The Millennial Way: How Mark Zuckerberg Could be the Vanguard of a New Political Revolution
I do not know Mark Zuckerberg, nor do I know if he will run for president. He says he is not running, but time will tell. What I do know is that Donald Trump’s election moved the prospect of a Zuckerberg presidency from the hinterlands of surreal daydreaming to the smack you in the face reality of the new American political normal. I do not fully know what Mr. Zuckerberg believes or what his political philosophy would be. I do know, based on his recent comments and writings, that he is a thoughtful, curious, studious, and compassionate man. I do not know if he has the desire to be president, after all he has a pretty good (and arguably more powerful) job already. But, I do know that should he choose to run, there is a road map to victory, a map drawn and executed by another wealthy thirty-something businessman turned world leader — Emmanuel Macron.
There has been widespread speculation that Zuckerberg is laying the groundwork to leave his CEO chair and enter the political arena. His recent commencement speech at Harvard, the release of a lengthy manifesto, and of course his nationwide listening tour have all stoked this speculation. Zuckerberg sits in a unique position. Due to his wealth and the influence that Facebook affords him, he is completely unbound by traditional political allegiances. It is this freedom that is his greatest political asset, an asset that he should guard closely and carefully.
To that end, he should follow the Macron model — build your own party from the ground up. I know it sounds outrageous, but if anyone ever had a legitimate chance to crack the two-party system it is Zuckerberg. And, if ever there was a time where the electorate was looking for a new and different choice, it is now.
Over the course of the last decade we have watched in real time as Zuckerberg has grown and matured into a leader. In his Harvard speech, he discussed the most important lesson he has learned in life. He discussed how his failure to articulate a clear vision and to share his true purpose — connecting people — with those around him led to frustration and infighting that ultimately resulted in the complete turnover of Facebook’s management team. Through this experience he learned the importance of communicating a clear vision, and of working to provide not just profits but purpose in peoples’ lives. In short, he learned that leadership is not about building the biggest or most profitable company, but about bringing people together and building community.
Zuckerberg has come to realize something that a majority of Americans, especially millennials understand, but that the mainstream politicians in this country have yet to grasp. He understands that life is more than just collecting trophies and getting to the finish line first — though he has shown himself remarkably good at both. He knows that the journey is just as important as the destination. As a millennial he understands that young people crave meaning and purpose not just a paycheck. This is a big thing. It is what unites young people from the left and right, conservative and liberal, religious and not. And, if harnessed properly, it is what can propel Zuckerberg to the Presidency.
It is time for a new approach to American politics. One that rejects the myth that life is a zero-sum game and instead seeks solutions that bring about the most benefits to the broadest possible constituency. One that builds on a positive vision of the future. A future not dominated by petty conflict, xenophobia, and isolationist rhetoric, but liberated through enhanced democratization of technological gains, increased access to the training necessary for the jobs of the future, and the robust economic opportunities waiting to be exploited in the green economy.
Zuckerberg is the perfect messenger for this new type of politics because he is unburdened by the need to raise money or build technological infrastructure. He already has both. Nor does he need to build name recognition or credibility. He has that too. And while there is no shortage criticism directed toward him (some fair, some not) Zuckerberg is the new face of the American dream. Someone who has not only transformed his own life, but also the larger world through hard work, innovation, and as he frequently admits, luck. As we learned last November, Americans love winners and love success stories (real or fabricated). Zuckerberg checks both boxes, a winner with a successful resume. But, and I pray I am not too optimistic in this assessment, he is also a person who understands the fundamental inequities that exist in our society and has a genuine desire to address them. Imagine a chief executive who truly puts what is best for the country first — not money, not politics, not re-election, not downstream ballots, but actual living, breathing American people.
So what would a Zuckerberg campaign look like? It may be helpful to look to France and its rising star president Emmanuel Macron. Macron built a new political party from the ground-up. And with the United States and much of Europe embracing increasingly populist and nationalist leaders, Macron recognized that as the mainstream parties continued to move further apart, that opportunity lie at the center. He won not by stoking fears of foreigners or demonizing international trade, but instead by trumpeting the positive gains of globalization and vowing to tackle the challenges that have accompanied these gains. And lest you think that it could not happen here, that our two-party system is impenetrable, remember that this is the first time ever that France has elected a president that did not belong to the traditional center-left or center-right parties.
I firmly believe that America is ready for a new political revolution. There is a moment here, an opportunity for real change as the baby boomers age and millennials — the largest generation in American history — fully come of age. Americans are exhausted by the partisan bickering, name calling, and scandals that have dominated our politics for far too long. We are tired of turning on the news every day only to hear about Russia, email hacking, and the latest twitter feud. We are desperate for a voice of reason, of maturity, of sanity. Now is the time for a new agenda driven by a belief in progressive pragmatism — the idea that government cannot solve peoples’ problems, but can ensure a level playing field for all. The idea that while government may not be solution to all of our problems, it certainly is not the problem.
There is a moment where every generation passes the torch to the next. Perhaps the hand-off has been a little shaky here, perhaps the torch has fallen or even been extinguished, but it is time to pick it up. It is time for the young people of this country to stand up and say enough. Enough with the bickering and name calling. Enough with career politicians who place their own interest above their constituents. Enough with the politics of personal destruction, the rabid personal attacks, and the inability to govern. Enough with so-called leaders who believe that to compromise is to lose, and that leadership means shoving your beliefs (no matter how misguided or flat our wrong) down others’ throats.
It is time to govern the Millennial Way. We are connected. We are citizens of the world. We are natural collaborators, innovators, and risk takers. We came of age during one of the worst economic periods in U.S. history so we understand the destruction that unchecked greed and unregulated capitalism can bring. But we are optimist. We are compassionate, and we are introspective. We are less motivated by money than by doing something worthwhile. We look for purpose, for meaning, for fulfillment in our personal and professional lives. Most importantly, we believe in the power of our ideas to transform the world. We believe this because we have seen it come true. What better person to carry forward that message than a man whose vision has literally changed the world.
I do not know if Mark Zuckerberg will run for president, but I certainly hope so. I hope he looks to Macron and En Marche! for inspiration. I hope he harnesses the enthusiasm, compassion, and drive of the millennial generation. Most of all, I hope that Zuckerberg and all of us, individually and collectively, commit to charting a new course. A course charted not based on unbending ideology, but on a sincere desire reach consensus for the common good.
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