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President Trump declared a win-win agreement following his recent North Korea Summit. Since friendly handshakes and generous praise might keep war from breaking out during future conversations, shouldn’t the president be given an enthusiastic pat on the back?

To be sure, many journalists believe that the only “fair and balanced” thing to do is to report any positive outcomes they see. And so isn’t it only fair to give credit to the president for improving his personal relationship with this dangerous dictator?

On the other hand, isn’t it also fair and balanced that every time the Singapore friendship is reported, his administration’s daily trade wars and other attacks on our allies and friends are also reported? And isn’t it also fair that every time the Singapore handshake is shown, his strutting around on the stage showing off his instinctive bully body language and puffy facial expressions to his allies is also reported? And isn’t it also fair that every time his defense of Putin is reported, examples of damages to human rights and values-based democracies are also reported?

And isn’t it also fair that every time his statements about the North Korean leader’s extraordinary talents are run, stories are also run about his abruptly ending the long negotiated agreements on trade, climate change, nuclear weapons (Iran), and his lack of knowledge and respect for the leadership and scientific talent that it took to create those agreements?

And shouldn’t photos of his schmoozing with “rocket man” be shown side by side with photos of the other dictators and autocrats he collaborates with more comfortably than with his own allies, clearly conveying his undeniable me-first, autocratic ambitions?

So if everyday is all about Trump… his tweets and pronouncements. Then all about Trump needs to be told everyday… in side-by-side stories and photos. 

Is this actually possible? Could we be sliding toward a world ruled by autocrats? Could we be at the beginning of a new world order, one without much concern for individual freedom, human rights, and justice? I hate to say it, but the signs are not good.

What makes such a horror feasible is the unexpected outcome of a media revolution. Daily information clutter created a pervasive fog of confusion. Repeated lies began to sound true. Facts got lost in extremism. Expert debates made us confused. Excessive bad behavior no longer was shocking. Politics degenerated into television entertainment. Personal attacks were awarded with headlines. Outrageous bragging became acceptable. And it was in the growing density of this fog and confusion where a disruptive and unethical candidate could actually win… and where autocrats elsewhere in the world could also gain in influence and power.

Here is a “what if” scenario to think about: What if recently announced “attitude” changes produce a super friendly atmosphere for the North Korean talks? What if the primary outcome of these talks is a declared mutual admiration? And what if future meetings are set, invitations to visit each other are extended, and each party reports back to their constituents that they achieved something no one else has ever been able to achieve?

Can such an outcome be genuine? The problem is that in this new media ecosystem there is no way to know for sure. Truth is in verifiable details, not in the hazy fog of ego-centered double-speak. The fog has become our reality. Most of the time we can’t separate fact from fiction.

Now combine this scenario with the US president’s pronouncement that Russia should be a member of the G-7. Now also add this to recent schmoozing and friendly gestures toward autocrats in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Italy, etc. Now imagine the possibility of a new world order based on an alliance of these autocracies, with the fog of the media-ecosystem hiding the process.

Finally, picture an annual Summit attended only by these autocrats, chaired by the U.S. president. Will issues such as human rights, free trade, climate change, immigration, conservation, and clean air even be on their agenda? And what will happen to the decades old Western values of freedom, opportunity, and justice for all?

With respect to the U.S. president, a happy friend in North Korea, with photo ops to prove it, will look to his base like a huge nuclear talks victory. And flattering front and center pictures of him gloating will be all that matters to this unbridled foreign policy day-trader.

Is a new world order run by autocrats possible? The signs are not good.

We learned a lot about TV coverage of dramatic events from analyzing the Trump campaign. After the Rallies, many analysts concluded that rather than expose his character flaws live TV coverage actually helped him win. Cable could not resist covering what Trump might say next, and mainstream media could not resist the audience appeal of follow-up reports. Over time they may have unwittingly enhanced his celebrity status, thereby helping him win.

So my questions here are: Could there be a similar celebrity factor involved in mass shootings? Could the idea of visibility and celebrity be promoting copycats? Could interviews with victims and families be more of an imposition than thought? Could shorter reports be as informative as longer coverage?

If you think changes are in order, here are some ideas for producers to try:

  1. Never report the names of shooters. or detailed information about their methods.
  2. Limit live TV coverage to periodic short updates.
  3. Never give publicity opportunities to politicians and officials who will only offer the same politically motivated ideas they have been touting all along.
  4. Only take up the issue of gun violence in special programs with experienced researchers and analysts.
  5. Be careful about looking for emotional stories about victims and families as events unfold. This may be good television, but it also can be emotionally imposing, and hurtful.

Live television can be good drama, we know that. But when it comes to shootings, it can also become an influential actor… when it should be simply an accurate observer?

Experience teaches us that after shootings the same old solution ideas are usually put forward by the same old partisans and pundits. Arguments against each idea are familiar, and the same old extremists materialize everywhere. And when all is said and done, deep down we already know that experimenting with a combination of all these possibilities is the best possible approach.

So why not experiment with some combination of these ideas:

  1. Restrict access to all schools to a single entrance.
  2. Place more trained plain-clothes guards in schools… with close-in locked access to their arms.
  3. Strengthen background checks, carefully control gun show purchases, and put in place fair but careful screening for anyone purchasing automatic military-style weapons.
  4. Invest in first-class mental health services in all schools… and communicate all warning signs immediately to parents, teachers, and students.

Bottom line: We need to restore common sense and remove many life and death problem-solving exercises from politics. We need to rely more on solid research and experienced experts, and be more willing to try new ideas. With this in mind, we should ask television producers to make coverage of shootings shorter and more low-keyed. And we should also ask them for more special programs that present well-researched and pragmatic ideas to try.

Facing a crisis such as a potential nuclear showdown has nothing to do with one’s political ideology, party, or voter base. But it has everything to do with substance, intellectual competence, experience, preparation, and ability to think clearly under fire.

As I reviewed the North Korean “on-again off-again” exchanges of the last few days, I also found myself reviewing a list I previously made of Trump’s leadership characteristics. Now I ask you is there anything in this list that gives you even a little confidence in our nuclear showdown negotiator?

  1. Has no moral code or ethics… and is primarily interested in the appearance of a personal “win” and wealth.
  2. Uses endless lies and bullying to achieve his ends… and those ends divide far more than unite.
  3. Has no knowledge of history, or experience in complex problem-solving.
  4. Constantly expresses contempt for people different from himself.
  5. Uses media as attack weapons.
  6. Relentlessly attacks freedom of the press guarantees… repeatedly “branding” them “fake news.”
  7. Ignores the traditional American values of life, liberty, opportunity, and justice for everyone.
  8. Takes personal credit for accomplishments, but still demands loyalty from everyone, and gives none of it back.
  9. Constantly attacks the credibility of those who came before… eliminating any possibility of national unity.
  10. Openly admires dictators and autocrats… with a desire to become one, and to dominate all of them.
  11. Recruits people onto his staff to help him create chaos… showing little regard for competence or experience.
  12. Attacks the leadership and guts the staff of government institutions… and many of these he needs to bring experience and substance to the investigation and management of security-threatening crises.

In the final analysis, is this the leader you can trust to negotiate high-risk nuclear disarmament with a manipulative tyrant who has a consistently dishonest track record? And is there any possibility that this tyrant is stupid enough to trust a demonstrated liar and bully to deliver the economic well-being he promises? With two ego maniacs competing for the upper hand, let’s pray for something short of a devastating war!

I taught international communication in the UK during summers for almost 20 years. Truthfully, I found the Royals mostly amusing, much like watching a fairy tale live on TV. And many of the British academics I knew regarded them as very expensive relics. So I guess I was never sure of their cost-benefit.

But “Prince Harry the Maverick” might have actually pulled off something quite spectacular, and just when the world needs it most. My take is that we witnessed in this wedding a game-changing inclusive coming together of many cultures, not just a Royal marrying an American. I think it’s very likely that the Harry-Meghan partnership will go on to produce other events and projects that will put human rights back on the agenda with worldwide visibility and praise. No racism! No divisiveness! No arrogance! And no Trump.

What we witnessed Saturday was a blending of some of the pomp, pageantry ,and horse-drawn carriage Royal traditions, with a more contemporary less formal wedding ceremony staged in a more comfortable chapel. Surprising many, an African-American Episcopal Bishop from Chicago delivered a very lively and quite dramatic sermon… pleading for more love in the world and an end to hunger and poverty. But the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England, administered the marriage vows in a more traditional tone. Contrasts continued, however, with a beautiful classical cello solo contrasted with a loud toe-tapping gospel music choir. When all was said and done I think most of this mixing of cultures and styles worked fine. Diana’s boys obviously had already worked their magic and the Royal family was far more ready for change than most of us realized.

So we now have a new mixed-race Royal who took off her American Hollywood makeup, exposed her natural freckles, and demonstrated that she was ready to quit her movie star job and join a full-time partnership with a different kind of Prince… a partnership with the real possibility of changing the world agenda. After all, she majored in both theater and international affairs at Northwestern University, and has already led many human rights projects in Africa and other places in the world. It’s obvious from her past volunteer projects that Meghan shares Harry’s passion for realistic world problem-solving.

So I am betting that Harry and Meghan have many more surprises up their sleeves. It should be really exciting to see what they do next. And you can be very sure the television cameras will follow wherever they go, and the news reports and tweets won’t be fake!

Later, when you see the current president’s official portrait will you think builder, fixer, or wrecker?

When a president is mostly a wrecker:  Healthcare: Ends or reduces the current plan with no replacement. Regulations: Ends environmental regulations without continuing protections for public health. Ends investment and banking regulations without continuing economic crash protection. Taxes: Puts in place a program that further enriches wealthy individuals and businesses, but barely helps the middle class. Climate change: Ends international agreements, angers allies, and ignores scientific facts. Peace broker: Takes one side and then blames the resulting anger and violence on the other side. Financial disclosure: Refuses to do this, and then finds ways to use the office to expand personal wealth. Past leaders: Constantly destroys their credibility, and then puffs-up in pious self-congratulation.

When a president is a skilled fixer of flawed programs: Evaluates heath care programs and fixes the problems. Ends unnecessary environmental regulations but retains those essential for public health. Works to expand climate change research and cooperation around the world. Proposes ideas to improve trade agreements in order to strategically advance US interests. Builds on current nuclear containment agreements to further limit the possibilities of war. Explains what the administration is doing in a manner that clearly demonstrates a deep knowledge of public policy. Proudly stands on the shoulders of those who came before, references learning about both problems and possibilities from them, and proposes new and constructive ideas as next steps. Understands that viciously denouncing past leaders eliminates the possibility of building enough support to lead the entire country.

When a president is a visionary builder: Proposes new and innovative programs and project initiatives to advance the society as a whole. Designs government sponsored infrastructure projects to energize sagging economies. Writes civil rights protections into the law in order to strengthen and insure equal justice. Supports international watchdog organizations and provides resources and new ideas to help resolve difficult conflicts. Keeps promises without totally wrecking past accomplishments. Honestly explains why some promises cannot be kept instead of spreading lies. And talks about past leaders with gratitude for their service, and respect.

Are you happy with what we have now? If not, what are you doing about it?

Who we are as Americans is made very clear in the Constitution. Who we are as individuals is the sum total of our deeds and our words! So when you think about it, what we have here now is a serious misalignment between our president and our constitution.

“The Donald” spoke at the NRA convention in Dallas this week and promised that no one will take away the second amendment as long as he is president. He also stated that he knows all Democrats and NRA critics will take it away if they get the chance. Honestly, I really don’t know a single person who advocates eliminating the second amendment.

The writers of the second amendment did so in the context of guns they had at the time and worries about militias. Years later, no one wants to take away that basic constitutional right to self-defense, to shoot targets for sport, and to hunt. But it’s also true that the constitution does not preclude the possibility that changes in society and weapon technology might suggest that a few adjustments are appropriate. Sadly today’s angry rhetoric is too polarizing to allow civilized conversation on the topic, and Trump’s NRA speech was certainly not designed for healing.

In fact, the president’s NRA speech was mostly a rambling campaign style laundry list of boasts and unexplained promises. It was vintage Trump… big boasts, few details, and no empathy. Recently all his speeches have become rallies that repeat the topics of his daily chaos-producing tweets and mind-changes with more self-praises and angry attacks. The NRA speech was no different.

The result is that those in Trump’s “base” take leaps of faith regarding his promises, while countless others plunge into a deep depression fearing that their future will be in country of hostile divisions and global isolation.

Those of us who have been engaged in branding our institutions, cities, or nations, always begin by asking: Who are we? It is a question that usually can be answered by reviewing founding missions. Once a founding mission is understood, clear guidelines for appropriate programs, projects, value statements, messages, and future goals, become apparent. It also becomes apparent what leadership qualities and values future visionaries must possess.

The basic values deeply embedded in the U.S. Constitution are simply individual freedom, equal opportunity, and justice for everyone. And in our country no one is above the law. Our goal, then, must be for all Americans to model those values at home and around the world… yes, including the president.

As James Comey calmly put it in one of his recent TV interviews: “Who we are is all we have.”