However, there are many fine things the former New York mayor could devote himself to — things which he might be in a unique position to pull off, and which would do more for restoring democracy and securing America from racist thugs and con men than any presidential campaign could.
First, buy Fox News. I’m entirely serious. It is a journalistic toxic-waste dump that has misinformed millions of Americans, damaged our civic culture, spread xenophobia and insulated an unfit president from scrutiny. Certainly there is some price the Murdochs would accept for the Fox News empire. (They’ve already sold the entertainment portion of the company). Imagine a smart, fact-based cable TV news giant that adhered to journalistic standards and featured (and separated) smart conservative commentary, clearly labeled as opinion. It could spend the first six months simply running stories to correct past errors and bogus conspiracy theories. Getting more Americans back to looking at the same set of facts might be the best contribution Bloomberg could possibly make to American democracy.
Bloomberg could also devote billions to a campaign for automatic registration and voting by mail. Evading efforts to massage the electorate (i.e., suppress the vote) to extend the dominance of aging white and rural voters is undemocratic. Helping the electorate to look like America would result in far more elected officials responsive to the will of a diverse country.
Bloomberg could also earn our gratitude by reviving and sustaining local newspapers, a vanishing but essential mechanism for holding state and local leaders accountable. In October 2018, a study by the University of North Carolina found that “about 20 percent of all metro and community newspapers in the United States — about 1,800 — have gone out of business or merged since 2004, when about 9,000 were being published. Hundreds more have scaled back coverage so much that they’ve become what the researchers call ‘ghost newspapers.’ Almost all other newspapers still publishing have also scaled back, just less drastically.” Keeping all voters informed and politicians at all levels under scrutiny is essential to repairing our bruised and battered democracy.
In addition, Bloomberg could undertake a campaign to encourage U.S. high schools to require for graduation a passing grade on the citizenship test given to immigrants pursuing naturalization. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services provides a list of the “100 civics (history and government) questions and answers for the naturalization test.” The actual test requires the applicant get six out of 10 correct. Bloomberg could grant money to school districts for test preparation and administration. (By popularizing the citizenship test, it might encourage politicians to figure out the answers to questions, such as: What is the rule of law? What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful?)
Finally, Bloomberg could spend just a few of his billions supporting the Democratic nominee for president and those Senate and House candidates in the general election best positioned to throw out Republican incumbents in Congress. This is no “dark money”; Bloomberg can be perfectly transparent about how much he is giving to which candidates. It is not until the Republican Party is obliterated that a new generation of center-right leaders can emerge, expunge all traces of Trumpism and rebuild a viable, decent Republican Party. We really do need a functional two-party system.
According to published reports, Bloomberg is worth more than $52 billion. Spending just a fraction of that on the projects I have identified would be much more effective than his own presidential candidacy — not only in getting rid of Trump, but of repairing the shattered democracy he and the Trumpized GOP will leave in their wake. Surely, “savior of American democracy” is a much better title than “presidential contender.”