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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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Here is a list of comments from an interesting conversation with two lifelong Republicans:

  1. Many of Trump’s actions have helped business: Eliminating environmental restrictions and reduced taxes.
  2. An increase in overall number of jobs happened on his watch.
  3. The economy is doing well overall.
  4. He reduced the number of immigrants, who have been taking our jobs.
  5. He also increased what NATO allies pay for their membership.
  6. As lifelong Republicans, we see no reason to change now.
  7. As for ethical issues, every president has carried lots of baggage. This one is no different.
  8. Every politician that made it to the presidency did so because God had a plan for them. This president supports “right to life,” and speaks in support of Evangelical groups.
  9. But, admittedly, we hate his tweets.

For the above reasons, these Republicans found it easy to overlook:

  1. Asking foreign countries to help with his re-election.
  2. Treating his staff as a dictator would.
  3. Delaying aid to a foreign country that was specifically approved by Congress.
  4. Lying constantly, even when it is not necessary.
  5. Making comments every day that further divide the country.
  6. Increasing the country’s deficit without concern.
  7. Personally profiting from the presidency.
  8. Denying scientific findings about the ravages of climate change.
  9. Declaring that only he can fix the world.  

After winning a hard-fought revolution against a monarch the last thing our founding fathers would want is an autocrat in the White House.  So no matter your politics… and even more than agreeing on impeachment, maybe what we all really need right now is a president who will make good things happen at home and abroad, and never cozy up to dictators.

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When you get right down to it, the U.S. Constitution reminds us that when it comes to leadership, morality is what provides America’s best guiding principles. Even when some leaders have faltered over the years, morality-based ideas are what best define who we are.

For example, moral principles are why citizens and nations alike have always looked to U.S. leaders to find the ideals and ideas that best bring people together. Policy matters such as race, climate change, immigration, healthcare, and even poverty, are important… but they still require fundamental guiding principles. Our talk should therefore always begin with big constitutional values such as equal opportunity, human rights, freedom, or justice.

Morality really does matter. It is the essential ingredient of our precious and universally admired, “American experiment.” It’s what always made it work at home. And it’s what also makes it so appealing to much of the rest of the world.

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In a digital media world, a steady stream of tweeted lies and personal attacks can quickly add up to a mindless universe of make-believe. Once people become immersed in their own digital clutter they can quickly lose touch with the real world.

It appears that our president’s non-stop erratic behavior, especially over the past several weeks, has put him in such a state.

It’s a scary thought, but in today’s new media ecosystem, combining social media, 24/7 news cycles, and information overload, with a self-centered personality, can enable immoral leaders to create imaginary and dangerous worlds.

This might explain how so many politicians have come to see lying incessantly, attacking adversaries, snubbing longtime allies, and accepting questionable characters as admired colleagues… as normal professional practice.

Someone better step up and stop this nonsense soon! Make-believe leaders are very likely to do stupid things!

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