Ideas for other people: Tech billionaires can do so much more to inspire young voters
Here's another installment in my very sporadic "ideas for other people" series.
I spend a lot of time writing about the misuse of tech billions for political ends. Peter Thiel (a Pando investor) backing Donald Trump, Travis Kalanick’s Uber becoming a major lobbyist in order to shape laws in its image, Google partnering with the State department, Amazon with the CIA.
Most recently, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was revealed to have secretly backed a pro-Trump group to “shit post” on social media against the first female presidential nominee of a major US political party.
Amongst all that, then, it's refreshing to occasionally write about billionaires like Reid Hoffman and Dustin Moskovitz pledging their personal cash to change the political landscape for the better. Specifically, to prevent a racist, sexist fascist from being elected President of the United States.
When I wrote about Hoffman’s “Trump Cards” project last week I suggested that it highlighted the cowardice of other tech billionaires in refusing to take a stand in this election. Over the weekend, though, I thought more about it and realized I was being too pessimistic.
What if, in fact, Hoffman and Moskovitz aren’t outliers but rather trailblazers. What if the willingness of two of tech’s most mild mannered moguls to stick their heads above the parapet really does inspire others to do the same?
Unlikely based on past evidence? Perhaps. But if you don't have hope, then what do you have? It's worth at least considering the possibility that we're seeing the start of a trend, and thinking about how tech money might best be used to engage with the political process in more positive ways.
God knows the world doesn’t need any more lobbying and politicians don’t need any more billionaire donors pulling the strings. What we definitely do need is more ways to inform and educate undecided votors who are turned off by traditional political reporting.
There too Reid Hoffman provides an interesting glimpse of what's possible. On his Medium post announcing Trump Cards, Hoffman writes:
Inspired by The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, we decided that satire that reveals the absurdity of our current situation is the only fitting response to these times.
And with Trump carpet-bombing political news cycles with low-brow entertainment, we figured why not carpet-bomb low-brow entertainment with politics?
If this election has taught us anything it’s that political journalism is badly, if not mortally, damaged. Young voters in particular are more likely to form their opinions through social media and comedians like John Oliver than from CNN or MSNBC. Love might trump hate but, as Trump’s off-kilter reaction to a decades-old crack about his tiny hands proves, comedy trumps all.
If Hoffman really wants to make a difference then why stop with Trump Cards? Why not go the whole hog and launch a non-profit specifically to use satire and entertainment to reach younger voters? In other words, why not fund a group to blow Palmer Luckey's "shit posting" organization out of the water by using comedy, rather than hate, to engage and educate young voters. The group could pull the same levers as the Daily Show (when Jon Stewart was in charge) and that This Week Tonight does now and Michael Moore’s TV Nation did a thousand years ago, but without the constraints of a TV format, or the concerns of having to avoid apparent bias or placate big advertisers or network bosses.
If not Hoffman, then how about Moskovitz or Cuban or any of the other politically engaged moguls? Wouldn't that be great?
Of course, none of this is anywhere near as easy as I'm making it sound. I've run a couple of satirical political publications myself and I can vouch that for every Trump Cards there are a thousand jokes and stunts that crash and burn. Something like I'm describing would be an enormous undertaking, and would no doubt suffer huge push-back from those on the right. But that doesn't mean someone, especially someone with deep pockets, shouldn't try.
At the very least, it'd be nice to write about more billionaires using their power and wealth for good.