways: buying the candidates with their donations, instead of being the candidates themselves. It’s not much, but it’s something.
In the end, whatever the outcome of a Bloomberg v Trump race, a “democracy” that offers its citizens a choice between voting for one racist billionaire, or another racist billionaire, with “not racist,” and “not a billionaire” nowhere on the menu, is probably doomed either way. At that point, your best bet is to focus on securing citizenship in a civilized country and stocking up on bottled water in the event that you can’t get out. But in the “lesser of two evils” spirit that centrist types are always going on about when they’re trying to persuade you to vote for someone who’s taken money from the “toxic waste in backyards” lobby, because their opponent has taken money from the “toxic waste in school lunches” lobby, ensuring Bloomberg’s defeat is probably the lesser evil. Our job right now as citizens is to do everything in our power to ensure that it doesn’t come to that, even if it means incurring some backlash by stating loudly and publicly that you’ll vote for any Democrat, but you’ll never vote for Michael Bloomberg. Those statements are not mutually exclusive. #nevermike