I am not at all certain US will be able to conduct a free and fair election in November or have a peaceful transition of presidential power in January. We are edging toward a cultural civil war, only this time we are not lucky: Abraham Lincoln is not the president.
Lincoln, in our darkest, most divisive hour, was able to dig deep into his soul and find the words “with malice toward none, with charity for all let us strive on to finish the work we are in” and establish “a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Instead, we have Donald Trump, a man whose first instinct, when the country is being ripped apart, was to have peaceful protesters tear-gassed and shoved aside so that he could walk to a nearby church to hold a photo op. He did not enter the church to host a healing dialogue. He posed for a photo op to drive up his support among white evangelicals.
How about the social media barons? Will they save us from the toxic waste they now circulate? Certainly not Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who is clearly the Rupert Murdoch of his generation. He’s always justifying his choices with vacuous bromides about “free speech,” but he’s obviously just in it for the money — no matter how much his platform is used to destroy our democracy
What to do? Where can we find the leadership needed to calm this situation, deal with its underlying causes and at least get us through the 2020 election?
Three years ago, I might have hoped that Senate Republicans would step in and restrain Trump. But now we all know better. Mitch McConnell and his caucus rent themselves to whomever will energise the Republican base to keep them in power and secure the economic benefits for their wealthiest donors.
Those energisers have been Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, coal companies, industrial polluters and now Trump’s most rabid supporters. It doesn’t matter who. How about the social media barons? Will they save us from the toxic waste they now circulate?
Certainly not Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, who is clearly the Rupert Murdoch of his generation. He’s always justifying his choices with vacuous bromides about “free speech,” but he’s obviously just in it for the money — no matter how much his platform is used to destroy our democracy.
So where to look? It is not hopeless. I hope America’s principled business leaders, and there are many, can find a way to come together to lead a healing discussion, maybe through the Business Roundtable, in the absence of a president willing and able to do so.
We got a problem
AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson eloquently called for exactly this on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Tuesday morning. “All of us CEOs have large African American employee bodies,” he said. “We owe it to them to make sure we’re speaking to this and that we’re asking our policymakers to step up and just say it: ‘We got a problem. We have a big problem. And it needs to be dealt with.’
I am from Minneapolis. I was born in the Northside, a few miles from the street where George Floyd was killed. No one there is doing more today to make sure that disadvantaged families in that neighbourhood have the tools to succeed than Sondra Samuels, the CEO and president of the Northside Achievement Zone.
NAZ is working with parents, students and local partners to drive a culture shift in predominantly black North Minneapolis to end multigenerational poverty through education and building family stability.
Sondra told me the right response to the killing of Floyd has to be “both/and” not “either/or.” We need both an immediate end to the looting, burning and infiltration of white supremacist groups that is destroying the homes and businesses of good people in cities all over the country we need deeper civil rights, voting rights, education, environmental and policing reforms for this generation.
Finally, I think remarkable leadership is coming from some local politicians — so many great mayors of all colours and political stripes. Every time I hear Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speak — whether about dealing with the coronavirus, injustice or the rioting in her town — I want to ask Joe Biden: “Are you interviewing her for vice president?”
And I was really impressed how, to help quell the violence in Atlanta, she enlisted the local rapper Killer Mike at her press conference, who told the city:
“It is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organisation. Now is the time to plot, plan, strategise, organise and mobilise. It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth”
Help is not on the way from this White House or this GOP, but the country is full of problem-solvers. America needs to ignore Trump; he’s made himself part of the problem. But we can connect, elevate, amplify and empower the business leaders, social entrepreneurs and local leaders who are rising and ready to be the solution.
Thomas L. Friedman is a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author