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Sometime ago I wrote a book about internal politics in universities. The project included a study of leadership styles. Among those styles was the “autocrat.” I found that some people simply feel more secure working under a leader who makes all the important decisions, even when that security often turns out to be imagined.

Many of these people have military experience, or at least admire military-type organizations. They are willing to follow directives on a daily basis, and embrace a culture of disciplined personal behavior… one that defers to a chief executive’s mandates and the instructions of managers and supervisors.

Apparently, we have a White House today that attracts people who prefer feeling this kind of security… that is as long as the commander in chief’s wrath is not being felt directly, and the work situation feels important enough.

After the Iraq war, and Saddam Hussein was finally deposed, many small businessmen said it was actually better for them before the war. The tyrant did not bother them and their businesses were moving along just fine. If there is a place that feels secure enough, many people decide they are just fine with a dictator.

When he was a presidential candidate, Senator Lindsey Graham said very nasty things about Donald Trump’s character. But now he supports him. Graham always admired the military, so maybe many of us just missed noticing that he always has preferred autocratic environments. Maybe now he even has his eye on ending his career in a secure-feeling executive position in such a White House. And maybe we even have an Attorney General who has the same kind of future in mind for himself.

Most management experts, however, think that a democratic approach to leadership results in much better problem-solving. In institutions and governments, these leaders prefer to seek out the most experienced minds they can find, and arrive at decisions based on their best collective thinking. These leaders facilitate participatory processes, listen before acting, and believe in strong teams.

In a democratic organization, the leader generally assumes the role of articulating the vision. But a talented executive team is always counted on to help find the best ways to make that vision real. Loyalty is earned this way… and it is always returned with sincere gratitude.

The current White House, with the help of a significant portion of the Republican Partly, has become a dictatorial autocracy. And while a few Americans might prefer this type of governance, we are the United States of America… and have a Declaration of Independence that flatly rejects autocracies in any form. You see… it’s the lies, chaos, greed, and cruelty that come with them that make them so divisive. And history clearly teaches that over time, autocrats always end up destroying their nations.

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Without truth and facts on the table the political process becomes pure fiction. If this was a Netflix series, it would be wildly entertaining. But this is the United States of America, and the resulting gridlock has become life-threatening to the republic most Americans hold dear.

The White House calls the news media “fake news.” At the same time, lies and personal attacks coming from the White House are “fake news.”  And when you add the fake news streaming from political adversaries and foreign countries, you have nothing short of a fictional adventure novel!

Campaigns are expensive. Instead of passing good legislation, legislators spend much of their week making donor calls and visiting with lobbyists… quickly becoming indebted to them. And making donor wishes a legislative priority mostly results in more fiction.

Lies, innuendos, exaggerations, personal attacks, conspiracies, and rumors, are all contaminating the entire political system. Both parties are responsible. And both are equally guilty.

Our country’s only hope is a complete change of people, culture, and expertise in the White House… and a whole new set of truth-committed, values motivated, “statesmen” setting the agenda in Congress.

Before it’s too late, we simply must find and support the right candidates for 2020. And then, we need to make damn sure they get elected!

 

 

 

 

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There is no denying it. Leaders at the top of nations and institutions can either set a contagious tone of optimism, or use fear to divide people against each other, and possibly even incite hate.

For example, when a white supremacist has a stash of heavy weapons, a kill list of journalists and politicians, and has already attempted to murder several of them, this is pure hate in action. And when a top leader does or says nothing to stop this person, haters everywhere feel encouraged to act. It’s called “copycat” behavior. And it’s easy to recognize.

So when hate-driven shooters of Jews and Muslims confess white supremacist motivations, numerous copycats can be activated… especially when leaders won’t denounce supremacist behavior dramatically enough. Then, other potential victims begin living in fear, and everyone else constantly feels on edge.

So what is needed to bring a divided nation back together and reestablish a collective sense of optimism? The answer is not difficult: How about an inspiring leader with a clear and compelling vision for the future, strong personal values, solid leadership experience, a pragmatic game plan, and boundless energy? And if we’re lucky, we may already have one auditioning right now!

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Researchers have long pointed out that successful communication can only take place if the message receiver has the same meaning for the words that are used as the message sender. For example, when I say the word “dog,” I am only making a noise. The receiver must have the same meaning for that noise that I do. A dog lover will respond differently than a dog hater, and some people might even be thinking about a person they know!

Recent media revolutions made this communication reality even worse. Many important words are now losing their meanings. They get blurred in the mass of our overwhelming information overload. Simply put, people hear what they want to hear. Words like truth, socialism, conspiracy, collusion, treason, communism, capitalism, extremism, conservative, democracy, republic, spying, and even crisis, are clearly meaning different things to different people.

For example, many Marxist scholars would see socialism as a stage midway between capitalism and communism. And Russian communists will claim they are a democracy simply because they hold elections. When candidates are asked if they are capitalists, their answers will definitely mean different things to different audiences.

During my professional career I would ask groups to define words like these and there always was very little agreement. Most confused socialism with communism. Few had the same understanding of capitalism. And when Bernie Sanders talks about democratic socialism, his audiences will no doubt have differing ideas about what he really means.

Especially today, speakers and writers should always define their most important words before they use them. Or even better, maybe they should avoid using some words completely, and focus mostly on explaining their best ideas, as well as their plan for a totally renewed United States of America.

A positive tone and message for 2020 will be the only way to recapture the American dream. Above all, both parties must avoid drowning in the current administration’s moral cesspool.

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If I was their communication consultant I would tell both parties that their extreme polarization is destroying them. And with a president constantly going crazy with hostile pronouncements, the road ahead is loaded with life-threatening hazards!

Let me first deal with the Dem’s. If they significantly turn up the heat on their Mueller investigation, there very likely will be a voter backlash. I would therefore recommend proceeding very carefully. However, simply by using known facts, they can develop effective talking points for their candidates. Details about the president’s character, cruel behavior, questionable foreign business interests, lack of cabinet experts, and many interactions between his campaign and Russian oligarchs, are already well-known. And now more than ever, these candidates must not get bogged down in the Trump swamp. Winning the 2020 election will require a huge preponderance of forward-looking big ideas, specific plans of action, and bold visions for recapturing global leadership.

What about the GOP? Its problem is that in spite of all the Trump turmoil, Republicans still have their heads in the sand. The idea that a few favorable White House policies excuse overlooking the president’s autocratic ambitions and mindless cruelty has run its course. Endless lies, gross exaggerations, admiration of dictators, and cruelty to everyone, eventually wear out in a media-driven, information-saturated, environment. And now, with the president’s most recent anger-provoking pronouncements, the GOP must focus on saving itself. Republicans desperately need an alternative to Trump who is intellectually capable of explaining the true meaning of the “American dream,” and why people all over the world admire it so much.

I am a critic of both parties, and have been for years. But today’s angry attacks, mindless polarization, and daily rants from the White House, have totally upended the founder’s dream of equal opportunity and justice for everyone. Sadly, it’s the people we elected to protect that dream who will be responsible if we lose it.

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I first began to study communication seriously when television was new. Early on, many of us thought that “talking heads” were boring. We needed lots of pictures because TV was a visual medium. As TV stars emerged, however, we modified our thinking to say that “talking head’s were boring only if their content and performance was boring.

Today, with conservative talk radio and 24/7 cable in our face everyday, the airwaves are filled with nonstop talkers. It’s amazing how compelling they have become for so many of us just by saying the same things over and over, often for weeks at a time. Admittedly, they do alter their language a bit, and sometimes even change guests. But over time most of these talkers bring very few issue-settling insights. And when their guests also develop this now coveted nonstop talk talent, they become regulars.

I quoted a definition of “word salad” in post #477. Now we also have “talk soup!” Together, we have a whole meal. Bon appetit!

 

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Over the years I often evaluated the communication performance of presidents and CEO’s. But I must say it never occurred to me to seek answers to questions like these:

Did they engage in lies, gross exaggerations, personal attacks, and confusing doublespeak? Did their international actions and decisions ever endanger national security? Did they demonstrate affections for autocrats and dictators? Could this have been a clear sign of their own goals? Did they use fear mongering to seek support for controversial projects? Did they often fail to condemn hate crimes, white supremacy, and civil rights violations? Was their overall moral character in sync with America’s human rights and rule of law values? Were they mentally and emotionally stable enough to govern? Were they often vengeful and cruel in their response to those not supporting their actions?

Recent announcements by this president to totally eliminate Obamacare with no healthcare program replacement, to cut back aid to Puerto Rico while still rebuilding from a devastating hurricane, and to cut all funding to the Special Olympics… made me think, is he really crying out, “please stop me, I can’t help myself?!”

In addition to cozy relationships with Russians and legal ways to obstruct justice, Trump family business practices will now be added to a long list of concerns about this presidency. These will include money laundering, employment of illegal immigrants in golf clubs, racial discrimination in rental properties, payments to prostitutes, misrepresenting wealth in bank transactions, illegal family foundation practices, and using government relationships here and abroad to enrich the family, now and in the future.

I have noted in several past blog posts that I get frustrated when news media report each action of the President and White House in a matter-of-fact manner, failing to immediately point out obvious lies and gross exaggerations. With today’s technology and 24/7 investigative journalism, simultaneous fact checking is usually available, and is certainly needed.

We are experiencing a whole new day in politics, the presidency, and journalism. And it all adds up to a desperate need to use every opportunity to break through the noise, chaos, bullying, and cruelty, with hard, cold facts.

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