World Reimagined

Rebuilding America with Tom Friedman

Published
Jan 18, 2021

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Truth and trust are the cornerstones of U.S. democracy. How can the United States, and its leaders, resurrect those central ideas to ensure a viable future for the country and its people?

In this episode, Gautam Mukunda is joined by three-time Pulitzer Prize recipient and prolific author, Thomas Friedman, to discuss weaknesses in American democracy and how to repair them, and what the Biden administration can do to set the U.S. on a trajectory of long-term sustainable growth.

Throughout his career, Thomas Friedman has held various foreign and domestic positions with the New York Times, including Foreign Affairs Op-ed columnist and White House Correspondent. Friedman is the author of seven bestselling books, among them From Beirut to Jerusalem and The World Is Flat, and is a recipient of the National Press Club’s lifetime achievement award.

"We need to go back now and really look at all the things in our society that have been normalizing and monetizing the erosion of truth and trust because without that our democracy is not sustainable." — Thomas Friedman

Books Referenced:

From Beirut to Jerusalem, by Thomas Friedman

The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Friedman

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – And How it Can Renew America, by Thomas Friedman

Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy, by Hal Harvey, Jeffery Rissman, and Robbie Orvis

The Politics of Innovation: Why Some Countries Are Better Than Others at Science and Technology, by Mark Zachary Taylor

A Promised Land, by Barack Obama

Guest Info:

Thomas L. Friedman became the New York Times Foreign Affairs Op-Ed columnist in 1995. He joined the paper in 1981, after which he served as the Beirut bureau chief in 1982, Jerusalem bureau chief in 1984, and then in Washington as the diplomatic correspondent in 1989, and later the White House correspondent and economic correspondent. Mr. Friedman was awarded the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting (from Lebanon) and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting (from Israel). He also won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Mr. Friedman is the author of From Beirut to Jerusalem, which won the National Book Award in 1989. He has written several other books, including Hot, Flat, and Crowded, an international bestseller.

Born in Minneapolis, Mr. Friedman received a B.A. degree in Mediterranean studies from Brandeis University in 1975. In 1978 he received a master’s in modern Middle East studies from Oxford. His column appears every Sunday and Wednesday.

@TomFriedman on Twitter

Transcript

 

Gautam:

Who needs all the king's men? After the insurrection a three-time Pulitzer prize winner fits America back together again.

Speaker 2:

10, nine.

Speaker 3:

It's one small step for man.

Speaker 4:

In the end it can no longer be ignored.

Speaker 5:

We stand today, at the threshold of a great event.

Speaker 4:

That will live interdependent world.

Speaker 2:

Two, one.

Narrator:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world.

Speaker 7:

I want there to be peace everywhere.

Speaker 8:

We look for integrity. We look for intelligence and we look for energy.

Speaker 9:

Every country, including the United States is going to get impacted.

Narrator:

An original podcast from Nasdaq.

Speaker 10:

Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity?

Gautam:

Hi, I'm Gautam Mukunda. If we want to innovate and solve issues ranging from inequality to climate change, to slowing economic growth, we need more than good leadership. We need great leadership. Good leaders are competent. Great leaders are something more. It's not a difference in degree. It's a difference in kind.

Gautam:

Great leaders have the insight to identify the right thing to do. The skill to do it. And the courage to act with integrity, even when it's hard, I've written peer-reviewed books on leadership and advise CEOs, sports teams, and one of the joint chiefs. And I've taught leadership at Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, and Tsinghua University in Beijing. That's given me the chance to learn from some of the world's most remarkable people. People with insight, skill, and courage. I love learning from people like that. And listening to them learn from each other. World Reimagined is my chance to share those conversations with you.

Gautam:

First up, Thomas Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times.

Tom:

And when Trump was elected four years ago, a little over four years ago now, it was a hairy night because, first, Hillary looked like she was leading, I'd write one column. Then, it looked like Trump would come, so I had to move to the middle. And then when Trump won, I'd write a third column.

Gautam:

Three-time Pulitzer prize winner and long time foreign correspondent for The New York Times, now a beloved op-ed columnist and the author of seven best-selling books, among them From Beirut to Jerusalem and The World is Flat.

Tom:

But they all contained the following quote from my friend, Lesley Goldwasser. Lesley's a really credibly brilliant Wall Street trader who immigrated to America from Zimbabwe, from a little town called Bulawayo back in the 1990s.

Gautam:

Tom's probably met more extraordinary leaders than any other person who's ever lived. Now, a few days before the inauguration of President Biden, he's got a lot to share with us and some ideas about what needs to happen for Biden to be remembered as a great leader.

Tom:

And Lesley said to me, one day she said, "Tom, you Americans kick around your country like it's a football. But it's actually not a football, it's a Faberge egg. You can drop and you can break it." That was the poem I wrote the day Trump was elected four years ago. I'll tell you, Gautam, even writing it then, I never imagined that we would actually do it. That we would actually drop it and break it in the last two weeks of his presidency.

Gautam:

So I had a conversation with a friend of mine who runs a hedge fund. And I said to him, "Look, if the United States falls apart, you may not care, you can go to another country. You may not care. But that is going to have catastrophic consequences for the world economy." And his answer was, "No, we'll be fine. American government instability is not that important. You're obsessed with politics. The guys like me, I run a hedge fund, it's not that important." And I was like, "First we at least understand why the US government seems to be on the point of falling apart. Like, can Tom help me explain to people like that, who listen to him why it matters to them beyond just being an American?"

Tom:

Yeah. After I wring his neck, I think what I'd explained is the following, that our democracy, our whole system is really built on just two simple pillars, truth and trust. Without truth, unless we can agree on what is true, we don't know what path to go down. Do I wear a mask or do I not wear a mask? Does this vaccine work or does it not work? Is this economic policy, the right one or the wrong one? And, at the same time, without trust we can't go down that path together. So, without truth and trust, there is no democracy. There is no America.

Tom:

And what's been happening for the last couple of decades is that we have been normalizing and monetizing people's attacks on truth and trust. And it reached its pinnacle electing a president for whom attacking truth and trust was a central political strategy. We basically said to them, "Why would you do that?" They said, "Yeah, well we know he attacks truth and trust, but that's a bug, not a feature. The feature is we get lower taxes. The feature is we get reelected. The feature is that our clergy are elevated." But, of course, that bug character is never a bug it's central. And that bad character led him to embrace a big lie that Joe Biden did not win this election. And then infect his whole base with that big lie, radicalizing that base and leading to the ransacking of our capital.

Tom:

So, we need to go back now Gautam, and really look at all the things in our society that have been normalizing and monetizing the erosion of truth and trust. Because without that, our democracy is not sustainable. And whatever knucklehead hedge fund manager thinks he can skip out of here, and go to New Zealand if America goes down, I'll tell you, I don't know what fund that guy is running, but I'm sure glad I'm not invested in it. We are the world. There is no stable world in Colorado, or the South Island of New Zealand without a healthy America.

Gautam:

So, we need a healthy America. Probably the only thing everyone in America agrees on, regardless of your politics, is that we aren't a healthy country today. Tom and I both believe that race is at the center of our divisions. Political science research, for example, The Great Alignment by Alan Abramowitz and Uncivil Agreement by Lilliana Mason shows the profound impact of race and the way it's changed over time in partisan politics. In the 1950s, African-Americans split their votes between both parties. Since then, however, the parties have sorted along racial lines and attitudes towards race. Today, African-Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. This means that the single most toxic issue in the United States, the divide between whites and blacks reinforces the divide between Democrats and Republicans. It's a recipe for all out political war.

Tom:

I've tried to read a lot about who was in that crowd that took over the Capitol. And I think what you really see are kind of three rivers of rage that converged there. So, one river are just people who are marinated in conspiracy theories from the dark web, from the real web. People dressed up in Viking outfits and all kinds of other crazy stuff. Another group though, are they're really normal people who really come to believe that the system is rigged. It's not delivering for them. Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater has been writing for years now that the country's not divided between the 1% and the 99%. the really relevant divide in America is that 40% of the country's actually been doing quite well since the 1980s in growing incomes and opportunities. But 60% of the country, basically, hasn't had a raise since 1980 in real incomes. That has radicalized them. They feel the American dream is beyond their grasp now, and they're angry. And Trump spoke to them.

Tom:

And then, you have a third group there. And, for them, their support for Trump is 90% about race, and the other 10% is about race. That is they see Trump and his dog whistles, and support white supremacists, and in giving white supremacists permission to say white supremacy kinds of things in mixed company in ways they never would before. People wearing Auschwitz sweatshirts, which you would never see someone wear before, let alone in a protest at our nation's Capitol. That group is also very much part of this coalition. So, I would never minimize them, but I think it is a diverse coalition and there's a lot of overlaps, but it's fed by these multiple rivers of rage.

Gautam:

If you want to understand American politics, my shorthand description is this, if the only thing you understand is race you will be way, way ahead of all the people who claim that race doesn't matter. It does. And it's in places you'd never expect. For example, Social Security exempts two categories of employment: domestic workers, and farm workers. Why? Because when it was created, in the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt needed the votes of Southern senators. And those senators would only support Social Security, if it didn't cover the two professions where most Southern blacks were employed.

Gautam:

Ethnically diverse societies tend to under -invest in public goods because people don't want their tax dollars going to support "the other." Race matters in every country. But it's particularly important in the United States. That doesn't mean race is the only thing that matters. It might get you a lot of the way there, but there are still many other factors, including economic ones that interact with it.

Tom:

That's right.

Gautam:

And, again, these two groups are intermingled that there's this sense that I have not gotten a raise for 40 years. And a lot of people, they sort of blame minorities for that.

Tom:

Right. There are people cutting in line in front of me.

Gautam:

That's exactly the phrase Arlie Hochschild uses in her wonderful book, Strangers in Their Own Land, where she says the vision of the American dream, we're waiting in line to get access to the American dream. And these other people, these women, these minorities are cutting in line in front of us.

Tom:

The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, were a product of American history of a rising middle-class. They had to actually cure endemic racism that was there in the society. But the reason there was a constituency and a foundation for that was that it was a time of really growing and broadening opportunity, certainly, for white Americans. And beginning to be for black and brown Americans. And it just shows you how important and inclusive, and growing economy is for shaping political attitudes.

Gautam:

I had never thought of it this way until a couple of weeks ago, but I wonder if the Civil Rights Acts would have been possible if they hadn't been paired, not explicitly, but at the same time with things like Medicare and Medicaid as sort of a way-

Tom:

Social Security, exactly. Social Security was earlier, but still it's [crosstalk 00:11:21]. Yeah, exactly. A whole approach to cushioning capitalism with social welfare. And that's what we have to get back to.

Gautam:

It's easy to make fun of the argument that the rise of Trump is all about economic insecurity. It's not. Race is absolutely central to the story. But it's also true, as you said, that median income has stagnated for most Americans since 1980. We've had 24 years under Republican presidents and 16 under democratic ones. And that just hasn't changed much.

Gautam:

When people look at presidents of both parties and they say that, "Neither them is making my life better," it's just a lot easier to blame minorities for what's going wrong. The way I think about it is, well, if people were more economically secure, yeah, we'd still be racially divided but, at least, the temperature would go down.

Tom:

I do believe that. I think it's necessary, but it's not sufficient because I do think there are other issues, involved issues of simply dignity and people feeling valued and recognized. It's so important.

Gautam:

So, Tom, help me with this problem, before the 2016 election, Steve Bannon interviews Donald Trump and Trump is, amazingly, sort of the moderate in this conversation. And he says, "Look, I'm not a fan of immigration," blah, blah, blah. But you look at Silicon Valley and they're all these Indian-American CEOs. And we want people like that. And Bannon's response is, "Well, look, no we don't because a third of the Silicon Valley CEOs are Indians, and that's bad for our culture. Culture is more important than economics." And Trump's like, "Oh yeah, I guess you have a point."

Gautam:

So, I mean, I was briefly the Indian-American CEO of a high-tech, company very briefly. How does someone like me engage with people who think my existence is bad for the country?

Tom:

Well, it's a powerful question, Gautam, but I'm going to give you what I think is the good news that actually that view of America, that America is like France, that there's this place called America. And that it's about our blood and soil, and who was born here, or who was born here first that is an un-American idea. And I would argue that Steve Bannon is really an outlier. As much as we'd like to think we're smarter than everybody else brains are actually distributed pretty equally. But what isn't equal is whether a country is ready to open itself up to brainy people, and energetic people from all over the world. And suddenly you end up with an America, which has a much higher concentration of brains and energetic people than any other country in the world. Not because we are smarter, because our blood and soil makes Americans have larger brains than other human beings. But that we simply opened ourselves up to more of them.

Gautam:

We recruit them.

Tom:

We recruit them, exactly. We welcome them. And there is nothing that makes me happier than to look around and see so many of America's premier tech companies led by Indian-Americans, or any other foreigners who come here with their brains, their talent and their energy. These high IQ risk takers have come here. And, by the way, the best way to make America normal and average is to shut our doors, to send these people home, and tell them to get off our lawn.

Gautam:

So, I want to come back to this because I know you and I, and I'm sure our listeners are all passionately engaged with this question of how do we create a prosperous future for the United States? But if we're going to do that, we need a government that works and we need a country that's not so divided that we seem to be almost at war with one another. So, if you were counseling the Biden-Harrison administration, if you were giving them advice, and I mean you might be, what could they do to try and heal some of these divides? At the same time, you don't want to reward people who just launched a terrorist attack on the US government. That duality is a hard one to bridge.

Tom:

So, my to-do list would be four or five things, Gautam, that I think are necessary to restore truth and trust, which are the pillars of our democracy and all good things. The first thing that has to happen, I believe, is that this GOP has to fracture between principled Republicans and unprincipled Republicans. Now, if just a few of them, and I wish there were more, but if just Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski were to split off and say, "We're becoming independent. And we're ready to actually collaborate with the center left Democratic party that Joe Biden has assembled here," Gautam, we can get a huge amount of work done.

Tom:

We saw just a little example of it around the stimulus bill when the problem solvers caucus of center right, and center left Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate, they actually forged that bill from the bottom-up, not the top-down. So, I think that is so important that this Republican party fracture between the Trump cult and principled Republicans. It will actually make the Trump cult less able to empower. And it will strengthen the center left and center right coalition that I think we need to actually prosper.

Gautam:

And we've already seen Lisa Murkowski actually say, "I'm not sure I'm going to be a Republican anymore." So, what else could they do?

Tom:

Well, the good news, Gautam, is actually only needs two because given the fact he's already got a majority with just two more Republicans, he'd have a pretty solid majority to do, I think, a lot of good things around infrastructure, around education. I think shoring up Obamacare after all, which was Mitt Romney's idea, basically back in Massachusetts. I think there's actually a lot of really important things Biden can do.

Gautam:

We could talk endlessly about the divides in the Republican party, but because I'm so focused on ethics, I want to hone in on one particular part of modern politics, the constant lying. It's not an accident that Immanuel Kant made telling the truth the foundation of his ethics never lying was his categorical imperative. Kant might have taken that focus on truth further than most of us would be willing to go. But the basic idea is that if your positions require you to lie, you're almost certainly in the wrong. That idea rings, well, true. And it reveals a lot about you, if you're willing to tell those lies. What we've seen in the last few years and even more in the months since the election is that some people in American politics have become incredibly comfortable with telling obvious lies on a routine basis. How do we deal with that?

Tom:

Gautam, there's no way to escape that conclusion where it led us was a lot of little lies that then enabled a huge lie. The biggest and most corrosive lie in American history, Gautam, why do I say that? Because we actually had the most heroic election ever, I would say. Even more heroic than the election we conducted in the middle of a Civil War. Why? Because in this election, more Americans than ever before turned out to vote and they did it in the middle of a pandemic that threatened every one of them. And then, their neighbors went out, and manned the polling stations, and counted the votes. And they did it in the middle of a pandemic. And then, the courts, many times Republican judges, affirmed the freeness and the fairness of that election. And they did it in the middle of a pandemic.

Tom:

This election was actually, I would argue, the greatest election in the history of democracy on planet Earth. And to take that election and turn it into a big lie that argued it was all just a fraud, it is one of the most shameful and despicable things I've ever seen a politics.

Gautam:

And the striking thing here is, when we put this in context, the normal response to the Trump era is that reveals the weakness of American institutions. And I think you and I agree that it does reveal many weaknesses about American institutions. But the flip side of that would be the president of the United States, aided by a huge fraction of his political party, launched an all out assault on American elections and failed completely.

Tom:

And that is one of the things that really does give me succor. And he failed Trump primarily because other principled Republicans did him in. Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State of Georgia, and a whole host of judges appointed by Trump, whose names I don't know, and a Supreme Court now dominated by Trump appointed Republicans, they all did him in. And that tells you that there are the seeds of hope in this country, that there are principled Republicans, there is what for to build on.

Gautam:

So, let's take a moment to unpack the importance of a peaceful transfer of power. It's 1801, Thomas Jefferson, the sitting vice-president and leader of the Democratic Republican party has defeated John Adams, the incumbent president leader of the Federalist party. And Jefferson is preparing to be sworn in. But the people are nervous. No one knows if Adams will step down willingly. Virginia's governor actually mobilizes the militia to prepare to March on Washington DC, just in case. The election of 1800 was bitterly [inaudible 00:20:46]. Adams had signed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which threatened people with prison for criticizing the president. His Federalists spread rumors that Jefferson and his party were radical atheists who would destroy the country and lead to an American version of the French revolution. Jefferson and his Democratic Republicans accused the Federalists of relying on immigrants for votes and aligning with the British to overthrow democracy. But when it was all over, Jefferson won.

Gautam:

What happened next? Adams looked at the results and said, "You know what? Democracy is more important than me staying in office. No matter how much I disagree with Jefferson, the best thing I can do for the country is demonstrate that when you lose an election, all you do is pick up your things and go home." This was the first time in history this happened. Not the first time in American history. The first time in world history. We Americans literally invented the idea of the peaceful handover of power after an election. It might be our greatest gift to the world. Democracy is impossible unless everyone agrees to abide by the results of the election, win or lose.

Gautam:

For more than two centuries, Americans have given our consent to be governed through elections every four years. And, except for the Civil War, the losers have always peacefully accepted their defeat until President Trump claimed, based on no evidence, that he was the real winner of the 2020 election and threw out that American invention. That assault on our institutions doesn't just harm us domestically, it makes the challenges that the United States faces from abroad harder too. I asked Tom how he thought this week's events would affect America's ability to respond to challenges from countries like China?

Tom:

From China, the challenge is simply that China is on a steady March to becoming the world's biggest economy. And, as it becomes the world's biggest economy, it's going to become the world's most powerful country. And it will begin, as a result, to set the rules of global trade. And in many ways, global diplomacy and geopolitics, unless we get our act together and begin to return to our formula for success. Our big five that have been the foundation of our power, which is always investing in infrastructure, the world's best ports, roads, airports, telecom. Always investing in education, always pushing out the boundary of government with government funded research, the boundaries of physics, and chemistry, and biology, so our best companies can come along and pluck the best flowers and turn them into great new companies that employ Americans and profit the country. Having the most open immigration system that can attract the world's most high IQ risk takers and most energetic people. And having the best rules to incentivize risk-taking and prevent recklessness.

Tom:

Those big five, Gautam, they are our formula for success. They go back to Abe Lincoln and the national railroad, and the Morrill Act creating the land grant universities. We know what our formula for success is, but we've gotten off that path. We thought, for some crazy reason that I don't understand, that we could just be dumb as we want to be, and it wouldn't catch up with us. "I don't want to wear a mask." And it's caught up with us.

Gautam:

I mean, if I can express what you just said in one sentence it's, foreign policy begins at home.

Tom:

Absolutely. One thing and you know, Gautam, you've taught in Beijing, the Chinese can guess your leverage from 100 paces. That is just something they are expert at doing. And negotiating with China without leverage is like playing baseball without a bat. If we don't have our act together, building the kind of America that is strong, healthy, united, we have no leverage. And without leverage, we'll just be taking orders.

Gautam:

You invented the Green New Deal. I always want to point this out to people, this was your idea and your columns. You were the first person ever to propose it. What does it look like, a pathway for the United States to sustainable economic development? And how can companies, the people who listen to this, how can they be part of that and how can they help us get to that state?

Tom:

I like the Paris Climate Agreement as a signal is kind of an economic and moral signal about where we should go. But when it comes to my actual Green New Deal strategy, it's really very simple. So, Hal Harvey-

Gautam:

Hal Harvey is the CEO of Energy Innovation and author of Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy.

Tom:

So, Hal Harvey points out that 80% of global emissions, Gautam, actually just come from 20 big emitters. So let's, first of all, focus on them. 80% of the emissions of the 20 top emitters actually come from just four sectors. So, transportation, power generation, buildings and manufacturing. 80% of the 80% of the 80% can actually be addressed by just four basic policy focuses. Four basic policy goals. One, zero emission electricity. Two, zero net energy buildings. Three, zero carbon transportation. And four, zero waste manufacturing. And so, that is my approach. Focus on the 20 biggest countries, focus on the four biggest sectors, and focus on the four key policies that will change those four key sectors in those key 20 countries and you tip the world.

Gautam:

So, as I'm thinking about ways to link those goals back to where we started this idea that we have to heal all the wounds in the United States, I mean, one thing is, the things you're describing, installing solar panels, or retrofitting buildings for higher energy are classically the jobs that are done by people who have been left behind by economic growth for the last 40 years.

Tom:

The green job sector, today, employs 10 times more people than the fossil fuel industry. The four biggest wind states in America are called Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. What do they have in common? They're all red states. You remember in the last debate, there was a point where Biden said, "We need to make a transition away from fossil fuels." And Trump just jumped on and said, "Did you hear that Texas? Did you hear that Pennsylvania? Joe, you just lost the election." And I was so wishing that that moment at that debate was like, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. And Biden could say, "Excuse me, I want to call a friend." And Biden would've called me and said, "Tom, what should I say?" I would've said, "Joe ask to name the four biggest wind states in America. And you know why they're the four biggest wind states in America? Because they're in transition."

Gautam:

By transition, Tom means transition from a fossil fuel based economy to a renewable energy based one. We spent an enormous amount of time and energy talking about coal miners in the last four years. And if you work in a coal mine, I really worry about your future. It's hard to imagine any world where those mines are going to be viable a generation from now. So, it's really important to try and help coal miners. But while we do that, we shouldn't forget that more people work in solar today than work in coal.

Tom:

One of my favorite chapter in my book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded is one that's called, If It Isn't Boring, It Isn't Green. If It Isn't Boring, It Isn't Green, what was that chapter about? It was about an engineer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who had maybe one of the greatest impacts on American energy, and clean energy of any individual. And that was because he figured out how to have the energy use, how to cut in half the energy use of every Coke machine, every Coke dispenser. And when you change the energy use of every Coke dispenser in America, wow, you have an impact. But to do that, Gautam, first of all, you have to know the physics and engineering of how a Coke machine works. Then, you have to understand how it interfaces with a public energy utility. Well, there is no more boring, no more boring institution on God's green Earth than a public power utility, nothing more boring. But by mastering both this guy had a huge impact.

Tom:

And the problem with the green, Gautam, is that everyone wants to be Al Gore. I want to be Al Gore. I want to have women stop me in bars. I want to win an Emmy and an Oscar. I want to be Al Gore. And I have huge respect for Al, he's one of my teachers, but a lot of people don't want to really do the hard homework. Al Gore did a huge amount of homework. The guy from NRDC did a lot of really boring engineering work to make the breakthrough he did. If it isn't boring, it isn't green. And I think people who want to play in this field need to understand that.

Gautam:

Well, so one, it isn't boring, it isn't green, it strikes me that a second idea underlying what you said is, if it's not profitable, it isn't green. But I think it's easy to forget that environmentalism, as a virtue, is asking people to make sacrifices and we're all fans of virtue. But how do you structure these changes in such a way that instead of asking people to give things up, we say, "No, you want to make these changes. You want to roll into this future."

Tom:

Exactly, Gautam. What is pollution? What is actually that black smoke? It represents waste. Why would you want to waste anything if you're in the manufacturing business? And so, it's absolutely right. And not only it's good that it's profitable, it's a fact that it's profitable. And people say to me, "Yeah, but what if climate change is a hoax?" I said, well, you know what? Here's the deal, if we prepare for climate change and it doesn't come, that's like a guy who trains for the Olympics triathlon and the Olympics gets canceled. Well, what is that guy or that gal they're fitter, healthier and are going to live a longer life."

Tom:

If we actually prepare for radical climate change and it doesn't come, what'll happen? We'll have cleaner air, cleaner water, more efficient industries, and a whole set of industries, innovative tools that will be of interest in the world as export opportunities. And as exports because people will just want to save money to run their businesses more efficiently.

Gautam:

And the striking thing about the industries you're describing is they require innovation, flexibility, high technology, and openness to change. These strike me as characteristics that sort of define the United States.

Tom:

Absolutely. They're much more in tune with our strengths as a society than just digging coal. People can dig coal anywhere in the world and they have been, and they do, and they will. But they can't everywhere in the world make a really smart thermometer.

Gautam:

This isn't just anecdotal. In his brilliant book, The Politics of Innovation, Georgia Tech political scientist, M. Zachary Taylor showed that the United States has, by far, been the most innovative country in the world since the 1890s. But that this dominance is slipping. In some ways, the United States has even been surpassed by other countries for a whole bunch of reasons, particularly massive cuts in government support for scientific research, even while other countries are ramping up their scientific efforts.

Gautam:

Innovation requires change and change can be scary. And so a lot of what we were talking about in this conversation is, well, fear. People fear demographic change, where whites are no longer the majority. They fear cultural change, where Christianity is no longer the dominant religion. They fear economic change, where you can't graduate with a high school diploma and be guaranteed a job for 40 years. If Joe Biden is going to try to speak to, and for the 60% of Americans whose incomes have stagnated since the 1980s, how does he inspire them? How does he bring them along?

Tom:

Well, it's a very important question, Gautam. And I think the way to do it is to first understand that I don't think people are afraid of change. I don't think they fear change. I think they fear loss. They fear loss of home. They fear loss of identity. They fear loss of connection. And they fear loss of life.

Tom:

So what do, I mean? I thought sometimes what would I have done if I had been Hillary Clinton back in 2016 and was trying to go to West Virginia, and settle climate change and clean energy to a town full of West Virginia coal miners, how would I have approached them? Here's how I would have approached them. I'm assuming I'm coming to town, they're gathered in the union hall, the miner's union hall. And I show up, and I begin by saying, "I actually drove here all the way from the airport. And God, the vistas here are beautiful. Wow, the mountains and valleys, and forests we drove through this is just an incredible, beautiful part of the country. And you know what? I got here early, so we stopped in a bar in town and we had some local cuisine. And there was a Bluegrass band playing there. They were just awesome. Some great West Virginia musicians and songs.

Tom:

And it made me think, as I got here to this union hall, that you guys, actually, aren't thinking about climate change at all. You're actually thinking about home. So, when someone comes in here and says, 'You got to get out of the coal business and start making solar panels, and stop polluting the world,' you don't hear climate. You don't hear science. What you hear someone saying, 'You got to leave home. You got to leave the place where you grew up, your parents grew up, your granddaddy grew up. The culture, the music, the vistas.' I totally get that. I totally get that. So, I just want you to give me a year to see if I can fulfill a bargain for you. That if I can enable you to stay home and actually be making things that are clean and green, but be able to stay home," because there's nothing that makes people crazier, Gautam, than the feeling that they may lose their home. Not just physically, not just economically, but culturally and socially.

Tom:

And we have lost sight of that, I think a lot of times. And I think we need to get back to it. And it brings us back to where we started this conversation. There are a lot of really bad, awful people involved with Trump and in his campaign. But there are a group of people who he's animated. And he's animated them not because they fear change, but because they fear loss. Loss of something that really anchored them in the world. And that doesn't mean we have to identify with everything they fear losing, or that we have to affirm it. But we do need to understand that if we want to move them.

Gautam:

So, two final questions, I promise to get you out. One, is there a book or more than one book that you would recommend to all of our listeners?

Tom:

I'm now reading The Promised Land by Barack Obama.

Gautam:

I understand it sold a few copies.

Tom:

It sold a few copies. He's a beautiful writer. It's full of wonderful insights not only into his tenure, his first four years, but also into our country and its strengths and weaknesses. And I'm really enjoying that right now.

Gautam:

Second question, you've met more interesting people probably than anyone else on earth. But, of the people you've met, who most impressed you and why?

Tom:

I'm going to dodge it because there is no most because I learned different things from different people. And I'm always hesitant to go down this road because some of them are bad people who I also have learned things from, not always good. So, the person I am proudest of today to be associated with is my wife Ann Friedman, who has built an amazing project, and which I'll take one second to advertise, called Planet Word, which is the world's first language museum to promote reading, literacy, love of books and language. It just opened in Washington at 13th and K. We're temporary closed because of all museums are closed in Washington because of the pandemic, but it is an amazing thing. She conceived it, she helped design it and she now runs it. And it's going to be the most popular museum in Washington DC once this pandemic is over. So, bring your kids.

Gautam:

We can't wait to visit.

Gautam:

Tom and I spent a lot of time talking about the problems we're facing. And right now it's easy to focus on problems, but Tom left me energized, not depressed. Why? Well, sure, we have problems but, more than anything else, what I took from our conversation is that we also have everything we need to solve them. There's no challenge we face that we can't handle. Our destiny is in our own hands, but seizing it will require more than good leadership. It's going to require great leadership at every level, not just from the president, but in our businesses and in our communities too. And that's why we're doing this podcast.

Gautam:

We want you to leave every single episode feeling closer to at least one of those three requirements of great leadership. Every person who appears in this podcast, and every person listening to it can be part of the solution. We want to create a community of people who will be the leaders who will steer us through this moment and into a better world, a world reimagined.

Narrator:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world. An original podcast from Nasdaq. Visit the World Reimagined website at nasdaq.com/world-reimagined-podcast.

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