Throw Away the Box, Hang Your Grid on a Hook, and Embrace the Tom Friedman Future

The future’s so bright.
Photo: Getty

Say what you will about harrumphing corporate-branded golf shirt Thomas Friedman, but you must admit that he boasts not only a hopelessly muddled command of language, but also a farcically inept sense of political analysis. So.

I like to check in sometimes on this guy, and what he is writing, in the world’s most influential media outlet.

The American body politic has experienced two big — and enormously revealing — shocks in the past month.

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Hm. What will they be? Threat of catastrophic war with Iran? The ongoing erosion of our financial, environmental, diplomatic, and labor-related government agencies? Total capture of our broken government by a small dead-end gang of incompetent crooks? Lebron and AD to the Lakers?

The first was political, administered by the Democrats’ first debates, which revealed a party whose leading presidential candidates were considerably farther to the left on some key issues — borders, national health care, treatment of illegal immigrants — than many mainstream Democrats, not to mention independents and moderate Republicans looking for an alternative to President Trump.

This definitely was not in the top two shocks to the American body politic Thomas Friedman. This is just the topic of your last column, which is still on your mind. I’m onto you.

The second big shock was moral, administered by Trump’s supporters at his North Carolina rally last week. As Trump trashed Representative Ilhan Omar, who immigrated from Somalia, his supporters broke into chants of “Send her back!”

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While this was certainly bad, it was completely in line with the last three years of Donald Trump’s behavior, and therefore probably not a shock to either his supporters or opponents, but rather simply another entry in a very long ledger of ongoing racism and its subsequent rationalization by the Republican party.

Combined, the two shocks help to explain a new poll’s finding that a significant number of voters feel that no candidate speaks to them.This group is often called — usually with a sneer — “centrists” or “moderates.”

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It is far more likely that such a poll can be explained by 30 to 40 years of eroding responsiveness of our political system, which is an oligarchy, to people’s needs. Probably this poll is not a direct result of two random news items in the past month, Thomas Friedman. Is it?

I’m in this group, but I prefer not to call myself a “centrist.” That label implies someone whose views are mush, situated between two clearly defined poles of left and right. My views are not mush. They just emerge from a different approach to politics.

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As someone who believes that your views are, in fact, mush, I am very interested to hear your insightful approach to politics explained. You’re not just going to do the thing you always do, which is listing random items you say are changing due to technology and globalization and then touting some ridiculous buzzwordy phrase for them, are you?

The accelerations we’re now going through in climate change, technology and globalization have made that checklist approach to governing obsolete. This era calls for a different approach — one best articulated by Linton Wells, the defense analyst and expert on resilience. Wells argues that to find the solutions to today’s wicked problems you should “never think in the box and never think out of the box. You have to think without a box.”

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Ah.

Or, as future-of-work strategist Heather McGowan puts it: The accelerations in climate change, technological change and globalization are so interdependent that “our old two-dimensional grid with its binary choices between left and right is insufficient to respond to them. It requires a more complex, three-dimensional set of policy tools and responses.”

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Here we are, without a box, but with a three-dimensional set of tools— that is not shaped like a box, to be perfectly clear. It’s a dodecahedron, maybe.

Trump just threw complexity out the window and went full dog whistle on race to hold and expand his base. Democratic candidates are being more serious, but their need to win primaries tugs them back to the old binary checklist — even though the real solutions require a left-wing wrench, a right-wing hammer and all sorts of new tools and combinations we’ve never imagined.

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A whistle, a left wrench, a right hammer, and a set of tools of indeterminate shape all walk into a bar. The bar then enters the 21st century of solutions.

The right question on education is not whether college should be “free.” It’s what should be taught there and who should teach it. Some Democratic candidates seem to care only about the word “free.” But maybe we should be radically incentivizing companies to go back into the education business, since no one knows better the skills their workers need than they do. That’s thinking completely without a box.

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“The right question on education is not whether college should be ‘free.’ It’s what should be taught there and who should teach it.” This is certainly not true. Fortunately it is couched in so much nonsensical, confusing language that you don’t even notice!

I know that thinking without a box is the right approach to governance because it’s exactly what many of the local communities in America that are thriving today are doing. In those I’ve visited you see business, labor, philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, educators and local or state governments networking together into what I call “complex, adaptive coalitions” to manage all the accelerating changes in their communities.

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Tom Friedman you are a really beautiful writer.

And their political ideology is pragmatism — experiment on the best ways to blend markets and government and then just do what works. Leave your rigid right-left grid on the hook outside the door.

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I can almost see it: A rigid, right-left grid, that is not shaped like a box, hanging on a hook, next to the left wrench and the right hammer, outside of a door. The door is marked “ENTRANCE TO HELL.”

For Democrats who want to be serious: How do they think without a box against an incumbent president who speaks without a box — without any restraints? How do they offer complex solutions to complex problems when Trump just wants to scare enough white Americans into voting for him by hammering four women Democrats of color as being insufficiently patriotic? And it’s effective!

I don’t have the answer, but I’m working on it! We all should be.

Thomas Friedman, a rich, famous, and influential writer and thinker, is widely respected by the people who control your life.

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Previously.

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About the author

Hamilton Nolan

Senior Writer. Hamilton@SplinterNews.com