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Archive for May, 2020

The founders of this democracy put forth a balance of power framework to insure that no administration could establish an autocracy.

Here is the current situation. Hard power is the job of the Department of Defense. Soft power is the practice of diplomacy, which is the job of the Department of State. The state department explains the current administration’s foreign policy to governments around the world… and their citizens. This last part of their job is generally called “public diplomacy.”

But international organizations such as professional associations, aid organizations, management consultancies, international banks, corporations, treaty organizations, universities, schools, and more, also find themselves explaining their “idea of America…” which usually is how they see the U.S. founder’s intent. And citizens too explain their “idea of America” as they travel… which is often described as “citizen diplomacy.”

All this adds up to confusion about whose idea of America matters most… and digital media revolutions have only added to this confusion. 

The current administration is challenging many fundamental ideas of America, including the generally understood “balance of power” framework, and the content of “soft power” diplomacy. This has led to the actual dismantling of much of the work of the state department, and therefore democracy itself.

Following the fall of the Nixon administration a system of inspector generals was created to monitor and put a stop to malpractice in government departments and institutions. This was intended to put more balance of power back into the system. But by firing four of these inspectors, and then declaring they all should be eliminated, the current president is gradually dismantling democracy and building his own autocracy.

This is what happens when extreme politics replaces statesmanship in governance. Democrats and Republicans simply must come together and stop this ongoing dismantling of our democracy.

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A strong democracy requires strong institutions… AND empathetic leadership.

  1. Empathetic leadership only comes from studying those leaders who learned during crises how to describe the truth about what is happening while offering an inspirational vision for a better future when it’s finally resolved.
  2. Strong institutions are the bedrock of any democracy. Some are government institutions… such as the justice department, the CIA, or FBI. These institutions exist to provide essential research and information without political consideration to whoever occupies the White House.
  3. Some institutions exist in society as a whole, such as schools, universities, human services, international nonprofits, arts organizations, and church denominations, and these are also critically important for a functioning democracy.

But the truth of the matter is that the current administration has cut the budgets and staffs of most governmental institutions, as well as their support for those in society that are proud of their political independence. Governments focused mostly on winning elections will likely use social media and conspiracy rumors to distract and confuse, attack those who criticize (including mainstream news), blame others for what goes wrong, and use political extremes to divide people against each other.

What is needed now in America is a leader who will tell the truth about this current pandemic, use examples to show how people come together to find lasting solutions, and articulate an inspirational vision for a future that the entire country can easily rally around. It also seems obvious that any truly empathetic leader would be finding all the resources necessary to meet the needs of everyone on the front lines of healthcare, as well as those who have lost their jobs… or are losing their small businesses.

Only after everyone is led through this crisis with common cause will the economy really come back. And then, finally, it very likely will come back with “warp speed.” 

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Freedom of speech gives us the right to protest and say whatever we are thinking. Many think this also includes the right to ignore current health warnings: I have the right to risk my health and go anywhere I want without a mask.

If risking one’s health threatens the health of others, what happens to the others’ rights? Doesn’t some kind of “hybrid” way forward seem necessary in situations like this? In other words, shouldn’t the idea of the “greater good”  take over? But for this there is an important requirement: A genuine leader who is transparent, empathetic, and trustworthy. Instead, sadly, we have a president thoroughly obsessed with his own re-election.

But, there is also one more big requirement: Our 24/7 digital world created  a permanent state of information-saturated confusion… a truth hiding daily mental fog which causes many people to reject expertise and align with political extremists who promise to take care of everything. And what’s more, we are learning that autocrats thrive in this kind of media-produced fog. It is therefore absolutely necessary that Internet consequences, and not just social media skills, be taught in schools and discussed in community groups all over the world. 

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The DFW World Affairs Council will soon host a by-invitation webinar with four prominent ambassadors on how to revitalize and modernize American diplomacy and the U.S. Foreign Service. Below is my contribution to the agenda.

In four short months COVID-19 created a situation where public health, many businesses, education, government, and relationships around the world will need to be rethought and reactivated. 

Here are some questions related to diplomacy that must be answered:

  1. Looking ahead, what will be the proper role of U.S. diplomacy? Messaging will be critical. Diplomacy helps determine a nation’s brand-identity. Therefore should a media-savvy, strategic communication plan be a part of very early thinking?
  2. So will diplomacy’s primary role be to… explain the current administration’s policies; explain the basic “idea of America;” champion democracy everywhere; collect intelligence and do research; help resolve international issues; or to establish a strong presence in critically important countries with a professional staff that does all of these things? In other words, what are the specific action steps necessary to modernize diplomacy?
  3. Will “public diplomacy” have an important role to play in this modernization? Should the many international nonprofit organizations be involved in the planning? Should coordinating public diplomacy remain a part of the state department? If so, how should it be funded and structured? If not, do we need to establish a separate entity, much like the former U.S. Information Agency (USIA)?
  4. Will there be an important role for higher education to play? If so, how? 

We currently have a state department significantly reduced in size and influence, and a president who thinks he is all we need. If diplomacy should once again become an important part of American global leadership, we will need a complete change in thinking at the top.

And, reactivating many universities after the current pandemic will necessarily include reconnecting with international partners and relationships. Therefore, in many cases experts in all aspects of global leadership, cross-cultural understanding, education, media literacy, strategic communication, healthcare, energy, water, conservation, poverty, climate change, sciences, humanities, arts, engineering, politics, government, city management, and more, might already be in place.

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