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  1. Today, most everyone tends to join only the social media platforms and information sources that reinforce their own beliefs.
  2. Thus, we all tend to join a digital media universe that brings us the most comfort.
  3. Trump followers have their own universe.
  4. Republicans and Democrats can each have their own universe.
  5. Independents and others can have theirs too.
  6. In fact, everyone probably is already living in their own “media comfort zone.”
  7. So, from now on, power-hungry politicians will be using social media platforms and biased news sources to talk directly with their followers, and other people may not have any idea what they are saying to each other…or planning to do!

Higher Ed was in big trouble long before the pandemic… according to the Economist, the world’s premier news magazine. So, after this pandemic what can we expect from a university education? 

   1. Universities have a huge challenge in front of them. They all will be coming back from COVID with many issues to address, and a variety of game plans.  

   2. Big issues include: examining the traditional concepts of academic freedom and tenure; determining the role of part-time faculty; defining how freedom of speech relates to hate speech and extremism of all kinds; dealing with how various views of individual freedom can function in a modern university; etc.  

   3. The pandemic experience proved that some courses can work well on-line, but others don’t. Most full-time students will continue to want some version of a campus experience.      

  4. Higher Ed journalists report that many professors, staff, and students are experiencing some level of pandemic-produced burn-out. Administrators will need to take this possibility into account, and in many cases provide help.  

  5. Most families will want to avoid huge student loans. Options include: attending a community college for the first two years; choosing a lower-cost public institution;  investigating short-term certificate programs; finding short-term degree programs; etc. “Gap years” also become viable options.    

  6. Some institutions will consider organizing subject matter differently. Interdisciplinary courses and programs often suggest that some traditional academic departments are “old school” ideas. There are many alternative and creative possibilities.    

 7. Many faculty, students and staff discovered during the pandemic that they can work effectively from home. This could free-up space in many institutions for faculty and staff conferences, innovative classes, and a variety of other creative uses. 

8. Topics such as global leadership, media literacy, international issues, and community engagement, have recently taken on new significance, and could find more prominent places in the curriculum.   

9. Many institutions will be rethinking athletics. Some will stay with intramural programs. Others will eliminate specific sports. Still others might cut entire intercollegiate programs. And all will be studying their ongoing relationships with donors… and the serious financial implications of big changes in athletics.            

Each university or college will need to determine its own future. Some institutions will fail. Others will seek and find mergers. Most will face some level of price objection, and all will be different in significant ways. And they all will need to factor-in the internationalization of everything.  

We must remember most news outlets are businesses, and journalists must find something to report every day.

1. Ironically, our previous president met that need by replacing daily press conferences with headline-grabbing tweets, and by shouting tantalizing sound-bites on his daily walks to his helicopter.

2. Happily, Biden restored daily press conferences and made himself and cabinet members available to the press. However, many observers have been voicing their frustration with very aggressive questioning coming so soon from reporters, and sometimes very contentious stories.

3. Here are four journalism realities: a. Finding something to report everyday inevitably results in aggressive questioning and reporting. b. Finding new ways to report the same topics everyday can result in consumer confusion. c. Reporters are always trying to “scoop” their competitors to earn headlines. d. Opinion bloggers, biased news outlets, and many commercial organizations put their basic interests out front… often resulting in “fake news,” and more confusion,

Bottom line: As news consumers we must all select our information sources and favorite journalists very carefully. Further, the need for media consumer education is more important than ever… in all our schools, community organizations, and associations.

Trump received over 74 million votes. These people will not be going away.

1. Obviously they were willing to accept Trumps erratic behavior because they thought his autocracy would benefit them.

2. However, several of his most visible supporters already see themselves in the presidency… some possibly even by 2024. Dictators around the world are waiting welcome them… a very dangerous global development.

3. Journalist Ann Applebaum, writing in The Atlantic, points out that Biden supporters will need to accept the reality that “74 million Trump voters” are waiting in the wings to know who will lead them. She also wisely advises that in the meantime all democracy champions should find common projects to work with them on and nonpolitical topics to talk with them about.

Bottom line: For the near future peaceful coexistence will be necessary… and winning many more elections will be required.

  1. Biden’s main job will be to function everyday as the chief communication officer, and to do it in a way that consistently conveys enthusiasm and energy. He must work closely with his communication and social media experts, and use appropriate media platforms to explain in simple and calming language exactly what is taking place.
  2. Showing visible energy will be essential because everyone will notice and report any sign of fatigue or aging.
  3. And from the start he must consider his Vice President to be a “President-in-training.” He must quickly share his vast experience, get her up to speed in foreign policy, and introduce her to all the right people.
  4. He already has his press secretary holding daily press briefings. But he must also encourage background interviews between his senior officials and influential reporters. In other words, he must use truth and transparency to minimize confusing leaks.
  5. He has a highly experienced and talented cabinet and staff. Each one is capable of planning and completing their own work. He must encourage all of them to do just that.
  6. Bottom Line: He must accept that everything he wants to do will not get done. But if he prioritizes carefully, he will complete enough…and “enough completed” can save American democracy.

Lesson 581 Words Matter

Yes, words really do matter... especially when they show a consistency over an entire lifetime. Sometimes they establish integrity and reliability. And sometimes they warn us of a potential tyrant.

Trump always substituted lies for his lack of knowledge. His language was always self-centered. His constant demand for loyalty was never reciprocal. His attacks on the news media were frequent. He made personal attacks on adversaries, even on his most loyal staff. He discriminated against minorities in many ways, and made it clear he preferred the white majority. Following his success hosting reality TV, he easily adapted and used entertainment-driven babble at his campaign rallies.

More recently he attacked people like John McCain and the Pope, apparently to make the point that he could get away with it much as he bragged about shooting someone in the street. He used words and references that encouraged white supremacists to feel empowered. He used outlandish daily tweets to get attention, dominate headlines, and create chaos. Before the election, he gutted the mail service and attacked mail-in ballots even though they had been used successfully for a long time. He charged that the election would be rigged by the Democrats, and tried to make it difficult for black people to vote. After he lost the election, he claimed it was stolen from him and continued to do so long after his claims were denied by the courts. He never lost his followers through all this, proving that repeated lies begin to sound true. As a last resort he challenged his followers to come to Washington to help him take their nation back. He ordered those who showed up to go the Capitol and did not call them off when the mob got out of control.

Most who participated in the siege were adamant that the election was stolen from Trump and that it could be overturned. Some thought it would give their career a boost if Trump won again in 2024. And it’s difficult to know what members of conspiracy groups, individual extremists, and militant militias were really thinking. Did they have something much bigger in mind for themselves? Only time will tell.

The combination of social media dynamics with Trump’s deceitful words and bombastic shouts have resulted in a tragic loss of truth. Make no mistake, the rule of law requires knowing the truth about everything… and so does democracy. Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, and all other autocracies, have already lost it. Now we must do whatever it takes to reject the possibility of an autocracy and save our sacred democracy.

Social media empowers extremists

Hopes that these new tools would make society work better quickly melted away. Instead, lies, conspiracies, and personal attacks, became commonplace. Too many people no longer trusted experts, became confused about facts, and began to rely on information sources that reinforced what they wanted to believe.

What’s more, social media enabled a reality TV show host without character or ethics to become president… and to turn his long-demonstrated autocratic methods into a very large cult following. He told us both in words and deeds exactly who he was… but too many chose to ignore it.

Traditional news organizations, committed to finding and reporting truth, quickly found their influence declining. Some saw opportunities for commercial success. As a result, many television networks turned their anchors into stars, reduced hard news content, added more commercials, and increased “happy talk” segments. All this, while white supremacists and anarchists were using social media to become leaders inside their own violence-prone tribes.

Other news organization found commercial success by becoming a mouthpiece for a president whose tweeted rants helped increase their ratings. Ambitious politicians also were finding that weaponizing social media could be a pathway to satisfying their thirst for power. Former Republican leaders found the president’s autocracy preferences acceptable… especially when it put them close to power.

At the same time, foreign governments were using the Internet to disrupt societies and influence elections. Tragically, the U.S. President and others found that they could use this to their advantage. So Russia and other foreign governments began to increase efforts to generate confusion and social division… as well as to support the election of their favorite candidate.

Dictators love the Internet. We learned this with vivid clarity from a seditious attack on the U.S. Capitol… incited by the U.S. President, supported by his base, and led by known anarchists and Republicans who were willing to trade their dignity for visions of taking over control of the country.

In general, communication became so difficult in this social media-shaped and information-saturated world that we cannot count on journalists and other media professionals to advance our democratic republic for us. Rather, we must rely on public service-driven political leaders and their supporters to do that. Our next president therefore has a huge challenge ahead… and he will need all the help from us he can get.

With Trump’s recent erratic behavior, it is very important to examine why his following remains so high. My investigation suggests five reasons:

  1. Trump’s early base were people angry with the extreme polarization in Washington. They had needs that were not being addressed, and quickly supported a person who promised to fix them. When he did not, they stayed loyal because his rallies continued to be entertaining, they didn’t see an easy political alternative, and destroying the bureaucracy in Washington always was appealing to them.
  2. There were also those people who said they liked his policies but hated his tactics. They benefited personally from a strong stock market, enjoyed Trump’s tax breaks, and possibly were associated with businesses that benefited from massive degulation.
  3. Still others saw career advances for themseves simply by pledging loyalty. Being close to power was thrilling for them, and the idea of being part of an autocracy was of no personal concern.
  4. Republicans in Congress quickly climbed onboard because they were like-minded. They represented far right districts at home and feared becoming the focus of Trump’s tweets. They were also worried about the violence of some Trump supporters. Therefore, it was not difficult to overlook his cruelty and the chaos produced by his daily tweets.
  5. Some have also found a strong racism dimension to Trump’s success. His obvious racism attracted other racists. But just as important, mainstream white people very likely let previously surpressed worries about minorities changing their neighborhoods effect their voting. And with job priorities and other benefits appearing to favor minorities, their voting also could have been influenced by feelings of resentment.

So here are two big questions about the future: Does Trump’s huge following indicate that he could get elected again as America’s first dictator? Or is it more likely that with this base of voters already in place, another control-obsessed politician who is more experienced in government, knows American history, understands international issues, sees no need for outspoken experts, and is still fairly likable, could get elected in 2024?

This much is very clear: Democracy post-Trump is not a sure thing… even in America.

President Biden’s goal must be to overwhelm whatever noise others are releasing to disrupt his program agenda. Here is a proposed White House media organizing scheme for Biden to consider:

  1. Identity messaging. A small number of identity message points should be ready immediately to use as a part of speeches and official statements… beginning with “individual freedom, human rights, and equal justice.” Whatever is decided at the outset, however, can be fine-tuned or reshaped based on community focus-group outcomes.
  2. Community focus-groups. Professionally facilitated focus-groups should be held in targeted communities around the country to review branding message points, clarify issues, and identify needed actions. Opinion leaders should be selected to participate from civic, political, law enforcement, and social service organizations. Reports from these groups should be made public and used to fine-tune or modify the branding points.
  3. Media monitoring. A small group should be selected from the communication and media staff to monitor how mainstream reporters and social media platforms are describing the White House. They should circulate their findings to the full staff everyday, along with their recommendations if responses seem required.
  4. White House press conferences. Daily press conferences should be restored, with regular appearances from the President, cabinet members, and government agency heads. Truth and transparency must guide every statement.
  5. Social media team. A special team of social media experts should be formed to constantly bombard and dominate the media landscape with carefully shaped identity-reinforcing messages.
  6. Journalist relationships. Building relationships with key news reporters and TV anchors should be in the job descriptions of the senior communication and media professionals in the White House. This should include get-acquainted lunches… followed by occasional telephone “off-the-record” conversations.
  7. Integrated marketing task-force. A high-level communication and marketing monitoring task-force should be established with White House cabinet and government agency representation. This kind of group should meet regularly to evaluate the effectiveness of current branding messages, anticipate crises and issues, and brainstorm needed new strategic initiatives.

Important questions remain: Will Trump’s “twitter-noise” and vindictiveness harm Biden’s overall support? What will be the consequences between now and January 20th? Will mainstream journalists continue to report Trump antics as important news?

Strong institutions inside and outside government are the foundation of democracies. They provide essential stability when democracies are threatened. Thus, most wannabe autocrats gut their government institutions of experts first, and then attack the major external ones in ways that make them struggle to survive. Autocrats believe they should make all decisions, at home and abroad.

People who want to study issues, policies, and ways to use their findings, find their way into government institutions, such as the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, and many more. They become the nation’s expert public service professionals. Others find leadership roles outside government in universities, thinktanks, nonprofits, charities, associations, etc. They provide stability in the American democratic system.

Our country has been going through a brutal attack on its’ democracy. Much damage to government institutions has been done. The state department, defense department, FBI, CIA have all been gutted. Outside government, higher education effectiveness is under fire, for-profit colleges are being supported with tax dollars, and nonprofits everywhere are fighting for their very survival.

A new White House will need to build more than a state-of-the-art communication and media unit. It will also need to rebuild the decimated government institutions and empower them to begin advising, and acting where needed. It will also need to reestablish proper verbal and financial support for America’s vital nongovernment public service institutions.

In addition to gutting essential institutions, the legitimacy of the recent election has also been under attack… clearly with building a family-run autocracy in mind. Many conservative republicans either are imagining benefits for themselves, or are in fear for their safety if they criticize. As a result, we have an entire political party appearing to support a wannabe dictatorship… a situation which would destroy our democracy.

The future danger goes far beyond the continuing noise of disgruntled politicians. The real danger is that our next wannabe dictator will know more American history, be more knowledgeable of foreign policy issues and challenges, and already have followers that will happily provide loyalty to a royal family. To protect ourselves, the best insurance policy we can buy is to build back all those critically important governmental and nongovernmental institutions.