You’d think that Republicans couldn’t hope for an opponent more stiff, corporate, and alien-like than Hillary Clinton, but then along comes Mark Zuckerberg.
The Facebook founder’s I’m-totally-not-running-for-president tour (unofficial title) is in full swing, as he attempts to communicate with ordinary human beings in places that most hipster tech CEOs consider barbarian territories, like Nebraska.
Rarely a day goes by without a news story about it. Or a meme.
"Very impressive, tell me, could these methods be applied to humans as well?" pic.twitter.com/L9YYl5SetH
— The Ur-Kantbot (@KANTBOT20K) July 13, 2017
Zuckerberg announced his 30-state tour in a Facebook post in January, saying his aim was to “talk to more people about how they’re living, working and thinking about the future.”
The billionaire tech CEO explained his motivations in highly political terms, insisting on his determination to understand the plight of common Americans. “For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected. This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone.”
Despite making stops at noted presidential campaign-trail locations, Zuckerberg has denied he plans a presidential run. Just like virtually every other potential presidential candidate before him, then, including Hillary Clinton.
Should Republicans be worried that the founder and CEO of the most influential social media platform in the world is, fairly transparently, preparing a presidential bid? Not at all. In fact, they should be overjoyed, for a number of reasons.
The scariest thing about Zuckerberg, from a political standpoint, is his control of Facebook. With over 2 billion users, the platform has the potential to influence vast numbers of voters, far more than anything the legacy media could hope to achieve.
But Facebook has demonstrated an unwillingness to openly favour any political party during the last election. After the trending news scandal, in which Facebook was threatened with a Senate investigation over political bias, the social network scrambled to clean house. Peter Thiel, a prominent Trump-supporter on the company’s board of directors, is unlikely to permit any anti-Trump bias for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of uber-progressives at Facebook who would like to use the platform’s power to swing elections, but so far, the company seems committed to its public stance of neutrality.
Of course, that could all change very quickly, which would give Zuckerberg a big advantage in a presidential bid. But even with such an advantage, it’s hard to imagine how such an unappealing candidate could even win the Democratic primaries, let alone the general election.
Besides his obvious lack of personal appeal (he can hardly pose for a picture without someone on social media turning it into a tongue-in-cheek meme about him being a secret reptilian who wants to brainwash humans), Zuckerberg’s personal politics go entirely against the grain of the current mood in Middle America.
Firstly, Zuckerberg is a pro-immigration radical. He has praised Angela Merkel’s decision to open Europe’s doors to refugees, which triggered a wave of crime, sexual violence, and terrorism, as “insipiring” and said the U.S should “follow Germany’s lead.” He also personally assured the German chancellor that he would clamp down on “hate speech” against migrants on Facebook, which he subsequently did. Prior to the 2016 campaign, Zuckerberg was at the forefront of Silicon Valley-led efforts to loosen the U.S. immigration regime.
If there is one candidate who is guaranteed to ensure that Trump’s base, who rated immigration among their highest priorities, turning out to vote for him again, it’s Mark Zuckerberg.
For all his proclamations of concern for the average American, Zuckerberg is also associated with Silicon Valley, a place that is – for good or ill – sucking away their jobs. It’s true that in some cases of technological displacement, like the burger-flipping robots slashing away fast-food jobs by the day, they are assisted by stupid public policy, like the $15 minimum wage. But, presuming that Zuckerberg runs on a Democrat ticket, he will represent the party behind the job-killing minimum wage and the industry behind the job-killing robots.
Assuming that large numbers of Americans are still suffering economic hardship by the time Zuckerberg runs, they are also unlikely to take kindly to a plutocrat obsessed with issues that are of interest to few rust-belt voters, like Black Lives Matter.
Some would argue that Zuckerberg’s image as a teenage wunderkind who created one of America’s most successful companies from his college dorm room will be an asset. But this narrative is flimsy. Zuckerberg has been dogged throughout his entire career by accusations that he stole the concept of Facebook from the Winklevoss twins; the battle with the Winkelvosses was even dramatised in a Hollywood movie. Should Zuckerberg run in 2020 (or 2024, as his close friends predict), those allegations are sure to resurface.
Then there is the problem of Zuckerberg’s personal style, if it can even be called that. Donald Trump, with his long career in entertainment, has a remarkable capacity to dominate a stage. Zuckerberg, meanwhile, is noted for his monotone voice and creepy stare; the billionaire who owns 20 identical grey t-shirts so he doesn’t have to worry about what to wear. Some tech CEOs, like Steve Jobs, were brilliantly charismatic performers who were able to captivate a live audience. There are currently no signs that Zuckerberg is one of them.
And then there are the memes. The social media mockery, as seen in the tweets above, has already begun. If Hillary Clinton was frequently compared to an alien or a robot, it will be nothing compared to Zuckerberg. Both for their own political fortunes and for the entertainment that will follow, then, Republicans should sincerely hope that Zuckerberg really does run in 2020.