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Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Public relations and advertising firms are using social media marketing tools to help politicians win in an information-cluttered and confusing world.  

The Brexit campaign in the UK was able to make it look like huge numbers of Brits wanted to leave the EU. The Trump 2016 campaign used the same tactics to win the election in the US.  And further, the Russians, Chinese, Iranians and others around the world are doing the same thing now. Politics will never be the same.

Here is how it’s done:

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Tik Tok, Reddit and other social media platforms collect private information. This personal data identifies small pockets of forgotten and frustrated people, as well as intellectuals and wealthy people who feel they have fallen behind and deserve a better place in the world. Messages are customized for them on topics designed to stir their anger and reinforce their dissatisfaction. Advertising is also targeted directly to them using the same social media platforms. And while they are receiving personally customized messages, they are also becoming predisposed to accept an authoritarian’s solution to their discontent.

All this happens on social media platforms which the general public never sees. The public knows the issues because the news media have covered official statements and political events. But many end up surprised after votes are counted. They just can’t figure out how extreme ideas, or a would-be authoritarian, could win. Social media is how.

Unlike the dictators he so admires, our president has a lack of knowledge of his country’s history, a misunderstanding of recent world events, a serious dearth of modern management skills, a lack of planning for a second term, an inability to call upon empathy, an overwhelming concern for only himself, and virtually no ethical compass. A second term for him… would be a total nightmare for us.    

 

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Dictatorships happen across the world when small and isolated groups of people feel ignored by their government. This includes people in forgotten cities and neighborhoods, those stuck in hidden poverty, many minority groups, and even some disgruntled highly educated people.

Authoritarians play to these groups first by causing social divisions and chaos… and then by presenting themselves as the “one person” who can fix things.  

It’s true that democracies don’t reward every competent person. There are winners and losers. Even so it is really surprising to see just how many “successful appearing” people reach the point where they are willing to offer their complete loyalty to an authoritarian in exchange for an impressive title and imagined prestige.

It’s important for them (and us) to realize that authoritarians never want to keep experts too close. They are too threatening. Authoritarians only want loyalty… which they demand, but rarely offer in return.   

You can be sure that America’s founders rejected authoritarian rule. But they also feared that democracy might not guarantee a stable government. So they designed our “electoral college” so wiser individuals would be able to prevent unqualified people from winning national elections. Of course, the founders had no way of knowing that many years later a digital media revolution would produce the kind of chaos and confusion that would completely change the game.

Today’s digital media can either unite… or divide and energize hostilities. Thus, they provide perfect tools for autocrats. And once authoritarians experience even a little power, they generally will not peacefully give it up!  

Multi-talented historian and journalist Anne Applebaum describes the worldwide consequences of all this in her new book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. Anne was born in America, lived and wrote for a while in England, and now lives in Poland. Her book is must reading for all who worry about the loss of democracy.

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Before I retired as Vice Chancellor I spent several years working as an advocate for higher education in Washington. I also met regularly with a group interested in exploring the potential of public diplomacy and “soft power” to improve our country’s standing in the world.  

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, in his new book Exercise of Power, discusses how we often need “soft power” more than military (hard) power. And in a recent interview with Rachel Maddow he explained that when the United States Information Agency (USIA) was abolished as a downsizing move of the Clinton administration, the responsibility for public diplomacy/soft power was given to the Department of State, where the necessary staff and budget to support it was also reduced. He further explained that programs designed to explain America to the world, such as the Voice of America (VOA) and other media initiatives, were also weakened.

As the second world war was ending, leaders from the U.S., the UK, and Russia met to imagine the peace-keeping potential of a world bank, an international monetary fund, and a “united nations” organization… and American leadership was seen as critical to making these organizations work. They all have had their ups and downs over the years, and many think that the eventual loss of the USIA made this kind of “soft-power” leadership even more difficult. And to make matters worse, the Trump administration has been taking steps to eliminate all of our nation’s soft-power leadership gains.

Regaining global leadership will require a new administration to organize the collaborations necessary to deal with the most critical international issues… and then to furnish the strategic communication and digital media talent and technology necessary to make those collaborations visible all over the world.  

In other words, what we need now is a full-speed, soft-power assault!

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Walter Cronkite…  once celebrated as “the most trusted man in America.”  What would Walter say about being called “the enemy of the people,” or say about”fake news” claims?

Is journalism the enemy of the people? Of course not. Is news ever fake? Very rarely. But in today’s constant clutter of information, journalism has indeed changed… in both positive and negative ways.  

  1. It’s important to recognize that many journalists are committed to finding and reporting the truth.
  2. Professional journalists traditionally have tried to maintain a “balance” between opposing ideas.
  3. But the 24/7 digital/social media revolution has permanently upset this balance.
  4. First, the “enemy of the people” charge has actually increased the number of readers, listeners, and viewers, making many large media organizations significantly more profitable.
  5. The result has been an increase in ads, beautiful anchors, star reporters, clever opinion writers… with their headlines mostly determined by politicians, government officials, sports heroes, and Hollywood celebrities.

Two solutions to consider: 1. Find local and national journalists and news media organizations you can trust… learn from their expertise and choose your actions accordingly. 2. Support core media literacy education in public schools, colleges, and community groups. As always, truth is best found in wisely led education. 

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In our 24/7 digital world, the daily implosion of information becomes a confusing mass of mush. When leaders are in conflict every day, as is happening with pandemic messaging and riots in cities, most of us throw up our hands and cry out for simple, transparent truth.

But a major theme of my writing over the years has been that media revolutions change everything… from families, to politics, to individuals, to education, to religion… and part of that change is overwhelming and confusing information noise.

For example, elimination of air and water pollution regulations, threats to eliminate health insurance without alternatives, tax cuts that favor the rich and big business, relief funds that don’t reach the most hurt, budget cuts in public education, quiet arrests and deportations of immigrants by ICE in major cities, verbal attacks on critics, tweets that can encourage violence, thoughtless abandonment of international agreements, inaccurate claims about virus tests, confusing timetables for vaccines, blatant science denials, many dismantled institutions, and the Voice of America becoming the voice of this administration, all of which add up to big daily doses of frightening noise. Very little truth can be found buried inside this kind of media mania.

Surprisingly, however, truth can be found beyond the daily news by simply seeing the “big picture.” It’s a very clear picture of a one-person-in-control autocracy.   

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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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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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Truth in politics comes much the same way it does in teaching…

I never thought about it this way until graduate school. It was there I first realized that the really great teachers were actually “living their subject-matter,” and that this was the real appeal of a career in education. Students came in and out of their lives, but the best teachers were constantly growing and changing by living their subject-matter every day.

I found in my teaching that living my subject-matter meant getting lost in my own world of communication and media when and where students could engage with me. As I referenced the best experts and reflected on the consequences of media revolutions, new thoughts would magically pop into my head. Truth would therefore gradually come to us by constantly searching for it together.

In retirement, however, I now teach about media, communication and politics without a classroom. My students are the readers of my blog. My new ideas appear during walks, or while struggling for clarity. I read the experts, try every day to pull some truth out of the media fog, and continue to interact with individuals and small groups as I am able.

This is what I learned…

Finding truth in politics today requires searching the cluttered media everyday for bits and piece of it. Our task is to compile the pieces that make sense to us, realizing that our conclusions are likely to change as we go… just as they do in successful teaching careers.      

 

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Can universities as we know them be brought back to life?

I was a crisis manager and never faced anything like this. Shutting down an entire university is an action with serious implications. It means sending students home in the middle of their classes, somehow accommodating international students and those who can’t go home, radically changing food service, teaching every professor how to conduct classes online, and much more. And what if significant numbers of returning and new faculty, staff and students don’t like the restart? What now?

  1. Some students might find acceptable societal alternatives to high-priced campuses. Going into debt might now seem unnecessary. 
  2. Admissions overall might suffer. New students might also become open to similar alternatives. Serious financial consequences for many institutions would result.
  3. Community colleges might become more attractive. They already offer low-cost certificate and associate degree programs that connect with jobs. Majoring in liberal arts is possible, and some even offer four-year degrees.
  4. Those now working from home might find that it works. The physical plant might be overbuilt.
  5. Many faculty might want to continue teaching all or part of their courses on line. Interactive technology has already made this an enriching possibility. Thus, they might not be as available on campus.
  6. Worldwide Internet connections will be required for relevant teaching and research. Thus, basic subject matter will now have to include global leadership, understanding different cultures, crisis management, citizen diplomacy, foreign policies, violent extremism, and threatening political issues.
  7. Media revolutions already changed everything. So both leaders and followers will need to know how to deal with the pros and cons of social media, new online realities, and a dramatically changed 24/7 journalism.

So after a big shutdown, accommodating changing behaviors and expectations will be a challenge for restarting every campus. Some might be innovative enough to pull it off, but many others might not.  

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I am frustrated with both Democrats and Republicans. Democrats have handled their long primary campaign poorly, and the Iowa caucuses will not fix that. And the Republican party has been reduced to “the party of Trump.”

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander rightly stated that the democrats produced so much factual content that there is little need for witnesses. Other Senators are now agreeing with him. But where they are wrong about acquittal is their assertion that it will properly allow the matter to be decided by the people in an election.

This is wrong because the president has already been attacking and making fun of adversaries, declaring that he alone can fix things, and asking foreign nations to help him get re-elected. This is the behavior of an autocrat, and acquitting him now will only allow this behavior to continue.

I have asked colleagues why they think the Republican Party has become the party of Trump. Fear of him they think is the reason. They listed fear of Trump’s Twitter attacks; fear that voters in their home districts will turn on them; fear that McConnell will take them off his list for PAC and lobby money; and in some cases even fear of physical harm. Maybe some Senate leaders even see a safe and powerful place for themselves in an autocracy.

When watching the State of the Union address, I suggest that you look for and evaluate details. How clearly does he give real substance to his claims? Also compare the tone of this “written for him” speech to his off-the-cuff and rambling pronouncements as president. Who is the real Trump?

This much is clear: With this acquittal the checks and balances system that our founding fathers designed to save us from a dictatorship could be coming to an end.

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