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The release over the weekend of the new book about the inner workings of the White House reveals just how much confusion the latest digital media revolution has created about what is really going on in the world.

24/7 cable news and social media contribute to the confusion by releasing hourly flows of unedited news and commentary. Even mainstream White House journalists inadvertently contribute to the confusion by being careful how they report what they know. Otherwise they fear losing their daily access. Add to this news releases from lobbyists, PR firms, businesses, nonprofits, NGO’s, associations, embassy’s, and more, and you pretty much have mass confusion. Lies begin to sound true, expert disagreements further confuse, and tolerance for vulgarity and personal attacks becomes commonplace. Ultimately, everything turns to mush.

It takes a trustworthy author who can somehow slide inside a controversial situation like this and stay there long enough to pull together an accurate story out of the bits and pieces of daily activities. But it is important to note that even with the most reputable of authors these books are rarely perfectly accurate. As a writer of books myself, I can tell you that a few missteps almost always happen as a natural part of the complicated mental process of pulling together reams of notes and recordings.

So the challenge for the reader of Fire and Fury will be to decide whether or not this author’s professional integrity and judgment can be trusted. And then, based on other readings and investigations does his conclusion ring true?

What is frightening about this book is how true the overall message rings to so many established longtime journalists and scholars. Yes, some have already pointed out that this author has written other controversial books, and that his writing style has a dramatic novel-like flair. And yes, some have reported finding a few specific misquotes and mistakes. But the author promises that he has recordings of all his interviews and firmly asserts that virtually everyone he interviewed and talked with agrees with his conclusion: Mr. Trump behaves like a child, reads nothing, has little patience in a meeting, works fewer and fewer hours every day, and makes everything completely about himself.

So my recommendation to you is this: Read the book and reflect on everything else you have read and believe to be true. Do this, and at the very least I think you will come away paying even more attention to every one of Mr. Trump’s future tweets and disruptive pronouncements. This is not just Trump being Trump. It could be a matter of life and death for millions.

 

When an organization’s founding brand identity is replaced by something totally different, the result is the end of one organization and the start-up of another. Similarly, when a nation’s founding identity (ours is based on democratic values, freedom, and justice) is replaced by one based on autocratic whims and disruptive individual transactions the result will be the end of one nation and the start-up of another.

A growing number of Americans wake every morning worried about what Mr. Trump will say or do next. Many look desperately for even the slightest sign of hope: A small positive utterance from China. Or a no rocket day from Rocket man. Or a surprise tweet-free golfing with friends day. Or a slight nod toward token cooperation with an ally. Or at least one day of not being outmaneuvered once again by Putin.

Even the most hardened journalists sometimes find themselves seeing small gestures as slight signs of hope. But when smoke clears we all really know that Trump’s America is only about him. It has become little more than a realty show makeover. “Make America great again” simply means make America powerful and feared, and the consequence is the total abdication of world leadership based on human rights and justice. Even his domestic success rests on countless empty promises, which in time must crumble under the weight of lifelong character flaws and hypocrisy.

This is not the America we inherited. It is the start-up of a totally different country. To fix it we must put aside political ideology. Ideology has nothing to do with this. It is simply about bringing back America’s founding values and the brand identity the world has counted on. And to do that 2018 must also be the year of saying “hell no” to autocracy. As the United States of America we really have no choice.

Most every international, national, or community issue has a very strong local component. Be it political polarization, terrorism, or neighborhood school effectiveness, every solution begins with thoroughly understanding the audience.

Politicians must understand their voters’ needs, and those of their donors. Each is a separate audience. Education officials must understand the neighborhoods and families that shape each student. And understanding terrorists begins by understanding the neighborhoods that provide them psychological safety and time.

You will therefore find political polarization in districts that have been designed to embrace it. You will find school success stories in schools that understand their neighborhoods and families. And you will find various stages of homegrown terrorism in neighborhoods that provide them shelter.

It simply follows that if you want to bring broader choice back to elections you must work locally to change how political districts are designed. For example, you might try launching an organization something like “Citizens for Fair Elections,” raising awareness for the problem while focusing on changing those districts. Or if you want to improve the public schools you might try launching a project to better understand the neighborhoods and cultures that surround each school. And if you want to end home-grown terrorism you might try learning more about the neighborhoods and local cultures that end up sheltering it.

First, thoroughly understand the audience. It’s always the point of departure for finding real solutions. And most big issue solutions are very local.

 

 

Have you ever worked in an organization where expert researchers were doing important scientific work and their bosses banned their use of words customarily used in their field when reporting findings? What could be the point of this, unless it is to muddy their conclusions?

The Washington Post recently reported that the Trump administration informed the Center for Disease Control (one of the world’s foremost public health research organizations) that its researchers could not use certain words in their reports. These words are: diversity, entitlement, evidence-based, fetus, science-based, transgender, and vulnerable.

Can you imagine researchers investigating the impact of the West Nile or Zika Virus on fetuses not able to use word fetus in a report?  Or a researcher investigating the impact of pest control chemicals on humans and animals not able to use the terms science-based or evidence-based? Certainly smart people can find their way around such censorship, but can they do so and keep their jobs in such a political environment?

Is this an attempt to discredit important scientific investigators?  Or is it actually the beginning of an attack on the integrity of science itself? Put another way, why should scientists ever have their report vocabulary freedom taken away?

When increasing numbers of highly qualified professionals depart government service out of frustration only plutocrats and politicos will be there to oversee diplomacy, education, health, housing, energy, clean air, disaster recovery, and many other critical programs? And if gutting institutions and programs continues in this way, soon there will be no experienced experts or talented new graduates willing to consider government service as a career?

Imagine a bold and inspiring political entrepreneur rising up in reaction to the current mess and expanding political swamp in Washington. Imagine a whole new breed of leader with visionary ideas for bringing the best talent in the country to the task of solving domestic problems. Imagine an articulate leader fully committed to restoring global leadership by championing the traditional American values of individual freedom, justice, and human rights.

I write from the perspective of a communicator, not a political ideologue. I am a pragmatic, problem-solving oriented centrist. Sadly, both parties have become hopelessly polarized. One is desperate for legislative success at any cost. The other can’t seem to find a unified set of policies and vision for the future. And the administration is well on its way to building an autocracy by ending past global commitments and dismantling core government and social institutions.

Consider this: Can an American version of what happened in France happen here? Can a smart, visionary, nonpartisan, and articulate new leader with a forward-thinking and pragmatic set of fresh ideas find the support of enough disillusioned citizens and forward thinking donors to win the presidency?

My suggested talking points?

  1. I imagine a federal government with a bottom-up approach to problem-solving. I want to bring a core of proven and experienced experts into communities to research and find real solutions to real problems,
  2. By doing this we will bring back as many businesses and lost jobs as possible. But we will also study what “start-ups” are feasible and find the right people to develop them. These could be sustainable energy groups, modern thinking retailers, infrastructure construction projects, and other new ventures that can grow out of local human resources and talent.
  3. We will also help fund nearby schools and colleges to provide the necessary training for all these ventures.
  4. We will also use this same experienced expert consultant model to help public schools understand local neighborhood needs and design customized curricula that lead to realistic student successes.
  5. This change in approach to problem-solving will also gradually enable reducing the size of the federal government without hurting the delivery of essential public services or gutting vital institutions.
  6. That said, we simply must restore American global leadership by rebuilding the state department, bringing back highly experienced diplomats, and re-energizing citizen diplomacy initiatives.

The bottom line: A pathway to an effective smaller and leaner federal government, as well as the restoration of a values and equal justice based approach to world leadership, just might be possible with a whole new breed of nonpartisan and fresh thinking American leadership. Write your own suggested talking points, and let’s get started.

Trying to understand all the parts and implications of the evolving House and Senate tax bills has been an exercise in futility. Reporters and legislators alike have been guilty of selective communication. Some by intent. Others because of deadline pressures and confusion. Making matters worse, what is emphasized and what is blurred or omitted varies with communicators and audiences.

  1. Citizen voters. It seems elementary that ordinary citizens whose lives will be changed by such sweeping pieces of legislation should have an opportunity to fully understand the content and make comments. In fact, one might even assume that every legislator would feel personally obliged to hold hearings to explain all of what is being considered, and then to eagerly listen for good ideas. Some ideas might even lead to useful changes. Listening before deciding always goes a long way toward gaining acceptance for later decisions… especially when its anticipated that the final product will not please everyone. But could all this just end up a total waste of time? After all, politics today has become little more than a high stakes money game.
  2. Donors. It’s clear that donors are at the top of the important audience list. And taking care of  the high stakes ones has become a matter of political job security. Those with the deepest pockets will certainly be intensely interested in anything to do with taxes. What helps businesses, large and small, will determine their expectations. As a result, statements that may reach average voters back home will be extremely content selective, while direct channels to significant donors will remain open 24 hours a day.
  3. Lobbyists. Special interest lobbyists constitute another audience with job security implications. Their daily work amounts to researching and supplying a constant stream of information and data that supports clients’ interests. But also the volumes of detailed background information they gather along the way saves legislative staffs huge amounts of time. In fact, lobby firms sometimes will even write early drafts of bills, and may even be allowed to comment on or edit later drafts. The bottom line is that lobbyists have become much too interconnected with daily operations to be denied significant final influence. So much for draining the swamp.
  4. Legislative colleagues. All this said, would it not also be politically wise to give colleagues from both parties an opportunity to read drafts and discuss them in committees and hearings. After all, if anything backfires or crashes later on, a few timely compromises now might save the day. Yes, but the fear today is that this kind of open discussion will release too much information too soon, and then those poor citizen’s back home might actually find out exactly who and what money interests are actually restructuring their lives.

The truth today is that in this instant news, polarized, and money dominated society, meeting the endless needs of big donors and ever-present lobby firms has become the name of the entire political game. As for selective  communication about tax cuts and its consequences, those whose lives will be most changed may have to wait a long time to know and feel the full impact of what really happened to them.

 

Autocracies happen gradually. The first indication is that a significant number of citizens are feeling ignored by the current political system, are gradually becoming angry, and will soon be ready to respond to a new and out-of-the box leader.

  1. The first step is that someone outside the political establishment with at least a modicum of performance ability and an abundance of political ambition begins to promise “I know how to make your life better, and only I can make it happen!” This becomes a theme, and is endlessly repeated at every opportunity.
  2. Next, many people in society’s mainstream begin to notice some signs of an emerging autocrat, but chose to think that “it can’t happen here.” (Consider Germany during the 1930’s)
  3. The “only me” message is reinforced by attacks on the free press. This tactic first creates a cloud of uncertainty about finding truth in a cluttered and confusing news environment, but soon morphs into charges that the press generates “fake news” simply to make trouble and advance itself.
  4. Next, the court system is attacked as ineffective and too political. The purpose is to warn the public that some exceptions to normal legal processes might be necessary in order to get essential changes made quickly.
  5. The competence of current agencies and departments long-established to investigate internal and external wrong-doing will also be challenged. This is a move made to eventually gain control of what and who these units will investigate.
  6. Key experts and top positions in other important government departments and institutions will also be eliminated. The justification for this is that the new leader has plans to solve the major domestic and world problems, and so these positions are wasteful and no longer needed. (In the US this has included the state department, homeland security, consumer protection, environmental protection, and more.)
  7. The way has now been cleared to bring people into the government based completely on their personal loyalty and wealth. These oligarchs have no expertise for their assigned positions, but it no longer matters because one person will be making all important decisions.
  8. The new leader’s family will also enter government. They, along with the other oligarchs, will use their new-found celebrity to further enrich themselves. And it won’t seem to matter that their inexperience often leads to inept and often embarrassing behavior.
  9. Eventually every important social institution will be systematically weakened, either through cuts in funding or executive orders. This will include public education, universities, charities, the arts, and much more. A nation is only as strong as its institutions. But an autocracy can only survive if it weakens them.
  10. After a few months, important allies around the world will begin to ignore all the “me first” initiatives and start to make other commitments. New partnerships, trade arrangements,  environmental agreements, and defense treaties will replace old ones… and a whole new generation of world leaders will begin to take center stage.

The big lesson for us is that a nation is only as strong as its most effective and active institutions. To seize control autocrats must weaken them. But as a consequence, they will eventually find themselves isolated… and their countries in deep decline. And, yes, all this is already happening here.