Attorney General Bill Barr’s rush to file an antitrust suit against Google two weeks before the end of an election seems suspicious. At the very least, the suit reflects President Donald Trump’s stated desire to punish imagined enemies in tech companies for their imagined biases against the right.
If the case is cynical, however, it also marks a magnificent turning point in American political economy. Whatever corrupt thoughts tinge the suit, they do nothing to vitiate this fact: The antitrust suit, which alleges that Google has abused its search monopoly to squash competition, is the beginning of the end of a lawless era, when Big Tech could get away with whatever bolstered its profits and power.
Not to give Barr too much credit. Plenty of political players had already moved in this direction. For several years, attorneys general at the state level sought to force the Justice Department to take firmer action, by launching their own investigation into the company. Earlier this month, the House Subcommittee on Antitrust published a massive—and brilliant—opus about the perils of Big Tech, especially Google. The report, based on subpoenaed documents, included a crystalline explanation of how the company abuses its dominance to stifle competitors and entrench itself. This wasn’t a press conference called by Ralph Nader, but a carefully argued, heavily footnoted door-stopper, officially blessed by both Democrat and Republican elected officials. (The Justice Department suit focuses narrowly on Google’s search business; the House report provides the blueprint for a more comprehensive case against the company.)