Politics

Michael Bloomberg Shows the Dangers of Authoritarian Centrism

Michael Bloomberg’s liabilities as a political candidate are so glaringly obvious that it’s easy to dismiss his presidential bid as a vanity project. He is utterly devoid of charisma, has no real organic base in the Democratic Party, and is a viable candidate only because he’s filthy rich and is willing to inundate the race by opening up his nearly limitless money pit.

This unprepossessing profile hasn’t stopped big name pundits like Tom Friedman and Bret Stephens, both appearing in the pages of in The New York Times, from extolling Bloomberg as a potential savior. Writing even before Bloomberg entered the race, Stephens argued that all the existing Democratic candidates were weak against Trump except for Bloomberg.

“But if trouncing Donald Trump is essential to the preservation of liberal democracy, then it won’t do to cross fingers and hope he stumbles,” Stephens averred. “A Bloomberg candidacy would be a gift to Democrats, the country, and the world. Sneer at it at your peril.”

Heeding Stephens’ injunction, I forced myself to momentarily stop sneering at Bloomberg’s candidacy and try to empathize with his supporters. To go by Bloomberg’s words and those of advocates like Stephens, the case for Bloomberg goes something like this: in an age of polarization, Bloomberg could bring the nation together by being the voice of centrists who are being abandoned by both the right and left. Bloomberg’s political profile of social liberalism combined with economic conservatism would draw voters who don’t like Donald Trump but find Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders too radical. He’s more mentally agile than Joe Biden and less callow than Pete Buttigieg. Bloomberg could not only defeat Trump but also pull the United States away from the polarizing populism offered by the extreme left and the extreme right, political tendencies that are destabilizing democracy.

Implicit in the argument is that Bloomberg’s centrism is a viable alternative to Trump’s authoritarianism. What this line of thought ignores is the fact that the anti-democratic impulse isn’t just found on the extreme left or the extreme right but also among centrists. Bloomberg himself has an extensive record of pushing for authoritarian measures.

The affinity of centrists with authoritarianism makes sense when we consider that people on the extreme ends of the political spectrum are likely to be wary of unchecked state power. They can easily imagine such power being used against them. Centrists like Bloomberg, who are safely ensconced in mainstream society and hold positions of high social status, are more likely to take an uncritical view of trampling on democratic norms, since they have the comfort of knowing that the authorities are unlikely to go after reputable figures.




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