“We live in a divided society.” A phrase which simultaneously means a lot and means nothing at all. The prevalence of the phrase in modern discourse has sucked away all of it’s impact. However, it’s a very true statement, and an especially important one politically. We ARE divided, worryingly so. There are divisions prominent across all demographics: race, gender, religion, geographic location, etc. Pundits smack people across the face with talk over these divisions to the point of apathy. One of these divisions—class division—gets not nearly as much shine as it deserves. At this point, talking about the “one percent” or whatever is an easy way to glass over the eyes whoever is listening to you. However, the way the class division is manifesting itself in the American political system right now deserves a reinvigorated effort to reign in the mess.
If you want to see the metastasization of the class divide firsthand in our political system, turn on the television.
The litany of advertisements has surely altered you by now that Michael Bloomberg is running in the Democratic presidential primary. Bloomberg has spent so much money on advertising in the race so far, it feels like his team would tattoo an ad across my forehead if they could. Many of his opponents are accusing Bloomberg of buying the election. Can elections be bought?
Our elections are incredibly susceptible to being bought. If oligarchs like Michael Bloomberg are given free reign they will spend their way into political prominence. His wealth is being used to purchase barrages of advertisements, lure in large swaths of staffers and even pay social media influencers to post memes on his behalf. Just through his spending, the media is forced to pay attention to him—so do potential voters. Maybe he’s not buying a victory in the election, but he’s buying a seat at the table.
Getting this seat at the table is usually the hardest step for any candidate. It tends to require strong political skill and the impressive ability to mobilize voters organically and build a grassroots base. Donations from the people allow for the buying of ads, but under the American political system, oligarchs can simply buy ads to get the people—a complete subversion of the normal process.
This is no indictment of Bloomberg the candidate, but exclusively of Bloomberg the oligarch. He’s a storied politician—the former mayor of the largest city in America. He should be able to run a normal campaign purely on the merits of his platform and experience. Right? Choosing instead to run this unorthodox campaign says implies Bloomberg instead finds an advantage in outspending as opposed to out-campaigning his opponents. A system where money provides an advantage over groundwork is simply a broken system.
Bloomberg is simply the latest in a long line of examples of where class divisions in our country are giving an unfair edge to the upper crust of society’s wealthy. Bloomberg’s case, however, is especially worrisome because of the depth with which his spending is propelling his campaign. Donald Trump in 2016 and Tom Steyer in this cycle are examples of oligarchs spending personal wealth to boost a campaign; Bloomberg is only spending personal wealth. This means donations from outside sources won’t play a factor at all in his race. If this strategy proves to be attractive it will set a new precedent in campaigning: you will only be able to win if you can afford to drop a billion dollars on your campaign.
Time will tell if this gambit will prove successful for Bloomberg. If it fails perhaps it will be a sign of growing class consciousness in America, a signal of displeasure towards money’s undue role in the political process. If it works, the class divide in politics might become permanent.
Vincent Rendon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Vincesagebrush.