The formula for change is simple. Yet the future of our nation belongs to those who are willing to do the hard work required of us all. Right now, the future is owned by a few who are already in the game and have learned how to maximize their efforts exponentially to influence the minds of many, which begs the question: When will the rest of us get in the game?
It was early in the political season of 1996 when the rookie candidate walked into the office of a very prominent billionaire businessman. After exchanging pleasantries, the candidate made his pitch for a donation, expecting it to be sizable.
“I can have your entire campaign funded in less than 24 hours,” answered the businessman. “It will only take a few calls to get 50 of my friends and their friends to chip in, but…
I’m going to need a return on my investment.”
Stunned at what he had just heard and now quickly feeling a sense of rage, the rookie candidate forced out a sharp retort: “That’s not how I work.”
Then, without a check in hand, he stormed out.
The meeting was a wake-up call, a harsh reality that the game of politics is not as it seems.
The rookie candidate was even more determined to win the right way.
That first election had been a massive grass-roots effort and a bitter struggle. Yet on election night, it became the first win of its kind in over 50 years—a rare, startling defeat for the incumbent party and the Good ‘Ol Boy Network.
“Gatekeepers” yield enormous influence
Fast-forward to 2010. The now-seasoned political veteran, a statesman in all regards, had won several elections after that eye-opening day 14 years earlier.
Over the course of his career, he had built a reputation of integrity, wisdom, grit, kindness, and a willingness to work with anyone. He was known and referred to by many of his colleagues—Republican and Democrat alike—as the best legislator ever in state history.
Now the superstar legislator was seeking a higher political office. To be sure, he was the leading candidate, a shoe-in. His approval ratings were through the roof.
And once again, as he began his campaign funding circuit, he found himself in the office of yet another prominent businessman, the gatekeeper for a major city’s elite inner circle of influencers.
“What will be your area of focus if you’re elected?”
“Our economy needs a shot in the arm,” said the candidate. “I believe that small businesses aren’t really getting a fair shake when it comes to tax incentives.”
“What do you mean?”
“As a state, we give away billions of dollars in tax incentives to the largest companies, who don’t need them. I think that small businesses—who do need them—should have access to some of those same tax incentives.”
Immediately after uttering those words, the candidate knew that his message wouldn’t be received well.
He began to question whether or not he should have revealed his true intentions yet assured himself that it was the right thing to do.
The businessman didn’t like what he was hearing and replied,
“Well, then, we’re going to find someone else to run against you.”
Within a week, that’s exactly what they did.
In fact, they didn’t just find someone to run against the prominent statesman. They funded his opponent’s entire campaign, and got a former NFL coach (from the other political party) and a former college football superstar to film TV ads supporting his opponent.
This time, they won.
The “inner circle” controls everything
In 2009, I was in the midst of building a political technology company and had the pleasure of meeting a young, aspiring lawyer from Dallas. He was referred to me by a very prominent man, who suggested that if anyone in Dallas could help grow my company it would be this guy.
And so, early one morning, we met for coffee. He claimed that he was a friend of Peter Thiel, the famous Silicon Valley venture capitalist—yes, the same VC who was first to invest in Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook.
As the meeting progressed, the young lawyer told me the story of how he became the gatekeeper for his city’s exclusive group of influencers. He was the one to set up meetings between aspiring presidential candidates and this group of 12-15 of the most distinguished businessmen in Dallas.
I knew then that his future was paved in gold.
As you might expect, this talented young lawyer decided to run for a state office a few years later and needed a sizable loan to kick off his campaign. Somehow, he was able to secure such a loan from an oil conglomerate, who early on hadn’t decided yet whether or not to forgive the loan. (Yes, this is legal in Texas.)
By now, you get the point. The higher the political office, the more influential people want to become “stakeholders” in a political candidate’s future.
Since name recognition wins every time and since money pays for name recognition, the sentiment among influencers is that they will always have a greater impact on the political process than those without money or influence.
“Cruz” to a win if you have money or influence
Most people are well aware that money wins election campaigns. Yet what most don’t know is how influence buys elections.
In 2012, David Dewhurst was running for U.S. Senate in the state of Texas. Dewhurst was wealthy (with a $200 Million personal fortune) and had the support not only of Governor Rick Perry but also of Dallas’ elite inner circle of influencers.
Unbeknownst to voters, Dewhurst ran into a much bigger influence machine. The political race was hyped in the media as an Establishment GOP vs. Tea Party battle.
In fact, the race was a battle between Dallas’ influencers and Houston’s influencers. Dewhurst’s opponent Ted Cruz was a trial lawyer from Houston. And if you’re a big firm trial lawyer in any state, your ace up the sleeve is influence.
In the case of Dewhurst, what he ran into wan’t a wall of ideology. It was a mountain of opposing influence, influence that helped Cruz secure the endorsements of very prominent national leaders.
Sometimes influence is as good as money.
Money isn’t the problem. Apathy is.
As long as world civilizations have existed, those with money have always influenced political processes. Why? Because humans have a predisposition to pride. And pride is the gateway drug to the love of money, control, and power.
History has proven time and again that when the balance of the ruling elite is upset, it is usually due to a groundswell of popular passion, a movement of the non-elites, the non-intellectuals, average citizens—you and me.
What was so unusual about the founding of the United States is that those with money were the ones pledging their “lives and fortunes”. The so-called elites were the ones taking the biggest risks to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity.
Granted, it is usually those who take the biggest risks that become the greatest successes in life. And without our founding fathers—most of whom were wealthy—the U.S. likely would not have existed.
So why did our “elite” founders risk so much, caring more about freedom than money or power that they were willing to lay down their lives to “secure the blessings of liberty”?
In the 18th century, the common bond that held this country together was a shared sense of purpose. That is, men and women, rich and poor alike, cared deeply about establishing a nation free from tyranny.
Did you get that? They cared. To be fair, the U.S. wasn’t a perfect society. Far from it. In fact, large swaths of the country subscribed to an abominable, unimaginable evil: slavery. At the time, there was no doubt that the U.S. would have it’s own vices to deal with at some point.
Yet, before the good people of our nation could combat slavery, before we could engage in war to set the captives (slaves) free, we had to care enough to come together for a moment to free ourselves from the captivity of another master (Britain).
Because the alternative was subjugation by those who sought to controleveryone, our founders cared enough to forsake everything they had. That’s what made them so special. They fought to upend the status quo.
For those without much, it’s easy to risk everything because they have little to lose. For those with much, risking everything is nothing short of noble because it’s so much harder to do.
Why apathy is more dangerous than hostility
Today, a large chunk of the civilian population simply does not care. They are not interested enough in the political process to (1) educate themselves on a wide range of important topics and (2) to do anything about it.
The reason? While our politicians are addicted to money and power, our citizens have found their own addiction: entertainment. And the natural byproduct of entertainment is apathy.
Some become apathetic about the political process because entertaining themselves has taken up most of their spare time. For them, it’s really not their fault because the god of Entertainment has cajoled them into developing habits they simply cannot break.
However, other people are apathetic purely because of willful ignorance, which of course has nothing to do with intelligence. For whatever reason, they choose to be politically agnostic. The willfully ignorant just simply lack wisdom. Their god is Foolishness.
The good news is that the former category of apathetic citizens can be awakened to a newfound enthusiasm for valuing what’s important in life. They just need someone they trust to guide them there.
Unfortunately for the latter group (the willfully ignorant), wisdom will continue to evade their senses. And “common sense” will soon become their banner cry for that which is not common sense.
In the minds of the willfully ignorant, what is good will appear to them as bad, and what is bad will appear to them as good. They will shout their foolishness from the rooftops (well, in our modern society, from Facebook) and will continue to revel in their sty of confirmation bias.
For anyone who is political apathetic, it is the addiction to being entertained that is perhaps even more dangerous to the security, prosperity, and growth of our nation than that to money or power.
Why? Because our addiction to Entertainment is rewiring our brains to prioritize our time in a way that values the remarkably unimportant (e.g. entertaining ourselves) over the remarkably important (e.g. educating ourselves, serving others, etc.).
Unfortunately, as U.S. citizens we pat ourselves on the back and insist we’re “educated” about one political topic or another merely from viewing 30-second marketing campaigns promoting one candidate over another. Then, we go vote for that which makes us feel good.
You may have noticed that the majority of those “involved” in the political process—who claim to be “in the game”—seem to love engaging in toxic rhetoric and, in some cases, open hostility with those who simply have opposing views.
Instead, we should be engaging in civil discourse like never before, learning how to challenge each other’s opinions in a polite way, helping to propel our own minds forward toward valuing what’s noble (sharpening our minds) over what’s entertaining (vitriol), toward building a sense of common purpose, valuing the uniqueness and individuality of each one of us, toward valuing others above ourselves.
Why should we get out of the boat and jump in the dirty sea of politics with sharks who love drawing blood with their sharp words? Why should we subject ourselves to that kind of cruelty, when we could calmly stay away from the fray?
Because the world (and, yes, our country) is run by sharks. Because if we, the apathetic who are greater in number, don’t stand up for what’s right, true and noble, then the world will always belong to the few willing to move us toward subjugation, toward a world where we will truly one day become powerless to do anything about it.
Vitriol props up the status quo
The rancorous rhetoric in this country is palpable, fueled by media outlets on both sides of the aisle. Too large a segment of the population simply does not recognize that the largest media networks, while existing to increase value for their shareholders, also serve to influence the minds of us—their customers.
Most of these networks target a left-leaning market, while Fox News targets the right-leaning market. (Of course, that’s debatable, but that’s not the point.) What’s undeniable is that most media outlets exist to make money from you.
So, since “if it leads it bleeds” drives media agenda and since destructive rhetoric is unquestionably bleed-worthy, most media outlets only serve to fuel the fire of their viewers’ heated rhetoric in order to gain more viewers in order to make more money. Like it or not, that’s the reality (as you well know).
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to blame media outlets for wanting to make money. They are businesses, after all. In fact, we all want to make money for our own “shareholders”—our families.
The point is not that we should lament media companies from making money off our thirst for near-violent political discourse. We should lament the fact that they don’t do their job of simply reporting the news agenda-free and letting us decide what to do with the facts.
Instead, news outlets mainly serve to report (1) only stories that serve their agenda and (2) facts spun to serve their agenda.
Perhaps more importantly, we should lament the fact that the Media and power players alike use subtle and not-so-subtle tactics of influence to yield enormous power over our thoughts, our minds, and our lives.
Don’t believe me? Consider recent examples from both President Barack Obama (Democrat) and Jeb Bush (Republican). Barack Obama credits his electoral success to one messaging tactic: that you can’t not vote for a candidate promising to give away free stuff. And, just recently, Jeb Bush was quoted as saying, “I kind of know how to win an election.”
Really? Both candidates on both sides of the aisle know how to sway the minds of some 160 million voting people? Simply put, yes.
And you and I are among them.
So, how can we change the course of a nation?
With Americans’ bent toward apathy, is it even possible to change the course of our nation, to upend the status quo?
The good news is that yes, it’s possible. Yet it’s going to take a lot of work from each of us.
It’s going to require that we (1) begin caring about our country enough to (2)educate ourselves on a wide range of political topics, (3) continually challenge our own opinions in civil conversation with those we trust and who trust us, and (4) get involved in the formal political process.
The formula for change is simple, yet each us of must begin caring about something greater than our own happiness. Maybe then can we begin the arduous struggle of winning the war of influence against big-money machines, against “inner circles” of power-players, and against media conglomerates that do care much more about the future of this country than we do.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my article! Feel free to let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your opinion.