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Fifty years of trying to make communication work teaches that you can’t have genuine communication without having credibility. And being credible equates with being believable.

While it might be possible to lead for a limited period of time by generating chaos and uncertainty, experience clearly teaches that it is impossible to lead any cause, institution, or government for a sustained period of time without being both credible and believable.

So what establishes leader credibility? Here are some of the essential factors:

Credible leaders are not perfect, but are generally seen as honest, reliable, and extremely well informed…

They also ask for and use expert advice… collaborate every day with competent team associates… behave in a manner that earns respect in all settings… have clear goals that benefit most all constituents… and communicate clearly and concisely.

In the final analysis, history honors the leaders who endure as both credible and believable. The others are quickly exposed for who they really were…

 

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The original purpose behind the European Union was simply to keep member countries from starting wars with each other. At the time, competing economically as a unified entity was seen as a secondary bonus.

But now the recent spread of populist nationalism, presidents emerging with autocratic ambitions, the Brexit blow-up in the UK, and Trump’s affection for dictators and daily generated chaos, are all coming together to threaten the existence of the EU… and much more.

Add to this U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a new Trump dictated military relationship with nationalistic Poland, an unstable Israeli government, a provoked and dangerous Iran, a nuclear-loaded maniac in North Korea, a festering and disintegrating Venezuela, an energized and politically meddling Russia, a determined and aggressive China, a still very frightening Syria, and more… and suddenly you have a world literally on the edge of destroying itself.

All this has been analyzed in past posts. So all I can say now is someone better do something… and quick.

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Admittedly a good speech was read by the U.S. president at the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion.  But…

BUT this speech was written for him. And he read it against the backdrop of a UK visit marked by ego-flexing, politics meddling, and confusion-generating remarks… a behavior that produced an all time low point in the relationship with our most loyal ally. All the while the Queen was doing everything possible to be gracious and classy.

And then later in a Fox News interview, with Normandy tombstones as his backdrop, the president aimed his most vindictive and cruel name-calling rampage yet at the highest ranking woman in the American government. This craziness simply needs to stop.

 

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Recent media revolutions created a daily diet of confusing message patterns, processes, and change-producing forces. It requires a big picture perspective to see how these undercurrents of disconcerting messages are changing what is socially acceptable, and how making daily bold pronouncements has become a tactic for gaining and maintaining power.

For example, Mr. Trump’s success is because he unknowingly stumbled into this new media environment. I am sure he was surprised to discover how outlandish promises, lies, cruelty, chaotic disruptions, and “wannabe” dictator demands, could work exactly as his reality TV programs had worked in the past. Even better, he could now change the tone and content of public discourse, while also experiencing “bully pulpit power.” All he would have to do is dominate the media agenda every day by saying things that are outlandish and irritating.

For example, he is making new border control pronouncements almost every day. Since there are no real policy guidelines, he adds irritation simply by contradicting himself. Lacking both confidence and sophistication, he ignores criticisms and just makes more demands and threats. The resulting confusion and chaos is what enables bully pulpit power to emerge.

But the consequence is a seriously divided nation. Significant portions of the general public are experiencing disturbing psychological reactions to these ongoing disruptions. First, people become emotionally and mentally exhausted. Then, they become anesthetized, and simply look away. Many describe deep feelings of depression. All this, while many extremists are actually becoming encouraged and emboldened.

In this new digital media world, would-be autocrats with little substance can dominate the media agenda and gain power. But they also divide us. My goal is to use 50 years of lessons-learned about media dynamics to make you care. Then, I hope you will examine your lessons-learned, and do whatever you can to bring back the United States of America.

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We simply cannot ignore what words can do. When divisive words become the norm, they inevitably incite anger… and eventually produce violence. The fact is… Social media are creating an international vocabulary of copycat words, with the power to unite extremists and incite violence.

“Immigrant invasion” emergencies. When any emergency is explained as an “invasion of immigrants,” it must be recognized that this is a code phrase being used by white supremacists who have already staged killings in New Zealand, Charleston, Pittsburg, Charlottesville, and many other places around the world.  Today, social media has become its own ecosystem with an incredible international bonding power for lost and angry souls.

Contempt for adversaries. When constructive conversations in search of imaginative solutions degenerate into widespread contempt and hatred for adversaries, violence is close at hand.

Populism, nationalism, and autocracy.  When populism and nationalism force citizens to take sides, an autocracy is in the making. Fueled by social media, and encouraged by autocrats, dangerous divisions have already appeared in Russia, China, Philippines, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and a number of countries in eastern and central Europe.

The dividing power of wealth. History teaches that widening class divisions can eventually destroy entire civilizations. In the U.S., huge tax cuts mostly benefiting the rich, unfair job advantages, easy elite college access, plus arrogance… and more, might be early indications of a possible middle class and poor people’s rebellion.

The seriousness of climate change. Willingness to ignore modern science by too many of those invested in polluting industries, is inspiring a growing and dangerous youth rebellion. Such generational divisions have a history of turning into worldwide, peace-threatening, demonstrations.

Code words and phrases. Fear mongering on social media every day exacerbates, unites, and incites. And when leaders suggest that their followers might get out of control on their own, a kind of permission for violence is felt by those who only need a little encouragement.

Autocracies can actually become attractive. In countries threatened by division, a gradual belief can emerge that the control promised by an autocrat is necessary to bring about stability. Inevitably, however, autocracies backfire into cruel dictatorships.

“With me, or against me” are words that produce dangerous divisions, no matter the political ideology. Ironically, they are both the dividing and uniting words of terrorists, autocrats, and dictators all over the world.

Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute, has a new Book: Love Your Enemies. It is an alarming warning of how violence results when constructive debating grows into contempt and hatred for your adversaries.

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The real crisis is not the U.S. southern border. Rather, my ongoing study of media, politics and social change has yielded a list of much more serious concerns. Here are a few:

Most policy decisions are now being made by one person, the President… whose behavior is consistently autocratic, and who is most comfortable in the company of other autocrats.

Social media is being used as a weapon… individuals and governments are using new media to generate chaos, create confusion, attack enemies, and bring about social unrest.

Growing widespread anger is causing dangerous social division… in congress, political extremism is causing the parties to focus on battling each other. At the same time, virtually all areas of the executive branch are issuing directives that create social division and disrupt whole communities.

Institutions important to a democracy are under daily assault… rather than setting up nonpartisan study commissions, members of the administration and their partisan supporters are focused on discrediting the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, the office of the attorney general, education institutions, and more.  A republic is only as strong as its institutions, and leadership must be about making them stronger.

Deregulation has been extreme … public health and the overall environment are being threatened every day. Business leaders are encouraged to ignore interest group pressures… thereby maximizing corporate profits at the expense of public health.

Allies have become confused about U.S.policies… presidential attacks on NATO allies damage U.S. and European security, and advance the causes of our adversaries.

Scientific findings about the impact of climate change have been rejected by our partisan leaders… thereby insuring that weather catastrophes will multiply, that natural landscapes will be destroyed, and lives will be upended.

Media revolutions are changing everything… a new media ecosystem is creating information clutter and confusion, making it almost impossible to separate facts from fiction. Digital media has also changed the way politics, families, and even religion function. Resulting individual isolation is also beginning to reveal behavior and mental health issues. More media and civic literacy education in schools and elsewhere is urgently needed.

The constitution-protected role of the press has been upended… a proliferation of competing broadcast channels, print organizations, and social media platforms, has created problems related to commercial influences, intended biases, and unintended mistakes.

Generally accepted morality is being lost… leaders without moral character, or qualifications for the office they hold, or personal ethics, or capacity for empathy, are initiating reforms based on the belief that “ends by any means” are now acceptable. Simply put, when their “means” are filled with lies, deceptions, and gross exaggerations, our values-based American culture is being corrupted. This is the real American crisis.

 

 

 

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The resignation letter of General Jim Mattis will quickly become an important document in American history, and will be read by students around the world for years to come. This carefully thought out statement describes “the idea of America,” that Americans have shared since their country’s very beginning: No nation can go it alone for very long; every nation must respect and work with its allies and partners; foreign policies must identify threatening adversaries and call for appropriate actions; and basic human values are the bedrock of American exceptionalism.

Despite Trump’s “we won” pronouncement to justify pulling out of Syria, those who serve on the ground in the military know better. Actually, the autocrats in Russia, Iran, Turkey and China are the ones who won the day. Terrorists will likely take advantage of what looks like a U.S. government in turmoil. And our long-standing allies and partners already know that our collective security is very fragile.

Wall Street is also going crazy trying to process all this… the president’s continuing tariff wars, his affinity for autocrats and dictators, his endless White House scandals, his foundation forced to shut its doors, criminal investigations and indictments all around him, and now staging a government shutdown over a five billion-dollar border wall that the majority of Americans don’t support. We not only have a stock market problem… we have an economy that’s beginning to look unstable.

Except for a few self-serving talk show hosts, a handful of right-wing extremists in the House of Representatives, and family members who always had to do what daddy said, the president pretty much stands alone. “Only I can do it,” might be the most stupid remark ever uttered in a presidential campaign… except maybe for “the Mexicans will pay for it!”

Using “making good on campaign promises” as a reason to reject the advice of experts on life and death situations has no credibility, especially when uttered by someone who lies everyday about everything. What we have here is a bully who knows no other way.

Many of today’s wisest and most experienced thinkers are now concluding that this presidency (and possibly even the nation) is beginning to unravel. So, during this Christmas season I will be praying hard for “peace on earth and goodwill to humankind,”  and maybe you should be doing the same.

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