Reawakening America: The New Professional Political Class

America’s 2017 experiment is underway. President Donald Trump was pugilistic and hard from the Inauguration podium, reciting “America First” rhetoric (while attempting to liberate this phrase from its smelly 1930s roots.) Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary and ever the good soldier, projected the boss’ umbrage with a 5-minute screed against the “deliberately false” reporting of crowd sizes arrayed before the new leader on the National Mall. Shot from a gun in late January, Trump signed executive orders erasing Obama’s eight-year blackboard, a muzzle is placed on the federal bureaucracy and an ill-advised, non-religious (wink) religious ban against legal immigrants is enacted.

The tone is set.

Team Trump’s fast start propelled a Left counterpoint. Millions, women and supporters of immigrants, in major cities across the country peacefully and vigorously marched out their displeasure. Trump gives them clear reason to organize, have something more to say and say it with greater volume week over week.

Recently, outside Miami, the Left’s war drums sounded during a more private strategy gathering. Dozens of progressive funders and advocates hashed over the ills of Trumpism, listening as dark researcher David Brock sought to incriminate the new president as compromised by both Russia and the complexity of his business web. Brock claims post the tough election loss, his American Bridge--a collection of research, media, PACs and other political structures--is uniquely tested and equipped to wage constant war against the new president’s administration. Now please cough up $40 million for the work on your way out.

For those searching for comity between Democrats and Republicans in U.S. politics this 2017, please turn your heads now. Both sides’ top talent are lacing up steel-toed boots and slipping into political kevlar. The money is being collected. “There will be blood.”

Since the election, I have been in constant conversation to understand motivations of the interested from all sides: the Trump originalists; appointees for the new administration; former and continuing anti-Trumpers; angry Hillary campaigners; recently jobless Obamaites; marchers from many cities; strategists from both sides; and the funders who are providing the fuel. What runs through it for all is a sense that this burgeoning fight feels existential--framed as a fierce battle for America’s soul.

My most powerful conversations are with a subset who don’t track the world by election cycle or in strictly ideological terms. They view the current gnashing as a problem to lick. This is their orientation. They are problem solvers.

Think of them as the newly “reawakened.” They woke up on November 9 stunned, but with a new energy. This crop of successful Americans is for the first time paying attention to politics and, in particular, to political reform. Until now, they have been hyper-focused on building things that agitate--their nonprofits, companies, funds, products and teams. They are successful. They have led their lives well and been compensated with money, power and reach. Post this tumultuous election, they are surprised by the state of the nation’s disrepair and division. They are Democrats, Republicans and Independents. They are ready to put their backs into the hard work of making our country’s politics and policy better. Presented an obstacle, they know exactly what to do. Now, fully “reawakened,” they are convinced things are not quite right.

I was sitting in the simple office of a wildly successful tech CEO who was thinking about running for high office, and also organizing a large-scale, Silicon Valley-driven political effort that he hoped--with a little help from powerful friends--would become a great movement. Given the last two years, you wouldn’t on the wire bet against him or the group he’s assembling.

I have heard a version of this story consistently over the past year. For so long, the most successful have sipped lightly from the cup of civic work. Their vital and productive lives have been too precious to interact with messy and muggy politics. The cliche here rings true. Good people aggressively avoid this world and leave shaping big-policy issues to others. Filling the vacuum is a professional political  class who is very good at the commerce but have left every institution--Congress, federal government, media, lobbying--under a deep, dark cloud acutely felt by regular people.

People like this CEO are a new and important force. They have the freedom--economic, professional, personal--to take on problems stalled in a partisan Washington and a divided nation. Their bias is to create a tool, an idea or a process that will cut through the challenge. Diffuse their energy, and this moment will be lost. Focus and this “reawakening” can act as potent stimulant to transform the country.

Kahlil Byrd