President Zuckerberg


By: Padraic Berting



U.S. Election Night 2016 produced a barrage of sounds. There were victorious cheers in the rolling mountains of the Rust Belt, and angry cries in the streets of New York City. Farther away, loud pangs of bemusement and grief were expressed in a St. Michael’s College common room via loudly blasting Sufjan Stevens at 3 a.m. Everyone woke up the next day with ringing ears, numb but straining to hear the sounds of their new reality. The most egregious sound came from those realizing that a businessman without previous political experience was able to slither into the highest elected office in the United States of America. Since Donald Trump’s unprecedented victory, numerous non-politicians have expressed interest in running for office in the United States, including Kid Rock, Kanye West and most notably, Mark Zuckerberg. Figuring out why isn’t hard, but in the case of Facebook’s founder, chairman and CEO, perhaps he is especially emboldened by the election of a fellow businessman. There’s also the newfound sense of political responsibility he must feel after facing allegations that administrative issues on Facebook allowed Russian hackers to influence the election. Looking at all of this, Mark Zuckerberg’s coming into the crosshairs of politics is as unsurprising as it is unsettling.

So far, his movements in the realm of politics have been fairly inconspicuous. The past few years have seen him hire multiple former Obama and Clinton campaign operatives to work for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). He has committed $45 million USD to programs tackling the issues of mass incarceration and affordable housing in various cities. He has even crossed the country to meet with members of the public—from recovering heroin addicts in Ohio to community leaders in Detroit. It all looks good on paper, but all of his humanitarian efforts have a lead underbelly, being implicitly political. Zuckerberg routinely stresses that these moves are purely philanthropic or company-based and that he has no desire to seek elected office, but touring the 50 states for Facebook’s sake seems like a stretch.

What’s more, denying political ambitions early on is par for the course for any hopeful seeking elected office in the future. Folks often forget that Donald Trump was teasing a run for elected office as far back as the ’80s, and his moves then were much less telling than Zuckerberg’s are now.

In 1988, Trump went on The Oprah Winfrey Show and expressed his political ambitions. When asked whether or not he would run for president, he candidly replied, “Probably not.” Much later, he hinted more strongly at his political ambitions by nearly running for president in 2011. He even kickstarted the “birther” movement. This movement is an offshoot of the Tea Party movement, and both share the racist idea that Obama was not born in the United States and should therefore have been disqualified from holding the office of the Presidency. In both instances, Trump threw lavish political conjectures into the sphere of public opinion, waited for a response and assessed his next move from there. Following the election, Mark Zuckerberg has performed very similar conjectures. In May 2017, he delivered a speech at Harvard University’s commencement ceremony in which he chastised rising income inequality and added that he believed all United States citizens should be entitled to universal basic income. After doing so, as was the case with Trump, Zuckerberg denied that this political conjecture was a statement implying that he would run for office. Only time will tell if that holds true. It is impossible to tell at this moment whether or not Mark Zuckerberg will run for the office of the Presidency. He has strenuously denied any intention to run for elected office every time he has been confronted with the notion, and will likely continue to do so for the near future. It might not even be up to him, as backlash from the Trump presidency may prevent the public from ever wanting a non-politician in office ever again.

Yet actions speak louder than words, and the moves he has made point to an individual with a finger on the trigger of a potential presidential campaign. Zuckerberg, like many ambitious presidents before him, could be testing the waters to see whether or not the public will take the bait. For the time being, perhaps he’s playing it safe out of cunning: we all know no one gets to 270 electoral votes without making a few enemies.

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