I write about media and communication, and the political consequences of media revolutions. Politically I am independent. But I have become disappointed in the legislative paralysis caused by extreme partisanship… and that lies, exaggerations, personal attacks, and double-speak have become an accepted reality in political discourse.

From a pure communication and media perspective, today’s rose garden performance was a disaster. It was factually incoherent, rambled for 50 minutes around unrelated issues, and was even contradictory about whether the need for more wall is a real national emergency. At one point, he actually admitted that he did not have to declare this emergency now… adding that he is already building the wall.

It was 50 minutes of pure “word salad.” I wrote about this brand of double-speak in Lesson 477. Google the phrase and you find three related health conditions. The third condition is “narcissistic personality disorder,” described as a person with an inflated sense of self-importance, disregard for others, and excessive need for admiration.

All Americans should suffer through all 50 minutes of this Rose Garden disaster. However you feel about the need for a border wall, after analyzing this performance you simply must be concerned about what is actually going on in this administration. You will likely conclude that we really do have a national security emergency, and it is living in the White House.

As the democratic candidates for president get in line, it is refreshing to see diversity in race, gender, and religion. It is also refreshing to see intelligent young people getting interested in politics. They really do seem to represent the diversity of America.

Most have done their homework, have impressive backgrounds, are good speakers, and have a lot of stored up enthusiasm and energy to display in the many months ahead. And if you listen to their words, and are moved by their upbeat tone, you will likely conclude that any one of them will make a great leader of something.

But recent television and social media revolutions, combined with hard lessons from the 2016 election, have already changed the requirements for winning in 2020. Looking strong on television, in social media, and in person is now basic. And simply being photogenic does not help. In fact, “too pretty” today can actually be counterproductive. What works best in a “hard-hitter” world are leaders who can look both really strong and sincerely empathetic at the same time.

Here is what all this will mean in 2020:

(1)  A physical presence and “look” of strength will be necessary to match Mr. Trump’s towering, loud-mouth, arrogance. This strength need not come from height, weight, or gender. Rather it can come from posture, facial expression, attitude, tone, rock solid self-confidence, and overall body language.

(2)  An unwavering strength of character must also be obvious from past and current behaviors in order to counter Trump’s lies, exaggerations, cruelty, bully tactics, lack of ethics, autocratic behaviors, and name calling.

Therefore, a picture image of both personal strength and empathy is the bottom-line prerequisite for winning in 2020. This will matter more than gender, age, race, or even rally generated excitement. And a deep understanding of issues, a clear vision for the future, and fully explained commitments, must underlie everything.

Before you support any candidate you should ask these questions: Overall, is this person strong enough to win? Can he or she handle any crisis, in any place, at any time, with clear strategic thinking? And when in the oval office, will I once again be very proud of my United States of America?

Make no mistake, it will take a rare blend of unflappable personal strength and second-nature empathy to pull all this off. And just liking a candidate will not be enough. If this current crop of candidates remains an indicator, by 2020 you will probably still like most of them.

It was a typical Trump address. Nice parts were written for him to read. The rest continued with his same divisive positions on issues, often with a threatening tone. In the end, nothing changed.

It’s clear that we still have a president who double-speaks most of the time, and continues to shamelessly make false and exaggerated claims. Simply put, the state of the union remains unstable and frightening.

So what should people of good will do now?  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Support candidates in 2020 who honestly champion liberty, justice, and equal opportunity for everyone, no matter their political affiliation. And don’t be fooled by false claims and olive branches.
  2. Support and get involved with institutions that relate to your expertise, experience, and values. Strong institutions are the foundation of American democracy, and we must rescue them from daily abuse.
  3. Speak out when people around you appear to be supporting leaders with autocratic tendencies. That is what the American Revolution was all about.
  4. Never forgive lies, vulgarity, bully tactics, self-admiration, cruelty, friendships with dictators, angry rants, name calling, and preoccupation with building personal wealth... just because you may like some of his policies. Bury your head in the sand, and our democratic republic will be lost.

The situation we face now is dire. It’s not a matter of examining each presidential action to see if it possibly makes sense. Rather, it’s about what the sum total of the president’s daily contradictory pronouncements tells us about the true state of our union.

When it is all said and done, nothing has changed. Chaos continues. National security is at risk. And character matters now more than ever.

The president first took ownership of the government shutdown, and then shifted blame to the democrats. Then he gave false accounts of where and how most drugs are coming into the country. He also grossly exaggerated numbers of everything, as well as the threat of central American caravans. Then he threatened declaring a state of national emergency. And more recently he proclaimed that wall funding had already been allocated by Congress and major wall construction is already underway. Referencing all this, one pundit referred to all these communication inconsistencies and obfuscations as “word salad.”

I never realized that the description “word salad” was listed in the dictionary, but I found it in my I-Pad Dictionary app.

“Incoherent speech consisting of both real and imaginary words, lacking comprehensive meaning…”

Google the phrase, and you find three related health conditions:  (1) Schizophrenia,  (2) Disorganized Schizophrenia, and (3) Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Number 3 especially caught my attention: “A disorder in which a person has an inflated sense of self-importance. Symptoms may include grandiosity, disregard for others’ feelings, and excessive need for admiration.”   

Word salad leadership is dangerous anywhere you find it. You might want to listen to the 2019 state of the union address with this in mind.

The lesson of Trump rallies… Somehow this reality-show star and real estate con-man was able to attract people and media coverage to his rallies by simply being outrageous, vulgar, brutal, and unethical… and by promising miracles where factories were closing and jobs were being lost. They needed a savior, and he needed followers who felt they had nothing to lose by signing on.

When news media can’t help themselves… When your business includes covering compelling public events, it is very tempting to cover ones that promise large audiences, excitement, surprises, follow-up interviews, and next day stories. But sometimes, such events turn out to be snake oil salesmen willing to provide compelling headlines in order to get gobs of free publicity.

Let’s face it, election rally coverage made Mr. Trump even more of a star, and it was only much later that responsible journalists looked back and asked, “What the hell were we thinking?” Almost daily television and print coverage had actually turned out to be effective free publicity for an habitual liar and demagogue… and the demagogue won the election!  

The case of Roger Stone…  Here is a self-described “dirty trickster. He has said it’s better to be a known scoundrel, than unknown. Much of his clowning has been only to attract cameras. As with the presidential election, there is a danger that reporting too much of the fluffy aspects of his antics will only help him realize his celebrity dreams.

Right now, it’s more important than ever that only the hard news moments of the Stone indictment be reported. The status of journalism has been on the line. Simply put, will the news media be able to resist the entertainment temptations of covering the whole jolly Roger show?



What impact has 24/7 nonstop news coverage had on the government shutdown? Here are some thoughts about the role of conflict in the news business:

News as a business… the news business requires delivering audiences to advertising. Since any crisis brings intense public interest, intensive reporting about conflict is central to the business of news.

Competition… news organizations compete with each other for audience. Pressure to find new facts and angles is relentless. This can lead to nonstop 24/7 coverage… some call it “feeding frenzies.” Such frenzies keep conflicts alive, which is good for the news business.

The celebrity effect… the news business has its own celebrities. Competition between the different personalities and strengths of “celebrity journalists” helps keep audiences large and connected. Following your favorite anchors or journalists during a crisis is good for business.

Consequences of media revolutions… media revolutions produce information clutter and confusion. Reporting about conflicts can give career-driven journalists a chance to gain name recognition.

Biased sources… many news consumers today select biased sources that simply reinforce what they already believe. Shameless reporting can keep their audiences engaged, which is good for biased news businesses.

Exaggerations and lies… most official statements about who is to blame are flawed. Repeating these statements over and over tends to add more heat to the conflict, which is counterproductive to finding practical solutions.

Nature of television imagery… television is a drama-making medium. Action shots, close-ups, editing, and montage are its main tools. Putting people involved into hearings and meetings, and then putting them on television. raises emotions and heightens conflicts… all good for business.

Chaos and disruptions… distracting official pronouncements add to conflicts every day. News organizations feel compelled to report them immediately and thoroughly. But this means that the wild activities of administration officials and other news makers will rarely get covered. But in the business of news, conflict always trumps most everything else.

Finding conflict solutions… articulating pragmatic solutions therefore must be the business of someone else. It’s not the business of news. So… long ago the president should have appointed a commission of recognized experts on immigration to give him a comprehensive plan. Such a plan probably would have included some kind of wall… and the news media would have happily reported that!





The real crisis is not the U.S. southern border. Rather, my ongoing study of media, politics and social change has yielded a list of much more serious concerns. Here are a few:

Most policy decisions are now being made by one person, the President… whose behavior is consistently autocratic, and who is most comfortable in the company of other autocrats.

Social media is being used as a weapon… individuals and governments are using new media to generate chaos, create confusion, attack enemies, and bring about social unrest.

Growing widespread anger is causing dangerous social division… in congress, political extremism is causing the parties to focus on battling each other. At the same time, virtually all areas of the executive branch are issuing directives that create social division and disrupt whole communities.

Institutions important to a democracy are under daily assault… rather than setting up nonpartisan study commissions, members of the administration and their partisan supporters are focused on discrediting the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, the office of the attorney general, education institutions, and more.  A republic is only as strong as its institutions, and leadership must be about making them stronger.

Deregulation has been extreme … public health and the overall environment are being threatened every day. Business leaders are encouraged to ignore interest group pressures… thereby maximizing corporate profits at the expense of public health.

Allies have become confused about U.S.policies… presidential attacks on NATO allies damage U.S. and European security, and advance the causes of our adversaries.

Scientific findings about the impact of climate change have been rejected by our partisan leaders… thereby insuring that weather catastrophes will multiply, that natural landscapes will be destroyed, and lives will be upended.

Media revolutions are changing everything… a new media ecosystem is creating information clutter and confusion, making it almost impossible to separate facts from fiction. Digital media has also changed the way politics, families, and even religion function. Resulting individual isolation is also beginning to reveal behavior and mental health issues. More media and civic literacy education in schools and elsewhere is urgently needed.

The constitution-protected role of the press has been upended… a proliferation of competing broadcast channels, print organizations, and social media platforms, has created problems related to commercial influences, intended biases, and unintended mistakes.

Generally accepted morality is being lost… leaders without moral character, or qualifications for the office they hold, or personal ethics, or capacity for empathy, are initiating reforms based on the belief that “ends by any means” are now acceptable. Simply put, when their “means” are filled with lies, deceptions, and gross exaggerations, our values-based American culture is being corrupted. This is the real American crisis.