I find this election bizarre for many reasons but none more than this: If I were given a blank sheet of paper and told to write down America’s three greatest sources of strength, they would be “a culture of entrepreneurship,” “an ethic of pluralism” and the “quality of our governing institutions.” And yet I look at the campaign so far and I hear leading candidates trashing all of them.
Donald Trump is running against pluralism. Bernie Sanders shows zero interest in entrepreneurship and says the Wall Street banks that provide capital to risk-takers are involved in “fraud,” and Ted Cruz speaks of our government in the same way as the anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist, who says we should shrink government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” (Am I a bad person if I hope that when Norquist slips in that bathtub and has to call 911, no one answers?)
I don’t remember an election when the pillars of America’s strength were so under attack — and winning applause, often from young people!
Trump’s famous hat says “Make America great again.” You can’t do that if your message to Hispanics and Muslims is: Get out or stay away. We have an immigration problem. It’s an outrage that we can’t control our border, but both parties have been complicit — Democrats because they saw new voters coming across and Republicans because they saw cheap labor coming across. But we can fix the border without turning every Hispanic into a rapist or Muslim into a terrorist.
Trump seized on immigration as an emotional wedge to rally his base against “the other” and to blame “the other” for lost jobs, even though more jobs, particularly low-skilled jobs, are lost to microchips, not Mexicans.
What we have in America is so amazing — a pluralistic society with pluralism. Syria and Iraq are pluralistic societies without pluralism. They can only be governed by an iron fist. Just to remind again: We have twice elected a black man whose grandfather was a Muslim and who defeated a woman to run against a Mormon! Who does that? That is such a source of strength, such a magnet for the best talent in the world. Yet Trump, starting with his “birther” crusade, has sought to undermine that uniqueness rather than celebrate it.
Sanders seems to me like someone with a good soul, and he is right that Wall Street excesses helped tank the economy in 2008. But thanks to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, that can’t easily happen again.
I’d take Sanders more seriously if he would stop bleating about breaking up the big banks and instead breathed life into what really matters for jobs: nurturing more entrepreneurs and starter-uppers. I never hear Sanders talk about where employees come from. They come from employers — risk-takers, people ready to take a second mortgage to start a business. If you want more employees, you need more employers, not just government stimulus.
I have just the plan for him: The 2015 “Milstein Commission on Entrepreneurship and Middle-Class Jobs” report produced by the University of Virginia, which notes: “The identity of America is intrinsically entrepreneurial [enshrined] by the founders, popularized by Horatio Alger, embodied by Henry Ford. ... With enough hard work anyone can use entrepreneurship to pave their own way to prosperity and strengthen their communities by creating jobs and growing their local economy.”
In short, we’re not socialists.
The report outlines many steps government can take — from deregulation to education to finance — to unlock more entrepreneurship in America, and not just in Silicon Valley, but anywhere, like Louisville, where “a vibrant startup community has developed. ... Today, the city boasts five accelerators, a vibrant angel investor community and partnerships with large companies to support startup enterprises like the GE FirstBuild center, which brings together micro-manufacturing and the maker movement.”
We can do this! We are doing it.
“Roughly half of private-sector employees work in small businesses, and 65 percent of new jobs created since 1995 have come from small enterprises.”
Unlike Sanders, Ted Cruz does not have a good soul. He brims with hate, and his trashing of Washington is despicable. I can’t defend every government regulation. But I know this: As the world gets faster and more interdependent, the quality of your governing institutions will matter more than ever, and ours are still pretty good. I wonder how much the average Russian would pay to have our FBI or Justice Department for a day, or how much a Chinese city dweller would pay for a day of the Securities and Exchange Commission or Environmental Protection Agency? Cruz wraps himself in an American flag and spits on all the institutions that it represents.
America didn’t become the richest country in the world by practicing socialism, or the strongest country by denigrating its governing institutions, or the most talent-filled country by stoking fear of immigrants. It got here via the motto E Pluribus Unum.” — Out of Many, One. Our forefathers so cherished that motto they didn’t put it on a hat. They put it on coins and then on the dollar bill.
For a guy with so many of those, Trump should have noticed by now.
Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times.