Fi­nan­cial wiz­ard Michael Bloomberg thinks Don­ald Trump is an in­com­pe­tent char­la­tan and doesn’t rule out a run in the next pres­i­den­tial race. Martin Fletcher meets the 75-year-old dy­namo.

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Fi­nan­cial wiz­ard Michael Bloomberg thinks Don­ald Trump is an in­com­pe­tent char­la­tan and doesn’t rule out a run in the next pres­i­den­tial race.

Six me­tres be­low the City of Lon­don’s new­est build­ing, the £1 bil­lion ($1.9b) Euro­pean head­quar­ters of the fi­nan­cial data and me­dia gi­ant Bloomberg, lie the newly re­stored and faith­fully re­con­structed re­mains of one of Lon­don’s very old­est build­ings: a Ro­man tem­ple ded­i­cated to a vir­ile, bull-slay­ing young de­ity called Mithras.

This “Mithraeum” has been open — free — to the pub­lic since early Novem­ber, and a short sound-and-light show trans­ports vis­i­tors back to the third cen­tury AD, when the tem­ple was in the heart of Lon­dinium, a pros­per­ous out­post of the mighty Ro­man Em­pire, full of for­eign mer­chants and sailors. A wooden writ­ing tablet re­cov­ered from the site records that Tibul­lus owed Gra­tus 105 denarii for var­i­ous goods, and is thus the City’s ear­li­est fi­nan­cial doc­u­ment.

What the all-male cultists who wor­shipped and feasted in the tem­ple at that time could never have fore­seen is that within an­other cen­tury or two, the Ro­man Em­pire would have col­lapsed, and Lon­dinium would be all but aban­doned for half a mil­len­nium. There is, these re­mains seem to sug­gest, no rule that says cities, cul­tures and civil­i­sa­tions will in­evitably en­dure.

Eigh­teen hun­dred years later, Bloomberg’s daz­zling new state-of-the-art head­quar­ters now stands, as the Mithraeum once did, in the heart of a seem­ingly flour­ish­ing, cos­mopoli­tan Lon­don — a ver­i­ta­ble tem­ple to glob­al­i­sa­tion.

So I ask Michael Bloomberg, the com­pany’s founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive, whether — as Don­ald Trump’s Amer­ica cools on free trade and in­ter­na­tional al­liances, and Bri­tain pre­pares to quit the Euro­pean Union — our own An­glo-Saxon civil­i­sa­tion might also be fac­ing de­cline. Some­what to my con­ster­na­tion, he sug­gests it may be.

“I think it’s very wor­ri­some,” he says as we sit in a large, open-plan of­fice on the build­ing’s sixth floor. “We are in a world where, be­cause of tech­nol­ogy, you have to in­ter­act with ev­ery­body else, and if you try to cut your­self off it’s re­ally hard to see how you can thrive. ‘Sur­vive’ is prob­a­bly over­stat­ing it, but cer­tainly ‘thrive’.”

Warm­ing to the theme, he tells me he has re­cently re­turned from China, where peo­ple are proud of their coun­try. They smile while Western­ers gri­mace. “I re­ally am wor­ried about it. I don’t want to take any­thing away from China, but they are as­cend­ing, and it’s hard to ar­gue that West­ern Europe, in­clud­ing the UK, and North Amer­ica, par­tic­u­larly the US, less so Canada and Mex­ico, are do­ing the same thing.”

It is not just that the US and Bri­tain are pulling up their draw­bridges. At var­i­ous points in our hour-long con­ver­sa­tion he laments the break­down of bi­par­ti­san­ship in Amer­ica, the lack of ci­vil­ity in pub­lic dis­course, the dis­par­age­ment of ex­perts and ex­pe­ri­ence, the per­vad­ing cul­ture of blame, the in­creas­ing sen­sa­tion­al­ism of the me­dia, the de­cline of pub­lic health and ed­u­ca­tion, the bale­ful ef­fect of tele­vi­sion and fast food on fam­ily life, and the amount of time peo­ple spend “play­ing An­gry Birds on their iPhones rather than communicating”.

“We’re head­ing to­wards a world that’s not a good one — not a place you would want your kids to grow up in,” he says, though he adds, “I’m op­ti­mistic in the sense that I still think we can do some­thing about it.”

BLOOMBERG IS short, dap­per, cour­te­ous and in re­mark­ably good shape for a man of 75. Hours be­fore our mid-morn­ing in­ter­view he had flown overnight from New York to Luton in his Fal­con jet, fresh­ened up at his house in Cado­gan Square, then taken the Tube from Sloane Square to Man­sion House to pre­side over the Mithraeum’s open­ing cer­e­mony at 10am.

He is a spec­tac­u­larly suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man who, since be­ing laid off by Salomon Broth­ers in 1981, has amassed a US$48 bil­lion ($70b) for­tune by pro­vid­ing the fi­nan­cial world with instant mar­ket data on Bloomberg ter­mi­nals. He is now the world’s 10th rich­est per­son, though — mono­grammed blue shirt aside — you would never know it.

He has few airs and graces. He has no pri­vate of­fice in the new open-plan head­quar­ters — just a desk in a pod like every­one else. Stu­diously egal­i­tar­ian, he dis­likes ti­tles and in­sists that even the lowli­est of his 19,000 em­ploy­ees around the world call him Mike.

He was also a very suc­cess­ful, three-term cen­trist mayor of New York. In 12 years from Jan­uary 2002, he helped it to re­cover from the 9/11 at­tacks that de­stroyed the World Trade Cen­ter, steered it through the fi­nan­cial crash of 2008, turned its bud­get deficit into a sur­plus and trans­formed the Big Ap­ple into one of Amer­ica’s safest and clean­est cities.

It’s true that he was some­times seen as ar­ro­gant, spent US$260 mil­lion on his three elec­tion cam­paigns, and at­tracted crit­i­cism for rais­ing prop­erty taxes and sup­port­ing a po­lice stopand-frisk policy that dis­pro­por­tion­ately tar­geted mi­nori­ties. But he also de­clared war on trans fats, smok­ing and fizzy drinks, and ac­cepted a salary of just US$1 a year.

To­day, Bloomberg has a new role. He is the anti-Trump. In the ab­sence of an ob­vi­ous Demo­cratic stan­dard-bearer, he has be­come an — or even the — un­of­fi­cial leader of the Op­po­si­tion, us­ing his mas­sive wealth to re­sist the poli­cies of a pres­i­dent whom he has de­scribed as a con man and dan­ger­ous dem­a­gogue.

In­deed, Bloomberg is ev­ery­thing his fel­low New York bil­lion­aire is not — a glob­al­ist, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, free trader, sup­porter of bi­par­ti­san­ship, im­mi­gra­tion, gun con­trols, same-sex mar­riage and abor­tion rights. He ob­jects when I sug­gest he is the Pres­i­dent’s po­lar op­po­site.

“I am what I am. If he wants to go and be on the other side, he would be the po­lar op­po­site of me, thank you. I’m a lit­tle bit older than him,” he quips. Be­sides, he adds, he and Trump do not dis­agree on ev­ery­thing: “He’s in favour of golf, and I’m in favour of golf, too.”

Bloomberg is scathing about Trump. He re­fuses to call him a busi­ness­man, in­sist­ing he is a realestate de­vel­oper who has never man­aged more than five peo­ple and is worth scarcely a quar­ter of the US$10 bil­lion he claims.

He laments Trump’s fail­ure to as­sem­ble a good White House team — “if you don’t have a team you don’t do any­thing” — and says he will find it hard to at­tract good peo­ple now be­cause his ad­min­is­tra­tion is in trou­ble. He hopes Trump will aban­don pro­tec­tion­ism be­cause “we have to have global trade if we’re go­ing to pro­vide jobs for the peo­ple he says he’s go­ing to help and the peo­ple who elected him”. He does not know what the Pres­i­dent stands for be­cause “most of the things he talks about now are 180 de­grees the op­po­site of what he did be­fore he ran for of­fice”.

When I ask if Trump has de­meaned his of­fice, he replies, “The level of dis­course and what’s ac­cept­able in terms of ve­rac­ity and ci­vil­ity had gone down sig­nif­i­cantly, and it’s re­ally wor­ri­some.”

In­evitably, the con­ver­sa­tion turns to Bloomberg’s pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tions. A Democrat­turned-Repub­li­can-turned-in­de­pen­dent, he was tempted to run as a third-party can­di­date against Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008. He talks al­most wist­fully about how he wanted to run last year, re­call­ing that he had em­ployed cam­paign staff, as­sem­bled a brains trust and made com­mer­cials be­fore con­clud­ing that the elec­toral rules made it im­pos­si­ble for an in­de­pen­dent to win.

But what about 2020? How about seek­ing the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion to take on Trump? The two-time grand­fa­ther would be 78 by then, but Bloomberg’s mother lived to 102 and he is so ro­bust that he still skis, pi­lots planes and he­li­copters, and some­times flies from New York to Lon­don and back in a sin­gle day. He opposes Trump’s poli­cies “vi­o­lently” (his word) and is al­ready de­ploy­ing his for­tune to re­sist them.

As Trump pulls Amer­ica out of the Paris cli­mate agree­ment, Bloomberg has ral­lied the coun­try’s gov­er­nors, may­ors and cor­po­rate chiefs be­hind a pledge to meet the ac­cord’s emis­sion tar­gets any­way.

As Trump moves to re­vive the US coal in­dus­try, Bloomberg cam­paigns to close down the coun­try’s — and the world’s — coal-fired power sta­tions

We’re head­ing to­wards a world that’s not a good one — not a place you would want your kids to grow up in. I’m op­ti­mistic in the sense that I still think we can do some­thing about it. Michael Bloomberg

in favour of clean en­ergy. As Trump cools on in­ter­na­tional al­liances such as the United Na­tions and Nato, Bloomberg seeks to build multi­na­tional net­works and has taken over the Clin­ton Global Ini­tia­tive, which brings to­gether heads of state, bil­lion­aires, busi­ness ti­tans, No­bel lau­re­ates and celebri­ties each au­tumn to seek solutions to press­ing world prob­lems.

Closer to home, as Trump re­fuses to tighten firearm laws, de­spite the re­cent mas­sacres in Texas and Las Ve­gas, Bloomberg is fi­nanc­ing the gun-con­trol lobby and those few brave politi­cians who defy the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion. He has also taken on the to­bacco in­dus­try, and spent con­sid­er­ably more on phil­an­thropic causes — roughly US$5 bil­lion — than Trump’s en­tire worth.

“I’m think­ing about run­ning for pres­i­dent of my block as­so­ci­a­tion,” is Bloomberg’s first an­swer (re­fer­ring to his residents’ as­so­ci­a­tion in New York), when I ask him about 2020. “I’ve worked at that for a long time,” he replies when I ac­cuse him of evad­ing the ques­tion.

He stresses that he is very happy run­ning his busi­ness, over­see­ing his phil­an­thropic foun­da­tion and en­joy­ing his fam­ily.

But fi­nally he opens the door just enough to make it clear that he has not ruled out a ‘bat­tle of the bil­lion­aires’ next time round — and the chance to be­come Amer­ica’s first Jewish pres­i­dent. ‘If God came and said, “Would you like the job?” I would think it’s a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to change the world.’

Michael Bloomberg (cen­tre), with Don­ald Trump and Jared Kush­ner in 2013.

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