Recent media revolutions have been huge game-changers for everyone… and most especially for leaders.

  1. Institutions, politics, the family, education, and much more, have been changed forever.
  2. A daily information explosion now produces a permanent state of confusion.
  3. Social media platforms have become weapons for ruthless governments and individuals.
  4. Legitimate institutions and governments struggled to be understood. Even those that want to be transparent.
  5. Photojournalism and television brought even more drama to news reporting.
  6. Television quickly dominated coverage of riots, demonstrations, and shootings.
  7. Focusing on the action, and using close-ups and picture montages, TV news can be very deceiving.
  8. Consumers are overwhelmed with information… and now tend to chose the outlets that best reinforce what they prefer to think.

Media literacy for consumers has therefore never been more important.

Cracks in our two-party government have been appearing for a long time. Is it now time to suggest we should have multiple political parties?

  1. In the Republican Party there are those with both extreme right-wing and traditional thinking.
  2. Some Republicans also appear to see benefits in an autocracy.
  3. And there are Democrats with centrist, left and right thinking.
  4. Some Democrats might even prefer a “green party” focus.

As the political pendulum swung between Democrats and Republicans over the years, various factions were appearing.

  1. In the 1930’s a Democratic President (FDR) used government to create infrastructure jobs. But even so his internal party support was not unanimous, especially when it came to foreign affairs.
  2. In the 1980’s a Republican President (Reagan) declared big government was the big problem. But internal factions eventually emerged, with more varied ideas about the best role for government..
  3. Today a Democratic President (Biden) is using government to end a pandemic, open up schools safely, rescue hurting families, provide other social safety-nets, and bailout failing small businesses. But internal factions on the left and right are already emerging.

Maybe multiple-party politics, recognizing the existence of these various factions, would better serve us now? It’s essential to keep in mind that recent media revolutions will keep these factions visibly on the public agenda… and therefore politically significant.

  1. The number of disillusioned Americans… Independents, Republicans, Democrats, middleclass families, and front-line workers… is increasing everyday.
  2. We simply must change our national conversation to the founder’s “idea of America.” “Save our incredible democratic republic,” must become our unifying theme.
  3. Passionate speeches need to be delivered at every opportunity. Celebration events need to be staged. Everywhere the “buzz” must be about democracy.
  4. Topics must include: a nation of immigrants; a nation of strong institutions; a nation of good jobs; a nation of great healthcare; a nation that cares for the environment; a nation of empathetic capitalism; a nation of strong allies; and a nation of individual freedoms.
  5. We must use every media-platform, holiday event, and all communication opportunities to focus on America’s democratic republic as the only “big idea” that can truly unite our nation… and help us regain our leadership role in the world.

  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.