You can make a real difference, Mr. Schultz. Just not how you are thinking

We live in abnormal, unsettling times. The type of times that define civilizations. Are we seeing the decline of America, internally and globally? In fact, are we seeing the sunset of Democracy worldwide? Or are we just enduring pains necessary to clarify essential values for country and world?

It might be tempting to believe that an inspired leader will emerge to address our daunting challenges with brilliancy and cunning. But that is neither realistic nor desirable. Inspired leaders are indeed necessary, but across all levels of decision and power and within an intrinsically collaborative framework.  And that means that each of us, in our own way and scale, must contribute to the solution. Utopic? Perhaps, but essential as an aspirational goal. And close to the reality at some critical junctures in history. Remember World War II, for example?

Of course, in WW II there was a common, clearly identified, enemy. That is not the case today: Our enemy is arguably within, and different issues have the potential to re-align foes and friends more than the rigid blue-versus-red divide would suggest. Perhaps this basic ambiguity of allegiances explains some 40 percent of Americans choosing to not affiliate with any party.

If we were a monolithic bloc, independents would rule the country’s politics. But our litmus-test issues are diverse, as are diverse our standings on those issues. We even have different reasons for not registering with a party, ranging from disinterest to conviction. And our conviction can be rooted anywhere across the spectrum of progressive-to-conservative views on social, economic and environmental issues

Does this mean that independents are powerless to help shape our future? Much to the contrary. We can, and increasingly are learning how to express our diverse voices by stating opinions, voting strategically and even (timidly) winning elections.

But is the time ripe for a major national statement by an independent, in the form of a high-profile run for the presidency in 2020? I wish the answer were yes. I would like to see alternatives to a two-party system: In a government for and “by“ the people, anyone should be able to run with a clear conscience and fair odds. Yet, the reality is far more complex.

Consider Howard Schultz, the self-made billionaire mulling a 2020 presidential run as an independent. He is a self-described centrist, socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Highly successful with Starbucks, a disaster with the (former) NBA Seattle Supersonics. In our heterogeneity, independents will not flock to his candidacy and he will likely face an uphill battle to even contend meaningfully. But he could play the spoiler. Should he thus meekly abide by Democrats’ calls for him to stay out of the race, or instead compete on principle and risk help re-electing an unfit president?

That’s a tough, unfair call. But Mr. Schultz could respond to this unfairness by focusing his time and resources not on a presidential run but rather on a view towards profound paradigm shift.

How? By spearheading an effective, broad-based national campaign to make independent and third-part candidacies viable, starting with a comprehensive reform of our electoral system. Something that no one can do alone, but that he could galvanize and help organize and fund. Should he attract massive numbers of independents and fair-minded partisan voters to the cause, and with them state legislatures and the US Congress, he would have truly capitalized on citizen power towards major and much needed change. That would be inspired, collaborative leadership. The type we need.

And Mr. Schultz would then have a fair shot at the presidency in 2024, if he still wants to.

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