What are you doing the next four weeks?

Power Player

What are you doing the next four weeks?

Like most of you, I suspect, as I have progressed through life I have accumulated a highly idiosyncratic set of rules to live by that I use to guide my own future behavior and, of course, hope to have imparted to my children, so that they don't make the same mistakes I did. They include:

  • Eat the french fries before the burger because they lose their body heat faster.
  • When in a developing country, smile and wave in a way that makes you seem slightly dimwitted but harmless when confronted by a security guard brandishing an AK-47.
  • Wait until the yoga instructor takes her position before putting your mat down to ensure that you are in the back, not the front, row.
  • Don't sit, if you can help it, on the plane next to someone who has boarded the 14-hour flight with no reading material.

You can see my rules to live by cover a wide range on the triviality spectrum.

But one rule I take quite seriously is that, no matter how busy I am, I have plenty of time for billionaires. If a billionaire wants to spend time with me, I ask simply when, where and for how long, and I will be there.

I am sure that this seems crass to you, but it is not as bad as you think. It is not that I am hoping that some of their extreme wealth will spill over onto me (and it hasn't). It is that I am hoping that the knowledge gained from their life experience will be personally useful to me.

As a businessman, I am particularly drawn to those who self-made their billions by building their own business(es) from scratch (not like The Donald), particularly if they are still running them: founder-CEOs as opposed to manager-CEOs.

Don't get me wrong: Inspirational leaders who I deeply respect are among the manager-CEO class — people such as Jeff Immelt, Indra Nooyi and Paul Polman. They would receive my rapt attention but, let's face it, a lot of monodimensional, uninteresting, uninspiring weenies run public companies in America today. 

The founder types — the Bill Gateses, Mark Cubans, Richard Bransons, Elon Musks of the world — they are uniformly not this. As natural leaders, they are bold and outspoken and have diverse sets of interests. Their practical wisdom, and their own rules to live by, are worth absorbing.

And sometimes they are happy to meet you in a coffee shop.

Dropping everything?

Last week, I had a cup of coffee with a longtime friend who fits this description: a self-made telecom billionaire passing through New York on his way home to his native Ireland. Like almost every non-American, he wanted to talk about nothing other than our upcoming election.

The first words out of his mouth were, "If I were an American, I would drop everything I am doing for the next four weeks and spend that time out canvassing. No other use of my time could be that important.”

He went on from there. At great length. Later that same evening, I saw a Facebook note from one of my former colleagues from NRG's sustainability group. She announced she had left her perch in the Bay Area for the swing state of Florida for the duration of the campaign, to do just that.

So, why the hell are you and I not doing that? We only had to watch the first 20 minutes of the first debate to witness the difference between good and evil on the twinned topics of climate change and renewable energy.

The only rationalization I can come up with in my case is that I know almost no Trump supporters and don't know what (nonoffensive) thing I could say if I encountered one.

How do you persuade someone impervious to Trump's multiplicity of grievous character flaws: his toxic ignorance; his relentless vulgarity; his childlike tantrums; his inability to accept that he is never anything less than perfect; or his ability to turn once-respected public figures who support him such as Rudy Giuliani into cartoonish rubbish-spewing Death Eaters?

They are unmoved by the complete absence within The Donald of the generosity of spirit which, more than any other characteristic, defines for me what it is to be an American. If such a person cannot be persuaded by the historically unprecedented endorsements of the Democratic nominee by the Wall Street Journal editorial page and other conservative editorial boards around the country, why would they be persuaded by me?

Outvoting the opposition

No, at this point, we can't persuade these Trump supporters. We can only outvote them. And that is where we all have a role to play.

You and I may not know many Trumpians, but we know Gary Johnson supporters. Some of you probably even know people voting for Jill Stein. If nothing else, this is what I think each and every one of us needs to do over the next four weeks — and it doesn't entail living out of a Motel 6 in Tallahassee eating our french fries before our burgers. At least once a day, each of us needs to pull a Johnson or Stein supporter into Camp Clinton.

You see, it is not possible at this point for an American to be unaware of how bad a person Donald Trump is, but people out there are supporting Johnson because they would rather vote for a lamppost than for Trump or Clinton. That's what they will say when you ask them, but I am not sure they actually have watched any videos of Gary Johnson. Because having watched a few Johnson interviews, I think that's actually what they are doing: They are voting for a lamppost.

As solar stalwart Yann Brandt said, Johnson seems to have a serious brain cell deficiency — and I am not even talking about when he is having one of his self-described "Aleppo moments." If Bill Weld were on top of the Libertarian ticket, it might be a more difficult conversation, but with Johnson, there is nothing up top. Literally.

I will say this for Johnson: his recently articulated response on climate change — that billions of years from now the sun is going to engulf the Earth, so what does it matter? — is possibly the only more certifiably crazy response than Trump's "Chinese plot" climate change tweets. Yep, Johnson can out-trump Trump, and that takes some doing.

I am confident that each of us can make a Johnson convert, every day, from now until Nov. 8.

On Jill Stein, I am just baffled. People like me on the pragmatic right edge of the environmental movement long have been amazed by the environmental idealists, the left wing of the movement that won't compromise its environmental purity in an effort to actually get good things done. Hard to imagine, but back in the day, Waxman-Markey was opposed from the left almost with the same vigor that it was from the right.

Are these the people considering a vote for Ralph Nader — um, I mean Jill Stein? Are we going to lose another election because of defections on the left flank of the environmental movement?

If you did see the debate, or if you have read Clinton's positions on the issues that environmentalists should care about, what more do you want from Hillary? Or are you just so permanently in opposition to everything that you don't want to bear the responsibility of having voted for the winning candidate?

If so, you are a coward and I don’t want anything to do with you.

Now you see why I might not be the best canvasser.