He doesn’t want to limit participation to tech giants. He mused that most S & P 500 companies could use their power to try to bake some stability into our currently unstable politics. “Beyond voting,” Mr. Ovadya said, “you could imagine the companies coming together with a pledge that others could sign that said something to the effect of ‘I agree upfront to abide by the results of the election as certified by the Electoral College and Supreme Court’” (a scenario that has grown even more complicated in recent days).
Mr. Ovadya’s argument is compelling. With tensions and anxiety about potential claims of voter fraud and postelection unrest mounting, surely it makes sense to do anything possible to ensure a fair, free, transparent and universally accepted election. Mr. Ovadya notes that encouraging corporate involvement also has the added benefit of not alienating the nation’s most powerful unelected individuals.
The skeptic in me still bristles. I want a smooth and fair election as much as the next person, and yet any entreaty feels a bit to me like begging the person who pushed you into the deep end of the pool to save you from drowning.
“We don’t need the billionaire class and the tech robber barons to ask the question ‘What can I do for the country?’” Anand Giridharadas, author of “Winners Take All,” told me recently. “They need to ask, ‘What have I been doing to the country and what could I stop doing?’” He argued that our understandable desire to have benevolent billionaires and corporations step in to help during periods of instability is part of an abusive relationship between the plutocrats and the rest of us, and that their perceived heroics would only be exploiting a moment of weakness to further entrench their power.
But in moments of desperation it may be hard for anxious Americans to hear that argument. I asked Mr. Giridharadas what he’d say to those willing to hold their nose and make the trade-off. “You are being sold a fraudulent promise that the people who caused this mess can lead us out of it,” he said. “That the people most responsible for an age of inequality and collapsing social mobility are our salvation. That the arsonists of opportunity in America can come back as firefighters.”
This is a debate about how to harness power at a critical time. About whether Americans should use the moment to pressure power to exert itself for a favorable outcome for democracy or whether its more important to use the moment to dismantle and decenter power (or whether that’s a false choice altogether). And then there’s the powerful themselves. It’s notable that given all the possible ways America’s elites could help secure a free and fair election, few have stepped up in a truly meaningful way.
It takes courage to accept help in a desperate moment. Just as it takes courage to turn away from tainted charity in a time of need. And for those who have power, it takes courage to expose it and exercise it for the greater good, rather than hide and conserve it for one’s own benefit.
To get through the next few months, we’ll need a lot of courage from everyone.