It is Presidents Day and in the Englin abode we're celebrating America's mostly bloodless history of transitions from one President to the next, and many but definitely not all of the flawed men who have held our nation's highest elected office.
I have been prone to pondering the true extent of the power of the Presidency, especially during times that the Senate is led by an exceptionally effective and powerful person (as it has been for more or less the duration of Mitch McConnell's incumbency.)
I ponder it no more. Four years of a President who led primarily for the enrichment of himself and his family, and in so doing remade wholesale the parts of the federal government that he didn't starve for any attention at all, followed by nearly a month of a President who is at least attempting to put our government to work for as many of us as possible as quickly as possible has been plenty to disabuse me of the notion that I'd rather have the Senate Majority than the Presidency. I'll take both, please. But if I have to choose, I'll take the Presidency.
David: yes, this is a public admission that you have been correct about this the whole time, during every one of our discussions on the topic. You’re a smarty-pants. For the permanent record. Happy Presidents Day!
Convergence! Red Companies, Blue Companies, and the Limits of Individual Charity
The CEO of GoFundMe, the largest crowdfunding platform in the world, the site that millions of Americans have turned to in the hopes that their fellow Americans would throw them some pennies to keep them from falling through the gaping holes in our nation's basic systems, and the self-styled "internet's take action button" penned a remarkable op-ed in USA Today.
After cataloging the extraordinary volume of COVID-19-related fundraisers the site has hosted over the past year, and categorizing those desperate pleas into heartbreakingly telling categories - monthly bills, food, and saving local restaurants and small businesses - Tim Cadogen ends on a call to action... for Congress:
"We are proud of the role that GoFundMe plays in connecting those in need with those who are ready to help. But our platform was never meant to be a source of support for basic needs, and it can never be a replacement for robust federal COVID-19 relief that is generous and targeted to help the millions of Americans who are struggling."
This is worth noting for a few Everything Is Politics reasons:
First, it's an admission of the limits of side-stepping systems in favor of individual charity. GoFundMe may be the "internet's take action button" (it's not, and I will never not put that phrase in quotes) but the action it's driving isn't up to the challenge of the moment. So much so that their CEO is taking to the pages of the nation's most widely read newspaper to say so, and to call for an entirely different kind of action to address the very systems failures the site has heretofore benefited from.
Second, it's wading into political territory that is interesting for the platform that hosted a fundraiser that raised $25 million for a right-wing firebrand who had been banned from Facebook for his bile and misinformation to build a (very small) portion of Trump's border wall. At the time that was GoFundMe's biggest fundraiser ever, and GoFundMe has never taken an official position on the border wall or made any public calls to action about it.
This statement is no "anything less than a vote for Biden is a vote against democracy." It sidesteps fully wading in by calling for "generous" and "targeted" help but not any of the specifics that Congress is debating. And it doesn't call out the people standing in the way of robust, generous, and targeted COVID-19 relief - Republican Senators.
But by making the call at all it is being partisan, in the same way that all companies that take any stand at all must be in these deeply polarized, partisan times. If you're calling for the federal government to act as a shared safety net, then you are answering a core political question in the same way Democrats are and in a way antithetical to Republicans right now. That is partisan. Even if you don't use the words. GoFundMe came out as a blue company with that op-ed, at least right now.
As companies figure out how to navigate the realities of a Republican party that has been captured by its most extreme wing, there will be more of this. And I think we should be cheering it. The private sector and its leaders have a vital, even central, role to play in how we resolve the critical political questions of our age, and the more transparently, forthrightly, and clearly they play the role the better for all of us.
More about crowdfunding, individual philanthropy, and their limits in Evictions, Billionaires, and Venmo.
More about CEOs and partisan politics in It’s Always Been Red Companies and Blue Companies.
Responsibility and Risk
I've been returning quite a bit to two of those critical political questions we're reckoning with:
Scale of Responsibility: what is the level of responsibility for basic societal functioning? Is society a platform for individuals to do whatever they can for themselves and whomever else they select? Or is society a set of responsibilities to each other for a baseline way of life? To make the questions more concrete (if oversimplified): is America Facebook, a platform that facilitates benefit (and profit) for those best situated to make the most of it, with no larger responsibilities or reasons for being? Or is America an interstate highway system, a mechanism with a shared baseline of rules and expectations for people to get where they’re going, even as some get there faster and in more comfort than others?
Allocation of Risk and Reward: What kinds of risks do we protect people from — which risks do we take collective responsibility for? — and which do we make the responsibility of the individuals taking them? How do we allocate the rewards of risk — how broadly do we give credit for “wins” and how much do we credit and insist on reinvestment in the systems that allows for those wins? Is there a floor for public risk? A ceiling for private reward, especially if that reward is enabled by public investment?
It strikes me we've been making choices about these two questions in a particular direction for several decades now: towards "platform America" with lots of public risk and increasingly private reward, and no floors or ceilings for either. Which isn't very populist of us, despite the ascendance of would-be populist leaders on both sides of the partisan spectrum.
SAVE THE DATE!
Hold the evening of March 24th on your calendar for the second installment of "Wine and Wisdom" to benefit the LA Library Foundation's Young Literati Program!
Our featured LA wine will be Cavaletti, our featured LA author will be Anna Merlan. We'll talk about the rise of conspiracies documented in her book Republic of Lies, the confluence of the anti-vaccination activists she's been reporting on for years and this moment when mass vaccination is our best hope, and more.
Save the date, watch this space for RSVP instructions and a link to get your wine, and read Republic of Lies through your local library (LAPL has it) or your favorite independent book store!
Disclosure: the bookshop.org links are affiliate links - meaning they’ll send me some small portion of the purchase price. I’ll donate all of those proceeds to the Young Literati program of the LA Library Foundation and report back on that here.