Archive for December, 2016

Santa Claus is a really big idea, one that sometimes has to be explained to children. As a child I had all the questions about flying reindeer and fat men coming down chimneys. But the very the image of a truly generous character representing gift-giving, wonderful Christmas colors, decorations, music, and family traditions every year had me believing in Santa Claus very quickly. “Yes,” I would  eventually tell my grandchildren, “he is as real as anything else!”

But what about two other really big ideas that must be dealt with this time of year, God and Jesus? Well, eventually the wonder of a living world with communicating plants and thinking animals and conscious human beings was evidence enough for me. And Jesus’ connection to God was evidenced by the consistency of his behavior, a story told and retold in mostly the same ways for centuries. His fundamental message that human wealth is not about money or always winning just makes sense. Rather, human riches are better found in the “Golden Rule” and helping others. Isn’t it interesting that many of these ideas also drove the thinking of our own founding fathers?

So this year after reminding myself that I had already sorted out these big ideas, I found myself struggling to reaffirm my belief in another really unique and beautiful one… the “idea of America,” the one that our founders had in mind.

We have been through rough times this past year. We experienced a mean-spirited and gridlocked  Congress followed by an election that brought out the worst language and embarrassing behavior imaginable. My fear at this holiday season is that we are very close to losing our big idea, the one that the world admires most.

America is not fundamentally about the superiority of business success, winning at all cost, or personal wealth, or fame. While these can sometimes be celebrated, they are not fundamental. The unique and compelling “idea of America” is simply in its basic commitment to genuine equal opportunity, personal freedom, and justice for all.

During this holiday season it is critically important that we resolve to not lose our way in 2017.  We must reaffirm and reassert our true values.

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You may have heard reporters describe their job as simply reporting what people say and do. The implication is that if things are said that are not true it is up to someone else to point that out. Then the press can report it. In other words, it is not the reporter’s job to be the truth police.

But the “new media” and 24/7 cable worlds have demonstrated that reporting endless untruths on both sides only leads to extreme polarization, gridlock, vulgarity, and consumer confusion. In other words, reporting alone has not solved the problem.

The president-elect is fond of Twitter. He tweets day and night. So, does this practice allow him to bypass the press? The press seems concerned. But truthfully the situation is much worse!  The press actually has been treating his tweets as “breaking news” press releases. They reprint them word-for-word right up front, and TV reporters display them prominently on the wide-screen.

Just as manipulative has been his practice of inviting all types of people to visit him in Trump Tower.  Anticipating a little drama, the press sets-up live cameras in the lobby just to photograph the traffic. Grabbing the most surprising visitors for comments becomes a stream of breaking news blurbs. In the end this is nothing more than brilliant hotel advertising and star building manipulation from the Trump camp.

Maybe the time has come for reporters to face the fact that if they do not call out lies and ethics violations no one else can with enough long-term sustainable visibility? Let’s face it, significant traditional American values are suddenly missing from our political discourse and it’s critically important that this be given ongoing coverage. After all, what is omitted from the founders’ fundamental “idea of America” is also important news!

Maybe broadcast organizations should now borrow from newspapers and establish editorial boards to aggressively investigate and factually report such matters every night in prime time. In the final analysis, when lies proliferate and repeated manipulation is tolerated, news too frequently becomes indistinguishable from “fake news.”

So can the press help us understand this new media world and find the truth in it… or must we suffer the consequences of vulgar language, lies, clutter, and chaos? A better educated media consumer could be another answer, but I am afraid we no longer have enough time.


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Recently I attended national security programs in Washington at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Atlantic Council. Together they provided helpful context for understanding the likely priorities of a Trump presidency and how to compensate for the uncertainties.

My take-a-way was that we can expect much less presidential interest in leading with traditional American values (i.e. human rights and participatory democracy), a significant and rapid military build up, and much more emphasis on individually negotiated bilateral trade agreements, including with China.

From my vantage point as a strategic and international communication professional, writer, and teacher, I concluded the following:

(1) If the Trump administration has little interest in championing human rights and democracy, advancing the American brand of “individual freedom and justice” will get little attention.

(2) Without American domestic and foreign policies based on fundamental human values there will be little hope for the U.S. retaining its leadership of the free world.

(3) Our allies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia will no longer have a way of anticipating our response to the inevitable crises that will be threatening them.

During years of international teaching and consulting I experienced just how much people around the world admire the basic “idea of America.” People everywhere wear American jeans and T-shirts until they wear out, listen endlessly to “American songbook” music and jazz, and watch every Hollywood movie that comes their way, all because they admire the human values and promise of freedom they symbolize.

One major speaker at the CSIS program summed it up this way. He pleaded for hundreds of NGO’s, associations, universities, institutions and individuals to plan major activities and events that will compensate for a predictable lack of focus on the most basic of American values in the Trump administration’s approach to governing. In other words, in this time of uncertainty we must all become citizen diplomats and demonstrate that the “idea of America” that the world admires is still very much alive!



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Now that the election is over pundits are pointing out that what was said during the campaign will fade away to the background. They explain that from the very beginning name calling was common and false accusations were always made. Campaigning was one thing. Governing was something else.

In today’s digital world, however, language powerfully defines one’s character. And strong images of questionable character linger for long periods of time. Now that the president-elect is taking his reality show campaign act out on a victory tour, that same gross and crude character will be recalled and indelibly stamped into too many heads… much the same as compelling song lyrics linger there for years.

What’s more, how does someone like this with an unbridled, irreverent, and mean-spirited bent  function as a legitimate and effective leader of the free world?  How does such a person pull allies together and inspire them to do wonderful and bold things just because they are noble and right? Truly, how in the world can ethical republicans rally around such a nightly “tweeter” of untrustworthy rhetoric?

The basic founders’ idea of a free, democratic, and equally just America constitutes a brand identity that is admired around the world. It is all about trust, reliability, and authenticity. And the bearer of that message must be just as authentic. What he says will either reinforce this promise, or it will cancel it out.

Political parties in the future must require a much higher level of decorum and rhetoric from any candidate they endorse. We simply must protect the integrity of the American brand, and continue our hard-earned right to lead the free world. Yes, Mr. Trump your words really do matter.

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