Thriving and Bracing

Can liberal democracy resist an illiberal president?; Thrive Global: selling "well-being" since today; and more.

  • This is civic tech: Ben Rattray, the founder and CEO of (and longtime friend of Civic Hall), has posted a thoughtful essay titled “How Tech Can Save Democracy” that is worth a close reading. First off, he correctly points out that funding aimed at the problem has been almost nonexistent (despite all the hype):

    Over the past decade, Silicon Valley has invested hundreds of billions of dollars designing technology to dramatically improve many industries — from commerce and communications to travel and transportation. Yet less than 0.01% of that has been invested in designing technology to improve democracy. Of the money invested in politics, much has been dedicated to political advertising. We needed a better democracy, and instead we got better ad targeting.

    Rattray goes on to argue that what we need is a new political system that enables effective mass civic participation, more responsive government, and trusted information built on top of a “trust graph for politics,” and he outlines ways that and others can contribute to that goal. Read the whole thing.

  • Speaking of politics and targeting, I have a Google News Alert open for Elan Kriegel, who directed analytics for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, on the theory that someday we’ll hear from her best and brightest on what they got wrong. So far, crickets.

  • In a similar vein, GovLab founder Beth Noveck (another longtime friend) writes in The Guardian that if government opened itself up to crowdsourcing more expertise from the public, maybe some of the current populist distrust of elites would dissipate.

  • Elisabeth Mason, the founding director of the Stanford Poverty and Technology Lab, and Jim Shelton, the president for education at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, write in the Stanford Social Innovation Review about “the emerging bipartisan consensus that we can use big data to answer fundamental questions about the efficacy of government programs.” Well, maybe at the city level?

  • If you are concerned about the state of voting rights under the new administration, read this story by Vanessa Williams and Katie Zezima in the Washington Post on how advocates are bracing for “the fight of our lifetime.”

  • Libraries and archives are starting to take important steps to protect user privacy and freedom of information in the Trump era, ranging from changing privacy policies to curtail how much patron information they retain (the New York Public Library) to building a back-up version of the entire Internet Archive in Canada, as Sam Theilman reports for the Guardian. Kudos!

  • Thousands of scientists, including 22 Nobel Prize winners, have written an open letter organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists urging the incoming Trump administration to maintain and strengthen the role that science plays in policy-making. Yes, it’s come to that.

  • Trump watch: Yair Rosenberg of TabletMag thinks he spotted the moment when the alt-right started to realize that they “were just the latest of Trump’s contractors to be stiffed.” (That’s when they discovered that President-elect Trump’s newly named Treasury Secretary, Robert Mnuchin, previous worked for both Goldman Sachs and George Soros.) I’m not so sure that this means that Trump is cutting off the racist right, alas.

  • The one piece you need to read about foreclosure mogul Mnuchin, by Peter Dreier in The American Prospect.

  • It would appear that the federal Office of Government Ethics really is excited for Trump to divest himself of his extensive business empire, so as to genuinely avoid conflicts of interest as President, but as this story by the Washington Post’s Drew Harwell notes, that’s not what he’s announced he’s doing, and the on-again, deleted-again nature of those OGE tweets just made the whole business more confusing.

  • Harwell also got this marvelous quote from Anthony Scaramucci, a hedge funder who is a member of the Trump transition team’s executive committee, when he was asked how Trump planned to hand his businesses to his children to run: “I don’t want to steal Mr. Trump’s or the children’s thunder on that, so let’s wait for Dec. 15.” He added, “At age 70, after having this phenomenal life and building this phenomenal business in this great tower, this towering proof of Trump’s virility, he’s going to be a hundred percent focused on working for the American people and for the United States.”

  • Ok, I added the phrase about “this towering proof of Trump’s virility.” But “this great tower” is there in the original.

  • Serious reading (1): Can liberal democracy resist an illiberal president? That’s the question Ian Milhiser raises in this trenchant essay for Think Progress. Among the concerns he raises—the possibility that, in alliance with ideologues being appointed run many federal agencies, Trumpists could start baking government data, like job statistics, choking off the objective information that we need to have meaningful policy debates in a functioning democracy. (I wonder if anyone inside or near agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics are thinking about ways to keep that data uncorrupted.)

  • Serious reading (2): David Roberts at Vox offers a tour-de-force review of everything there is to know and say about the presidential election. This one piece, with all its associated charts and links, is all you need to digest what is known about how Clinton lost and why Trump won. That said, this piece will not leave you feeling ok about what’s ahead. (Nor should you.) As Roberts writes:

    …the primary problem in American politics today is the intersection of three trends: 1) Rural and suburban white men resent recent economic and demographic changes; 2) their rebellion against those changes, combined with political institutions distorted to favor rural and suburban voters, has created a dangerously radical major party mixing xenophobic authoritarianism and libertarianism; and 3) trust in American institutions, from media to political parties to academia, has declined for decades and is now in the dirt. There are no longer mediating institutions capable of slowing our headlong descent into epistemological relativism and partisan nihilism. Or so it seems.


  • Maybe liberals are freaking out too much? That’s the argument of economic historian Zachary Karabell, who notes that liberals were terrified by the election of Richard Nixon in 1968 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. He could be right, but then again Nixon and Reagan both knew how to read and write and even had the patience to read policy papers and listen to other people.

  • Maybe normalization is ok? Matt Yglesias argues in Vox that reminding people that Trump isn’t a “normal” Republican (or mentally balanced, or not allied with white nationalists) is a political strategy that is doomed to fail as long as a majority of the public believes he will create jobs, that he cares about average Americans and that he is moving the country in the right direction.

  • Brave new world: Writing for the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo argues that Snapchat’s Live Stories is gaining a devoted user base because it delivers real intimacy along with the news.

  • Media matters: Just in time for the oligarchy, Jim VandeHei, the former co-founder and CEO of Politico, tells Recode’s Kara Swisher that he’s planning to charge $10,000 or more per year for a subscription for his new media start-up Axios.

  • Also just in time for the oligarchy, Arianna Huffington launches her latest venture: Thrive Global. (I knew something was up this morning when I saw three different random things pop up in my feeds from various “influencers” all using the word “thrive” in their titles.) As she writes, “For too long, as technology has enveloped our lives, and our lives have become busier and more stressed, the response has been to seek “work-life balance.” The reason this response has been so inadequate is because its premise is wrong.” If you substitute the word “hyper-capitalism” for “technology” (as people like Douglas Rushkoff have been trying to teach us to do) the sentence makes more sense. But pay no attention to the man financial operating system behind the wall, as Huffington continues,

    “We have already ceded a lot of ground to an unsustainable way of living. And we cannot wait any longer before we collectively wake up. To accelerate this urgently needed culture shift, Thrive Global has three interconnected core elements: corporate trainings and workshops; our media platform, The Thrive Journal, designed to be the global hub for the conversation about changing the way we work and live; and an e-commerce platform that offers our curated selection of the best technology and well-being products and services….Corporate launch partners include Accenture (read the post about our partnership by Ellyn Shook, Accenture’s head of global HR); JPMorgan Chase (here’s the post by JPMorgan’s CMO Kristin Lemkau); SAP (Jennifer Morgan, President of SAP North America, describes the partnership here); Uber (see a video interview with Uber founder Travis Kalanick here and his Facebook post on our partnership); Airbnb; and Glassdoor. “

    In other words, cold comfort products for depressing, stressful times. Who says liberals can’t profit under Trump?

  • That New York Times op-ed piece by Jessica Lessin, the founder of The Information, arguing that Facebook shouldn’t be expected to fact-check what it displays to users in their News Feeds? Times ombudsman Liz Spayd points out that Lessin’s husband Sam wasn’t just someone who worked briefly at Facebook, which she disclosed in her op-ed. In fact, she notes, “Sam Lessin is a long-time friend of Zuckerberg since their days at Harvard. When young Zuckerberg was shopping for money to start his business, Sam took him around to meet investors. When Sam had a business of his own, Zuckerberg bought it, and then Sam went to work at Facebook. He became the social media giant’s vice president overseeing product, and one of a handful of top executives who reported directly to Zuckerberg. The Facebook founder was even reported to be in the wedding party when Sam and Jessica got married.”