Sometimes, decades of change can be compacted into a single year. Case in point: the past 12 months. From an investing standpoint, the migration to the cloud, necessitated by COVID-19, sent software-as-a-service (SaaS) stocks to the moon.
But this wasn’t just about business and investing. Black Lives Matter, an assault on the U.S. Capitol, a hotly contested presidential election, and the lingering feeling that we’re standing on the precipice: It all leads us to wonder when the other shoe will drop.
But the greatest threat we face isn’t love, hate, or even China, according to John Hope Bryant, an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and CEO of the nonprofit Operation HOPE. And while he certainly thinks we shouldn’t ignore the threat from China, he believes there’s a more pervasive threat on our front door.
In this Motley Fool Live interview from March 1, Bryant talks with Motley Fool contributor Brian Stoffel about his book Up From Nothing: The Untold Story of How We (All) Succeed, what this threat is, and how to go about addressing it.
Brian Stoffel: Let’s talk a little bit about the book that you just came out with, Up From Nothing. It’s a fascinating book. It’s certainly not your first book. But let’s start with the broad question and then we can narrow in. Why did you write the book, and who do you think it’s for?
John Hope Bryant: Well, I think we’re seeing in a moment in history right now, which I didn’t think when I wrote the book by the way, so the timing was coincidental, ambassador Andrew Young say coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous. I think today, we’re sitting in a moment of history, but history does not feel historic, Brian, when you’re sitting in it, just looks like another day. So I think that now, the book is more consequential than when I wrote it.
But when I started writing this book, I was seeing income and wealth inequality at scale. I was seeing us detached from each other. I’ve often said that what Dr. King dealt with was love and hate, he who said I love you and I hate you and made it clear. Today, you don’t have so much love or hate, you have radical indifference, people who don’t care enough about you, actually, to hate you. They’ve gotten their own echo chambers and having their own conversations, and convincing themselves of their own facts.
I began to write the book a couple of years ago, because I thought that America was shooting itself in the foot. I thought that we were winning the battle, losing the war. Basically, I thought we had lost our business plan as a nation. And that we were dealing with difficult issues the wrong way, the comedian example I gave or the court jester example I gave a little earlier, that sometimes you have to find a different route to solve problems.
Actually, the issue of race, as an example, I tackled in this book, but I don’t tackle it by addressing race. I actually was able to outline here the 200-plus ethnic groups in America give or take, but you have three ethnic groups who were left behind by the prosperity system in America. They happen to be, yes, African Americans, the only enslaved [group] on American soil, but also, poor whites, who are dying faster than anybody else in this country. High school educated white men dying, drop faster than anybody else, which is a little known fact, and Native American Indians. These three groups, of all races, all hues, black, tan, and white, got left behind. There has to be something else amiss. What is the formula? What is the success formula? What is the failure formula? [laughs]
Today, I’d say we’re not just shooting ourselves in the foot, we are potentially defaulting on America’s potential in total because we’re at war with another country without bombs or bullets. In my opinion, we’re at war with China. They want our way of life. We’re also at war with Russia, but they don’t really count, they’re a small irritant GDP country. They’re just so good at being nasty. But these two countries want what we have. They want our freedom, they want our way of life, they want the fact that we’re the source of the power in the world.
As the book says, everybody wants to be an American but Americans. We want to spend our times arguing with each other, fighting with each other, throwing rocks at each other, political rocks, literal rocks, spiritual rocks, emotional rocks, and the Bible says, Brian, that a house divided will not stand. That’s Biblical, it’s also mad, it’s common sense. A house divided will not stand. I would say you can take no pleasure from the fact there’s a hole in my end of our boat. So we’ve gone from a couple of years ago, drifting apart from each other, which I thought was bad, to now, pushing apart from each other, and now trying to sink the other guy’s boat. [laughs]
Stoffel: It’s really our boat.
Bryant: It’s our boat. It’s not the other guy’s boat, exactly. If they go down, we go down. Who’s waiting on the sidelines for this mess to clear up? Others who want our way of life. We’re the largest GDP country on the planet, 330 million people in a world of 8 billion. Statistically, we should not be at the top of the heap. We’ve got to have everything together, we’ve got to be rolling in the right direction. We got this magic sauce called freedom and we’re screwing it up. This book is a business plan for your life, for your family, for your block, for your neighborhood, for your city, for your state, and yes, it’s also a business plan for your country, for our country.