Michael Bloomberg is one of the most estimable men in American business. And Michael Bloomberg is one of the most estimable men in American politics. He has not done everything right. But he has done nearly everything right. In business, coming from nothing, he built a great fortune, and is now one of the nation’s leading philanthropists. And in politics, he served as mayor of New York City for twelve years, most with high distinction.
He is, moreover, of singularly even temperament. He nearly never raises his voice. He nearly never engages in needless disputatiousness. And he nearly never resorts to rhetoric even remotely extreme. So, when he made a deliberate decision to go public, to speak as an independent at the Democratic Convention in order to call out Donald Trump as a “dangerous demagogue,” attention had to be paid.
Let’s assume for the moment that being a demagogue is bad, but not that bad. After all, being a demagogue is not the same as being a despot. But being a dangerous demagogue suggests something different. It suggests a slippery slope. It suggests a slide, from demagoguery to tyranny. Bloomberg was suggesting, in other words, that Trump has it in him to transition from being a troubling leader, to being a terrible leader.
Such a transition is not uncommon. History is full of examples of men, nearly all men, who came to power in a reasonable manner, but who in time changed. Who in time became dictators satisfied with nothing less than total control.
Look at China’s president, Ji Jinping. By every account, in the last two years he has gone from strongly resembling an authoritarian leader to strongly resembling a totalitarian leader. Through a brutal purge and a total overhaul of its structures, Ji has transformed the People’s Liberation Army into his personal power base. And, after eroding or even eliminating civic freedoms, he threatened, punished, and finally muzzled most of his political opponents. *
This is not to say with any certainty that if Trump became president, he would go down that same dark path. Among other reasons, America is not China. But Bloomberg did issue a warning. And Bloomberg is a reasonable man who additionally is clever. Very, very clever.
*Financial Times, July 27the and 28th, 2016.