The most important book I’ve read in the 21st century is “The Circle,” a novel by Dave Eggers. As soon as I finished and set it down on my nightstand in a stupor, I thought to myself, “This is what ninth graders will read about America in the year 2113.” The novel chronicles a post-Facebook social network that encompasses the entire planet’s economy, government and relationships in the not-too-distant future, where privacy is dead and transparency rules. It’s dystopian in a bone-chilling way because it’s so close to the world we already live in.
If you don’t read novels, you can cheat and see the movie version starring Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and John Boyega that comes out in April. Or you can just read the fake news! It’s all unfolding in front of us.
While the Trump administration is the most visible and immediate force derailing our way of life, it’s a mere grocery store tabloid train wreck when compared with the impending chaos that automation and artificial intelligence will introduce in the next decade and beyond. As terrified as I am of Facebook’s control of the media and public perception, it does seem like the only entity powerful enough to connect peace-loving humans around the world against a new wave of fascism. So, I have to wonder, should we just let Mark Zuckerberg rule the world officially by electing him president in 2020?
Many recent news reports suggest that Zuck is in the running. There’s convincing evidence. He has said he will visit all 50 states this year. He hired former Obama campaign wiz David Plouffe to run policy and advocacy at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. He’s been more politically active in recent years, especially on the issue of immigration, through his lobbyist group FWD.us. He’s backing away from atheism. Of course, the most compelling evidence is the fact that he’s denied being interested in the job, writing a flat out “No” to BuzzFeed last month in an email exchange. Denial is the ultimate baller politician move — with bonus points if he changes his mind in a couple years after praying about it.
His vision for an interconnected earth isn’t necessarily a bad one. It’s really still in a nascent phase, from a historical perspective. So, there’s much to learn about how his business and philanthropy and political efforts will impact society. Whether Zuck launches a campaign or not, he’ll still be in a position of enormous power and he won’t be perfect. But as the de facto figurehead of the next generation, he and his work could mature into something profound and healing for the whole planet along the likes of something we’ve never seen before. If he ran for president and won, it could usher in the millennial era and legitimize it at the institutional level, clearing a path for peers to follow. It would draw a line in the sand between the new and old worlds.
Like many Americans, I’ve been thinking about how to identify the fastest route to course-correcting our government after both political parties let us down with the most terrible election of all time. It seems like the only options are the following: 1) sane Republicans use Congress to check Trump, 2) Democrats lead a comeback in the 2018 midterm elections, 3) states use their power differently at the local level, 4) we elect a better billionaire to shake things up from the top down, or 5) we do the grueling work of grassroots organizing to create enduring long-term change beyond the current two-party catastrophe.
Option five is the safest, most inclusive, and most desirable, but do we have that kind of time? I’m not sure if we do. We’re not even halfway through Trump’s first 100 days, and each day equates to a decades-long disaster. Moreover, what has the pendulum swing between the two parties achieved? Their pettiness and inability to collaborate created the vacuum that Trump filled. They’re going to fix it?
As Nick Bilton noted in Vanity Fair recently, however, tagging the founder of Facebook as the leader of the free world may not be a post Zuck would even like. Bilton wrote:
“Zuckerberg is one of the few people for whom becoming president of the United States might be a step down. As the chief of Facebook, he is already the true leader of the free world. Zuckerberg commands a company that touches a quarter of the Earth’s population, some 1.8 billion monthly active users. There is no one alive who can affect more people with the touch of a button.”
Hmmmm. There is one guy with his finger on a different button, but what does Vanity Fair know about anything? The sitting U.S. president says the magazine is dead.
I am the last person who wants to institutionalize the technocracy and anoint Mark Zuckerberg its monarch. That’s essentially worse than the doomsday scenario articulated by Eggers in “The Circle,” which I have forced every person I love and care about to read in earnest. However, I am not fundamentally afraid of a savvy businessman with sound morals running the government efficiently. Trump will, of course, give this model a bad name, but center-right folks should take that up with presidential no-show Mike Bloomberg.
When I think about the politicians likely to get in on the 2020 race, I don’t know that I see anyone other than Zuck who could reset the Obama Era order — or actually innovate beyond it by bridging the gap between the lightning pace of technological change and bureaucracy. It is essential to do the work of ending oppression, but it might be easier to dismantle oppressive institutions under a millennial who has already successfully dismantled institutions. Sure, he’s a privileged Ivy League white guy and many of us want that era of dominance to be over, but it’s hard to argue that he’s actively looking to reinforce that legacy. If anything, while at times flawed in his logic and in need of education, he believes he is creating empathy at the local and global level — and there is ample evidence that it’s working. President Zuckerberg feels like more of an extension of what President Obama’s coalition was building than what Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or John Kasich ever offered. I love Deval Patrick, for example, but could he halt this crazy train like Mark Zuckerberg might?
People often say that Zuckerberg is apolitical or that he just entered politics in recent years, but that isn’t entirely fair. His leadership hasn’t been in the policy-making arena, but it has enormous political implications. It just takes place in the private sphere. As a libertarian, there are ways in which I can see Zuckerberg’s stewardship of Facebook as the most effective model of the philosophy in action. It’s executed from the business side, as opposed to the sad attempts of well-meaning folks like Gary Johnson trying to fight the Democrats and Republicans from within the political arena. That’s exactly the way a true non-career politician should lead, letting the work speak for itself while bridging the divide between liberal and conservative values. Who has brought more people together than the billions Zuck has assembled?
I’m scared of many things. Mostly the robot takeover, Mitch McConnell, the Scientology center on Franklin Blvd. in Hollywood, and algorithms. I’m even more scared, however, of the status quo continuing. When you consider four more years of Trump, the next iteration of Ted Cruz, and the broken Democratic Party, Zuck looks better and better.