Opinion | Mike Bloomberg’s Technocratic Threat
Trump views the presidency through the prism of what’s most gratifying to him, especially his insatiable need for attention; Bloomberg would view it through the prism of what’s good for you, as filtered through his supreme confidence that he, and only he, truly knows what that is.
Trump’s ego feeds off constant praise and airtime; Bloomberg’s feeds off his belief that he’s the smartest guy in the room, in fact, in any room, and that you’d inevitably agree with him if only you were as intelligent, rational and public-spirited as he is.
Trump insults people directly with disparaging nicknames and slighting references to their physical characteristics, energy level and poll numbers; Bloomberg insults them indirectly with his ill-disguised contempt for their supposedly troglodyte views if they happen to disagree with him.
Trump the nationalist wants to control the flow of foreign people and goods into the United States; Bloomberg the do-gooder wants to control your diet and other habits.
Both Trump and Bloomberg have a soft spot for Chinese president-for-life Xi Jinping. For Trump, he is strong; for Bloomberg, he is able to do what he wants with minimal interference from little people and nonexperts.
The signature Bloomberg initiative is the ban—of smoking, of large sodas, of guns. He is most comfortable when he is prohibiting things that people should know better than to consume or own. The spirit of these initiatives was undemocratic and in some cases, the method was, too. Bloomberg bypassed the New York City Council when attempting to impose his soda ban, instead getting the the board of health to issue a diktat against 16-ounce sodas sold at the wrong establishments. (A court overturned the ban, ruling that the board exceeded its authority.)
Surely, to the extent it’s made any impression on him whatsoever, Bloomberg considers the Constitution an anachronism that poses obstacles to the initiatives of right-thinking people. Why should an 18th-century conception of rights get in the way of 21st-century government, especially when health and safety are at stake?
Bloomberg’s reaction after the Boston Marathon bombing was characteristic. “We live in a complex world,” he said, “where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”
What he so dismissively calls “the olden days” was the time of the American founding. The idea that the founders didn’t understand complexity, or have any sense of trade-offs, is ahistorical nonsense. And the notion the Constitution should be changed simply by reinterpreting it when provisions—in this case, protections of civil liberties—supposedly become inconvenient is an offense against constitutional government.
Bloomberg’s solution to gun violence is, naturally, banning entire categories of guns in violation of the Second Amendment that he professes to support. (He’s called owning a gun, in a very Bloomberg sentiment, “pretty stupid.”)
It is important that Trump, whatever his personal and institutional failings, is backstopped by a conservative legal movement that has worked with him to pump originalist judges through the Senate. These judges will remain a bulwark of conservative constitutionalism long after Trump—and his inappropriate tweets about ongoing legal matters and his taste for the wondrously unchecked pardon power—has departed the scene.
Bloomberg’s technocratic instincts, in contrast, run with the grain of contemporary progressivism. There will be no checks on his natural tendency toward unilateral rule through the administrative state, with the Department of Health and Human Services, and other federal agencies, supplanting the New York City Board of Health as the instrument of his plans.
If Bloomberg is elected president and feels the needs to bypass Congress, in keeping his impulse to get and do whatever he wants, no one in his party is going to say, “Hey, you can’t do it that way.” In fact, support for this mode of government is shared by his fiercest Democratic critics like Elizabeth Warren, who may hate billionaires, but has openly embraced government by presidential decree.
Democrats may come to believe, should their nomination battle break the right way, that only Mike Bloomberg can save the country—but what he emphatically won’t be saving is a view of the government as circumscribed by an old, yet sacrosanct Constitution.