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Freedom of speech gives us the right to protest and say whatever we are thinking. Many think this also includes the right to ignore current health warnings: I have the right to risk my health and go anywhere I want without a mask.

If risking one’s health threatens the health of others, what happens to the others’ rights? Doesn’t some kind of “hybrid” way forward seem necessary in situations like this? In other words, shouldn’t the idea of the “greater good”  take over? But for this there is an important requirement: A genuine leader who is transparent, empathetic, and trustworthy. Instead, sadly, we have a president thoroughly obsessed with his own re-election.

But, there is also one more big requirement: Our 24/7 digital world created  a permanent state of information-saturated confusion… a truth hiding daily mental fog which causes many people to reject expertise and align with political extremists who promise to take care of everything. And what’s more, we are learning that autocrats thrive in this kind of media-produced fog. It is therefore absolutely necessary that Internet consequences, and not just social media skills, be taught in schools and discussed in community groups all over the world. 

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.

Will colleges and universities come back as completely different institutions? Here is a list of possible changes some administrators are already considering: A freeze on new hires; reduction of benefits; elimination of programs and research projects; voluntary and involuntary salary reductions; merit raise freezes; closure of buildings; modifying fundraising expectations; specific uses of endowment funds; continued use of remote on-line technology for teaching and support staff; easing of admissions requirements; tuition freezes and reductions; mergers with other institutions; partnerships with community colleges; cutting travel for business and conferences; becoming more global through on-line interactions; planning for anticipated reductions in government underwriting, financial aid, and research; holding the entire fall semester on-line; cancelling fall completely and starting up again in 2021.

Can intercollegiate sports as we knew them be brought back? Here are some administrative worries: Filling stadiums when that revenue is required; reevaluating income potential from luxury suites, reserved parking, and premium seating packages; holding on to needed television and radio revenue; dealing with huge head coach and assistant coach salaries; finding alternatives to funding minor sports from major sports revenues; cancelling some sports temporarily, or completely; effectively utilizing first-class stadiums originally built to provide more income options, attract star athletes, and accommodate premium level donors; dealing with lingering COVID-19 fears; handling any continuing NCAA player and coach violations; recovering from a conference decision to cancel the fall season; considering the possibility of increasing public interest in club sports.

Specific vulnerabilities will determine each college’s fate. Some will survive major changes… and others might not.

  • taken from a scan of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, University World News, and thoughts from my 50 year career in higher education.  

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.      

 

Several months ago I wrote how disappointed I was with both party’s behavior in Washington.

Instead of paying attention to meeting the needs of people in middle America they were focused on fighting each other. This opened the door for anyone promising to meet those needs to become president. I remember even writing about the feasibility of a third party candidate, or even a charismatic independent running for president and winning.

Now we have COVID-19. The obvious thought is that this should be a great opportunity for bipartisan problem-solving and leadership. But, alas, political polarization continues.

The president is obviously using his daily press briefings as a platform for re-election. He is blaming governors and even the World Health Organization. He is ignoring true experts and even occasional advice from inside the White House. And he recently made inspector-general and other personnel changes to align his daily briefings with his campaign. There are are even growing concerns about how the money allocated by Congress to help those losing jobs will be managed. So far his party appears to support him… probably out of fear of losing their own elections. As a consequence, Democrats in the House and Senate are also drawn into these politicized, and therefore polarizing, battles.

Political party scholars have observed in the past that criticism of presidential leadership generally grows over time, and this often causes a swing in political direction to the other party. It looks like this is happening right now… even before the end of this president’s first term.

So those who find his self-praising and dictatorial behavior dangerous to national security, or who are just fed up with politicizing a universally life-threatening pandemic, will simply have to vote for the other party. Right now the public’s health, a reliable economic recovery, and American leadership credibility, are all at stake.

In a crisis, presidential press conferences traditionally are held for two reasons:

  1. To bring the country together by inspiring confidence in its leadership.
  2. To report new factual information about the crisis important for the public to know.

Today, presidential press conferences have these characteristics:

  1. They compel cable TV coverage, visibility, and big audiences.
  2. They give a former “reality TV” star a comfortable “rally style” format.
  3. They confuse and divert attention when facts were ignored and denied far too long.
  4. They allow putting critics on the defensive, including legitimate professional journalists.
  5. They strive to create the of illusion of leadership in the absence of knowledge.
  6. They keep the president’s political base intact… cruelty and lies have become style characteristics acceptable by far too many.

It’s time for cable networks to stop daily live coverage, and only report outcomes when the two traditional reasons for presidential press conferences are met. This is because:

  1. Rambling on for hours only confuses everyone.
  2. The integrity of professional journalism must be much better demonstrated.
  3. The unmet needs of those in “the president’s base” should be constantly explained by the press.
  4. Those who can meet those needs should be identified and challenged to do so.
  5. The consequences of ongoing political polarization in Washington should be constantly explained.

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.  

Sometimes more information is not better.

Recent media revolutions created an information overload, which also created a growing fog of confusion. For example, the President announced anyone can get a virus test who wants one, but that did not play out to be true. Later he announced that quality masks are being made available to doctors, but front-line healthcare workers disputed that. Six or more weeks ago he was saying the virus is a hoax, and now he is claiming he is a war-time president. And the beat goes on…

The world is full of misinformation, and partisan political leaders are often generating it. So maybe 24/7 news channels should stop covering presidential press conferences and political statements live. Maybe professional journalists should attend these events for us, and then report only what is true and helpful. Maybe they should concentrate only on content experts.

As I explained in a previous post, constant lying and bully behavior caused this president to lose his communication credibility a long time ago. Even his supporters know this. Once lost, credibility can never be earned during a crisis. And what makes matters worse, this president believes the chaos he generates works to his advantage… and he may be right.

The future of professional journalism is at stake right now. So will news organizations make good decisions about how they report critical issues and crises, or will they bow to current temptations to fill 24/7 schedules with live political events that produce good ratings?

Or put another way: In this horrible crisis will they choose reality TV-type opportunities, or will they make content choices that restore public trust?

 

 

Without credibility there simply is no believable communication.

When any CEO accumulates a history of lies, and makes daily statements that don’t ring true, credibility might sometimes be suspended for a while. Supporters try to accomplish this by saying, “Don’t take his tweets seriously, many of his policies are good.” But when self-serving statements such as “only I can handle this,” are constantly added in, many people begin to worry about what might happen in a crisis.

Learning on the job about big issues is required of all leaders. When the choice is to try to talk without knowledge, statements often turn out to be untrue. Even when reading from a prepared text, vocal tone will sound hollow, and even added personal comments will sound off the mark.

Make no mistake, credibility is never earned in a crisis. Falsehoods about issues such as climate change, military attacks, border closings, diseases, foreign countries, past administrations, and anything else will accumulate over time… and needed public trust will simply not be there when it’s needed most.

Acting out long-standing ignorance during a crisis is unbearable to watch… and holding daily press conferences to try to look in change and blame others will never work.

“Relationship Marketing” might be Biden’s secret sauce…

Relationship Marketing involves building relationships with individuals and groups to establish and sustain visible loyalty. It begins with identifying specific individuals and groups that mean the most to an organization or cause, and then determining the most effective communication platforms and tools to use to acquire their active support.

Super Tuesday turned out to be a good example of Relationship Marketing 101.

This is what happened. Basically, African Americans are an important and growing constituency of the Democratic Party. In the South Carolina primary, Joe Biden’s long career earned him the support of one of the most influential politicians in the state, who also happened to be black. That was enough to start a momentum ball rolling, which quickly attracted the support of several other presidential candidates, key democrats, and traditional party leaders. Watching this kind of dynamic develop amazed all the pundits. But this is how relationship marketing can work. It soon became apparent that Super Tuesday could very well end in a two-candidate run for the White House.

But to keep the momentum ball rolling, the Biden campaign will now need to add the support of other political leaders, small businesses, labor unions, health organizations, civic groups, professional associations, and local civil servants. These groups and leaders also represent most of middle America, which truly is the heart of the Democratic Party. This should also cut into the president’s base, which so far seems to have forgiven his failure to deliver on his quality-of-life promises.

Effectively using these groups and individuals, boldly articulating a future for America, showing heart-felt passion, looking and acting presidential, debating adversaries skillfully, being totally prepared to handle each criticism no matter what, and demonstrating experienced organization and teamwork… all of these these will be absolutely necessary for success in November.

And really, this is not too much to expect of any presidential campaign… is it?