When Evan McMullin called me on a hot summer day last year and said he wanted to run for President, I had no idea what was ahead. What I quickly learned was that Evan is a man who cares deeply about our country, has sacrificed greatly to protect it and was ready to stand up against two very flawed candidates, no matter the cost. No one else was willing to do something that bold and courageous about the mess we faced. There were tons of uncertainties. One thing I didn't know was if it would have any lasting impact or even, really, why it mattered. I knew it did, somehow - but I wasn't sure how.
What we showed America, and many of the country's most powerful and skeptical people, was that a truly normal American with very little financial means could make a very large impact in a very short time with almost no resources. What Evan did was truly incredible. Way more incredible than Trump's win, I'd argue. And we did it with a message of unity, liberty, truth, and freedom - even as so many pushed back against us.
Evan's run restored hope for so many and gave so many a reason to get excited and engaged in the 2016 election and now, to keep fighting for good. It also proved that our system, while deeply flawed, is indeed the greatest idea in governance that history has ever seen.
That system is under threat. Not by Donald Trump, though. He's a symptom. A weather event in a much larger climate pattern.
The problem is that the system is rigged.
I’ve spent the last three months reflecting, listening, watching, reading and generally trying to figure out what the heck is going on in the world. I’ve talked to some of the smartest people in the country. Some of the most experienced. Some of the most passionate and caring. Some of the richest. Some of the angriest. From all sides of the political debate. And while many have theories and ideas about the various problems and challenges, I've actually found a surprising clarity among them.
First, some context. I recently heard a talk by Greg Thompson of Thriving Cities and the University of Virginia in which he reminded the audience, in these challenging times, to differentiate between what he called “the climate and the weather.” It was a brilliant, simple and transformational thought for me.
Trump is a weather event. The rigged system is the climate, along with the global economic changes, the rise of populism and nationalism and the meteoric pace of technological change. An election year like 2016 is what you get when the climate is so volatile and unstable. It produces nasty, destructive storms with names like Hillary and Donald.
Now, to the rigging. What most of us mean when we say the system is rigged is this:
Those with power and money have ensured they can keep their power and money by creating a system, over decades, that benefits them at the expense of “regular people.”
There are very few people who disagree with this either in the extensive research done on the topic or in everyday conversation. Try it. Ask this question to anyone: Do you think the “system” in America is rigged to favor the rich and powerful?
The specific ways the system is rigged are above my pay grade but you can read smarter people on the topic. While there are a number of ways the system is rigged, there is surprising uniformity in the basic conclusions, even from divergent points of view. This is incredibly important because it confirms that not only do we agree directionally on the problem, but the problem is real and relatively clearly defined.
I believe there are three things that need to happen to tackle this problem.
- Turn the knob, ever so slightly, on taxes for the wealthy. (credit to Warren Buffett, Joe Ritchie and many more)
- Make modest but vital regulatory and ballot access reforms to allow independent candidates for office to compete with the two parties. (credit to Jackie Salit, Greg Orman, Nick Troiano, Peter Ackerman and many more)
- Love one another (credit to Jesus, and many more)
Just these three things. The three most revolutionary things we could do to un-rig the system and reset our amazing American experiment. You’re probably saying I’m naïve or idealistic. I’m neither. Super-smart and principled people agree with me on the tax issue and I’ve personally lived through the barriers to independent candidates having spent most of 2016 trying to compete with a truly independent presidential candidate in Evan McMullin.Trust me - it's pretty freaking hard.
What about this third thing – loving each other? “Now you’ve really gone squishy on us, Joel,” you may say. But loving another person, even when you don’t agree and especially when they’re your enemy, is probably the single most revolutionary thing that’s ever been done in history.
Our very natural survival instincts are opposed to loving one another. Whether you think we’ve evolved over millions of years or were created by a sovereign God, it’s pretty hard to argue these days that “people are inherently good and looking out for each other.” We are basically all self-interested and always trying to get ours. This is why love is so radical.
Real love for another person says, “I will set aside my agenda to help you achieve yours. I will allow myself to be inconvenienced so that you can be more comfortable. I will give up my privilege to serve you.” These are radical thoughts in an era of near total self-absorption where we have all the tools necessary to build our own reality through social media and the internet.
So what will I do about the rigged system? A lot, I hope. But I'm starting with love. See you in the trenches.