Archive for the ‘Public Affairs’ Category

I write about politics from a communication and media perspective. The dynamics I try to explain have no ideology or party preference. My assessments are about the impact of both words and imagery. And right now, money is “talking” louder than ever.

It has been widely reported that the Russians gave (and may still be giving) money to the NRA. And it is also widely known that the NRA funds many congressional campaigns. So does this kind of “dark money” funding explain why there was little push-back from Congress when the president said he would consider help from foreign sources?

It was also recently reported that the owner of the Miami Dolphins, Steven Ross, is hosting a huge fundraiser for Mr. Trump. When questioned about it he said he personally rejects much of the rhetoric, but Trump’s policies have been good for business. How then does business feel about the president’s love affair with autocrats and dictators? And when his obvious autocratic ambitions take over, will Mr. Ross also raise big money to support that? Believe it or not, the president’s behavior these days is talking almost as loud as money.

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The Communication and Social Media Dimensions of Leadership…

  1. Leadership tone and language have the power to either bring people together under uplifting values, or to divide them against each other with fear-mongering and lies.
  2. History teaches that leaders always have been able to shape the cultural values of institutions and nations, for both good and ill. And today, the power to do this has been significantly enhanced by social media.
  3. Leaders can also knowingly or unknowingly trigger violence by their choice of words. Words such as racist, rapist, shit-hole countries, Spanish invasion, white supremacist, and Muslim extremist, can encourage violent acts by those already harboring hate.
  4. People who attempt to rationalize away a leader’s role in creating crises end up only turning their own words into confusing clutter.
  5. Following a crisis, divisive leaders who make out-of-character consoling statements end up only confusing their own supporters.
  6. This is because social media enables like-minded people to find each other on the Web. And once formed, Internet bonds are very difficult to change.

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Both the NBC and CNN debates got off to reality-show starts…

The opening music, glitzy setting, speed of the editing, and dramatic opening remarks of the NBC debates made the programs feel and look like game shows. Asking the candidates to raise their hands to indicate their stands on issues, and the shouting tone of much of the questioning, also reinforced the feeling that this night would be little more than entertainment.

The opening of the CNN debates resembled the opening of “America’s Got Talent,” or the the Oscars. And once again entertainment-first dominated the tone with predicted candidate clashes overly dramatized. And all this was followed by a Hollywood-style theatrical introduction, with each candidate brought on to the stage one-by-one.

Both the NBC and CNN debates became more helpful as we got farther into their formats. We were able to see glimpses of some real talent, but no apparent presidential candidate was able to emerge. Maybe next time television will find a way to be lively, interesting, and get a bit deeper into issues… without setting the scene with over-the-top entertainment hype.

And is it too much to hope for that the Trump reality-show rallies will soon be seen by everyone as the word-salad, and fake-news circuses they really are?

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Too many commentators chose to begin their critique of the Mueller hearing by expressing disappointment in his theatrical performance. This set the tone for everything that followed, and the magnitude of what had just happened was diminished.

What took place was exactly what Mueller promised. Colleagues who know Mueller’s work have repeatedly reported that he never was the big talker in the room. And for many years admiration for his integrity, professionalism, competence, and truthfulness has been trumpeted by republicans and democrats alike.

Mueller made it clear at the start he did not want to testify. He was satisfied for his report to speak for itself. So the fact that his age might have caused some hesitation in his voice was totally immaterial. One of the sad consequences of this age of television imagery is that moments of serious business are too often seen and evaluated through a theatrical filter.

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With or without impeachment, activating the growing number of Americans disgusted with today’s Washington will require a pragmatic strategic communication plan… one that leads with bold themes and slogans.

Many analysts think that in 2016 Mr. Trump simply stumbled into a new media environment created by a game-changing digital technology revolution. Surprisingly, he discovered that the more outrageous his remarks the more headlines news organizations would just hand him. And it also allowed him to make outrageous promises to people who felt angry and ignored.

Today “populism” and “nationalism” are gaining influence around the world in much the same way. Populism favors ordinary people over power elites, and nationalism favors citizens over foreigners. So extremists propose to redistribute wealth and limit immigration…. and they also use outrageous language to produce daily headlines, and eventually gain support from citizens who feel ignored.

So how can this apply to winning back a mostly invisible American majority?

First, replace the misunderstood “democratic socialism” term with “democratic capitalism,” and repeat it incessantly. Second, propose easy to describe pragmatic solutions to real world problems, including immigration. Third, invite input from everyone… and use digital media to collect it. Fourth, referencing this input, formulate, a bold vision for a whole new values-based America, drowning out social media noise with bold slogans and themes that command big headlines every day.

I believe a strong strategic communication plan with bold themes and slogans can win in 2020. Otherwise, both political parties will soon destroy each other and put an autocrat in charge for a very long time.

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Dissent in America:

  1. Dissent in America is patriotic when it springs from a true love of country and expresses a sincere desire to make it better. In fact, this kind of dissent was basic to America’s founding.
  2. But dissent becomes dangerous and often un-American when it is cruel, produces social division, disregards its potential to incite violence, and appeals to deep feelings of hate.

Intent is what separated the president’s approach to rallying his base from the four dissenting freshmen legislators. One approach was hateful and divisive, and the other was distinctly American. One reflected a country that was made for immigrants, and the other chose to ignore it.

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The vice president stood next to inhumane conditions for children and families seeking asylum in the U.S. and said that Americans would be proud of what he saw. He was talking directly to followers, and the cruelty of his statement had to be intentional.

The fact that cruelty is used as a rallying point for political followers is a tragic example of what has happened to the use of language in our digital media world. Media has become tools for dividing and conquering… not unifying and inspiring.

And the fact that all this is tolerated by so many in the name of competitive politics is an additional tragic example of what has happened to a nation founded on the fundamental principles of liberty, justice, and human rights.

Only enlightened leadership can fly above all this and put unity and humanity back in our discourse… and our lives. But right now it’s not yet clear from where, or even if, that leadership will appear.

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