Democrats Have Found Their Own Autocrat

By: Conor Lynch
Appearing In: truthdig

Since Donald Trump captured the Republican nomination four years ago, mainstream media across the political spectrum have warned us about the rise of “populism.” The standard narrative goes something like this: those on the political extremes — especially the far-right but also the far-left—are rapidly gaining ground and subverting liberal democracy across the globe, ushering in a new age of authoritarianism.

“What is spreading today is repressive kleptocracy, led by rulers motivated by greed rather than by the deranged idealism of Hitler or Stalin or Mao,” explained former George W. Bush speechwriter turned #Resistance leader David Frum in 2017. “Such rulers rely less on terror and more on rule-twisting, the manipulation of information, and the co-optation of elites.”

When it comes to right-wing nationalists like Trump and others — Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Italy’s Matteo Salvini, to name just a few — this critique has largely proved correct. Trump’s authoritarian impulses are undeniable, and he has expressed his fundamental disdain for democratic norms, the free press and the rule of law on an almost daily basis. The former game show host has done extraordinary damage to America’s already deeply flawed institutions, and there’s no telling how much more he would do with another four years in office.

Whatever truth there is to this argument, however, there has always been something deeply disingenuous about veteran neoconservatives and neoliberals positioning themselves as defenders of democracy. Some of the loudest critics of this “new authoritarianism” were devoted supporters of Bush II, who was arguably an even more effective demagogue than Trump. Along with Frum, Bill Kristol, Thomas Friedman, Jennifer Rubin, Max Boot and Jonathan Chait all supported the Iraq War and an unprecedented expansion of executive power. President Obama, of course, consolidated and strengthened that power by broadening the surveillance state that is now under Trump’s control. None of the aforementioned pundits felt compelled to speak up about these developments before 2017.

It’s not so much Trump’s authoritarianism that centrists object to then but the crude and impudent manner of its implementation. Three years after his election, they still regard him as a kind of aberration. Never has this been clearer than in the mainstream media’s recent embrace of Michael Bloomberg. With former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign in a death spiral, the former mayor of New York City has emerged as an appealing alternative for establishment types who despise Trump but cannot bear the thought of supporting a genuine social democrat like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The irony is that Bloomberg fits perfectly into Frum’s definition of authoritarianism, which he argues is built on “rule-twisting, the manipulation of information, and the co-optation of elites.” Not only does the billionaire own a media outlet that bears his name, but as his purchased endorsements make clear, he’s all too willing to subvert our political system for his personal gain. Indeed, he has staked his entire candidacy on his ability to do just that.

Bloomberg is notorious for disregarding rules and norms, infamously strong-arming New York’s City Council to overturn the mayorship’s term limits so that he could run for a third term.

“Rules, in the Bloombergian universe, only apply to people with less than ten zeros in their net worth,” observed Joel Kotkin in The Daily Beast last month, adding that he is a “far more successful billionaire with the smarts, motivation and elitist mentality not only to propose but actually carry out his own deeply authoritarian vision should he be elected president.”

As mayor of New York City, Bloomberg governed as an authoritarian, from his draconian and racist stop-and-frisk policy to his heavy-handed crackdown on Occupy Wall Street. “I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world,” Bloomberg once bragged….

Read the rest of this piece at truthdig.