Now here is a dubious image: Wednesday January 20, 2021. A low grey sky and persistent drizzle over Washington, as ‘billionaire activist’ and President-elect Tom Steyer takes the hallowed oaths of office on the steps of the Capitol building.
Who, besides Steyer himself and the squad of creeping, over-remunerated sycophants who advise him, really pictures that happening?
Every schmuck in America with enough money to buy the actual moon seems to have considered running for president lately. Consider Mark ‘Augustus‘ Zuckerberg’s weird 50-state listening tour back in 2017. Exaggeratedly hailed by Fortune as a ‘Good Idea‘ this dry run for a tilt at the big boy’s office lost some momentum when liberals around the world realized that Zuckerberg’s Facebook allowed conservatives to post their opinions online without being censored in 2016.
Then there was Starbucks chief Howard Schultz’s aborted sort-of-maybe-campaign this year. The official reason why Schultz slunk away from the race was back surgery. The fact that Schultz became the Twitter equivalent of a cabbage-strafed, punishingly enstocked 16th-century village adulterer every time he opened his mouth to say anything at all probably had nothing to do with it.
And you didn’t need to be a card carrying member of the Psephologists of America to know that Michael Bloomberg wasn’t going to be the Democratic nominee in 2020. (In those dark times before #MeToo he once told a reporter: ‘I like theater, dining, and chasing women…let me put it this way: I am a single, straight billionaire in Manhattan. What do you think? It’s a wet dream.”)
Only Tom Steyer, whose net worth of $1.6 billion makes him something of a minnow by mogul standards, is actually committed to running so far.
Peter Thiel aside, can you imagine the severity of the look on the faces of America’s little platoon of billionaires on the November night when Donald Trump was elected? They must have looked like mourners at a particularly tense Mafia funeral. Billionaires have, of course, run for president before, but the recent mania for doing so is a direct result of Trump’s win.
‘If he can do it, why can’t I’, say the billionaires of America? Look at Trump: noisy, stupid, cruel, intolerant, crude, tweeting, colluding, not a proper billionaire Trump. And so the Zucks and Bloombergs and Schultzes and Steyers took a strange lesson from November 2016: billionairedom was a passport to the highest office in the land.
But as Burke wrote of a different group: ‘excellence in their peculiar functions may be far from a qualification for others.’ Trump won in spite of being a billionaire. He understood something – instinctively, if not intellectually – about politics in this decade. Not the office politics or corporate politics or Davos politics that our billionaires no doubt excel at. Trump flourished because he understood that presidential politics is indistinguishable from reality television, from entertainment.
Steyer decided to run because he has grown ‘dissatisfied‘ with the 2020 Democratic field. He presumes that by focusing on climate change and impeaching the president he will bring something different to the field. Really? Did anybody who watched the Miami debates find themselves crying out the name ‘Tom Steyer’ during them? Did they tweet ‘What this debate needs is Tom Steyer’? Did they start a change.org petition demanding a Steyer run?
One thing was obvious from the debates. Here was an entertainment format with an entertainer-shaped crater in it. (Hence the bizarre love-in for Marianne Williamson. She at least gave people something to talk about.) Steyer and every other liberal billionaire in America would be better off asking Jon Stewart to name his price for running. It would prove far more popular than another rich guy’s mortified indignation.