George Soros is a billionaire philanthropist, a former currency trader, a liberal champion and — in certain circles — a boogeyman. That last label seems to be a badge of honor.
“I’m very proud of the enemies I have,” he said in an interview in his apartment on New York’s Upper East Side. “It’s a perfect way to tell a dictator or a would-be dictator if he identifies me as an enemy.”
The list of people who do seem to think of Mr. Soros as an enemy includes President Trump and his personal lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, the government of China, and an uncountable number of conspiracy theorists.
Their objections to Mr. Soros, 89, stem from his backing of liberal causes and super PACs that opposed Mr. Trump and supported Democratic candidates like Hillary Clinton, and his Open Society Foundation, which, funded by his billions, has supported democracy and human rights in some 120 countries, often opposing autocratic regimes.
There’s also a substantial amount of anti-Semitism directed toward Mr. Soros, who was born into a Jewish family in Hungary.
Having just published a collection of essays this week, called “In Defense of Open Society,” he acknowledged that his brand of “globalism” — which he takes to mean an integrated, global economy underpinned by the rule of law — is out of favor amid Mr. Trump’s “America First” approach, the trade war, the debate over Brexit and escalating fighting in the Middle East.
Looking out a window with expansive views of Central Park, Mr. Soros spoke about China, Mr. Trump and who he thinks will face off against the president in next year’s election.
Notably, Mr. Soros is convinced that the arc of history may soon turn back his way, that Mr. Trump’s election and Brexit were the nadir of anti-globalism and that a backlash to that nationalism is coming.
“Trump is still doing a tremendous amount of damage,” he said, lifting himself up a bit in his desk chair. “I mean, just the last week what he has done in the Middle East has been devastating for America’s influence in the world,” he said, referring to the withdrawal of American troops from Syria.
Mr. Trump “is an aberration, and he is clearly putting his personal interests ahead of the national interests,” he said. “That’s a fact.”
His face brightening, he said: “I think it will contribute to his demise next year. So I am slightly predicting that things will turn around.”
Mr. Soros’s bet is that Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts will become the Democratic nominee to compete against Mr. Trump.
“She has emerged as the clear-cut person to beat,” he said. “I don’t take a public stance, but I do believe that she is the most qualified to be president.”
He quickly added that he was not endorsing Ms. Warren, perhaps realizing that any comment construed as an endorsement is likely to be used by her opposition.
“I’m not endorsing anybody because I want to work with whoever,” he said. “I don’t express my views generally because I have to live with whoever the electorate chooses.”
Yet when I pointed out that many billionaires and his peers on Wall Street consider Ms. Warren’s policies — taxing the rich and tightly regulating banks — a threat to the capitalistic system in which he made his riches, he said he disagreed with his former colleagues and repeated his support of a tax on the wealthy. (Mr. Soros signed an open letter calling for an additional tax on the wealth of the richest Americans.)
“I am in favor of taxing the rich,” he said, “including a wealth tax.”
Pausing for a moment, he looked like he was searching for the right words to explain himself.
“A financier makes people suspicious,” he said. “And it does create a moral problem for me. As I became so successful, it basically put a self-imposed constraint on me that actually interfered with making money.”
Still, Mr. Soros batted away the idea that he and his Wall Street brethren had the political power and influence that was often ascribed to them — or at least that they would have less power in this election cycle than in previous ones.
“There are more Main Streets in America than there are Wall Streets. So I don’t think that Wall Street, other than being a source of money, will have its way in choosing the president.”
That may be his view, but money clearly matters in American politics, in part because a Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance allowed parties to raise huge sums, to spend on advertising and voter outreach. In the three months through September, Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican Party raised $125 million, a record.
Still, Mr. Soros said he saw signs that people were growing tired of nationalistic tendencies.
We discussed the outrage over the N.B.A.’s free-speech travails in China, and he said it demonstrated to the world just how dangerous closed societies could be.
“I consider Xi Jinping’s China the worst threat to an open society,” he said of China’s president, repeating a declaration he made this year in Davos, Switzerland, that prompted China to retort, “We hope the relevant American can correct his attitude.”
Mr. Soros, who has long encouraged free trade as a strategy to open up otherwise closed countries, said that the strategy had not worked in China the way he had expected and that more intervention was needed.
Mr. Soros, pointing a finger in the air, called China “a mortal enemy” and said the West gave it too much of the benefit of the doubt.
“We should recognize it: It’s a different system. It’s totally opposed to ours, diametrically opposed to ours,” he said. Perhaps to qualify his words, he added: “I’m not anti-Chinese at all. I’m just anti Xi Jinping.”
To him, the United States should pressure companies like Huawei to push China to open up. Otherwise, he suggested, not only will President Xi continue to close China off, but its development of new technologies like artificial intelligence will keep it that way for generations.
Alluding to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famed quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Mr. Soros took issue with idea that societies were predisposed toward being open.
“The arc of history doesn’t follow its own course. It needs to be bent,” he said. “I am really engaged in trying to bend it in the right direction.”