The Atlantic Politics Daily: The United States of Jeff Bezos

We’re talking about another billionaire. Plus: Russian trolls have a next favorite candidate.

It’s Thursday, February 20. In today’s newsletter: We’re talking about another billionaire (but not this one or that one). Plus: Russian trolls have a next favorite candidate.



The United States of Jeff Bezos

One uber-rich white billionaire may have been thoroughly filleted on the Democratic debate stage last night, but another, one not mounting a presidential run, may be the one whose actions send a larger message about the condition of American democracy.

This week, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced that he would drop $10 billion on a fund to combat climate change—immediately making the world’s richest man also the world’s biggest climate-change philanthropist. (How will he spend the money? TBD.)

But Franklin Foer writes, Bezos’s gift may not exactly be a good thing for the country, or for the world:

In a healthy democracy, the world’s richest man wouldn’t be able to painlessly make a $10 billion donation. His fortune would be mitigated by the tax collector; antitrust laws would constrain the growth of his business. Instead of relying on a tycoon to bankroll the national response to an existential crisis, there would be a national response.

By just about any definition, $10 billion is a lotttt of money coming from one person.

I tried to wrap my head around it—by looking at some of my favorite things in the world: sweeping policy plans citing similarly huge numbers.

1. The Green New Deal, a Bernie Sanders-backed climate plan that’s en vogue on the left, would endeavor to decarbonize the U.S. economy—and would dedicate trillions toward climate investment.

2. Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax—a 2 percent tax on multi-millionaires—has become such a rallying cry for her candidacy that “two cents!” is a popular chant at her campaign rallies. If enacted, it would make the tax code a whole lot more redistributive, as my colleague Annie Lowrey writes, raising about $200 billion per year.

3. If I had to choose one phrase that encapsulates the fissures within the 2020 Democratic primary, it’s probably this: Medicare for All. Support for single-payer health care has become something of a litmus test for the party’s left flank. Are Warren and Sanders, the plan’s biggest cheerleaders, being realistic about its cost?

To borrow from my colleague Robinson Meyer: Billions? In this climate??

—Saahil Desai


1. “Sanders escaped with many fewer bruises and bumps.”

With former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg on the debate stage last night, most of his primary rivals seemed to have forgotten who the front-runner is; Bernie Sanders essentially skated through unscathed. Ron Brownstein runs through the next scenarios.

2. “Willful, preventable ugliness is always a problem to one degree or another.”

A new draft executive order, informally known as “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again,” is making the rounds. Good use of government resources; bad use of government resources? Andrew Ferguson debates.

3. “Dignity binds together progressives and moderates opposed to Trump. It can also bring together constituencies who now find themselves opposed to each other.”

The denial of dignity—respect, honor, and self-worth—is the unifying theme among Americans in the Trump era, the writer E.J. Dionne argues: To drive out Trumpism, Democrats need to build a movement on the dignity of the American worker.



Russian trolls have a next favorite candidate

Russia is reportedly interfering again, backing President Trump’s re-election. But the foreign government meddling doesn’t need to do much to get its other wish: dividing the U.S.

The Special Counsel investigation uncovered Russia’s work to boost Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump during the 2016 election. This time, there’s no Hillary Clinton. The . Democratic field is squabbling. Both Sanders and Trump profess interest in focusing the U.S. inward.

But that doesn’t mean Russians have less of a reason to interfere this year, Kathy Gilsinan reports. “Luckily for the Russians, then, the two current front-runners for the presidency, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, are both polarizing figures,” she writes.

So what are Russia’s motives this time around?


Today’s newsletter was written by Saahil Desai, an editor on the Politics desk, and Christian Paz, a Politics fellow. It was edited by Shan Wang, who oversees newsletters.

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