by Helio Fred Garcia

To my Students: A Fourth of July teachable moment on framing —  starting with why — and career management, on the 240th birthday of the United States of America.

On June 7, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, voted to separate from England; our own Brexit.

It passed a resolution put forward by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, declaring, in part: “These colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.”

The Declaration of Independence, by John Turnbull

The Declaration of Independence, by John Turnbull

Who Writes The First Draft?

On June 11 Congress named a committee, known as the Committee of Five,  to write the announcement.  That committee included John Adams of Massachusetts, Ben Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York, and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.

The committee initially asked Adams to write the first draft.  But Adams, 41, considered himself a statesman and thought the work beneath him.  So he suggested that Jefferson, 33 and a rising star, take the first draft.

Writing the Declaration by JLG Ferris

Writing the Declaration by JLG Ferris

According to the biography John Adams: A Life by John Ferling, Jefferson was confused by Adams’ suggestion:

“Jefferson asked, “Why will you not? You ought to do it.”
To which Adams responded, “I will not – reasons enough.”

That didn’t satisfy Jefferson, who insisted,

“What can be your reasons?”
And Adams responded, “Reason first, you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second, I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third, you can write ten times better than I can.”

Adams may or may not have been sincere.

Jefferson yielded.

“Well,” said Jefferson, “if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.”
Adams concluded, “Very well. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting.””

There is no evidence that such a meeting took place. There is evidence that Franklin, then in his 70s, edited Jefferson’s draft carefully.

Start With WHY

So Jefferson took on the task. But instead of simply listing the grievances against the King, Jefferson, who knew a lot about persuasion, decided to start with WHY — First, with a meta-WHY, why a Declaration of Independence, as opposed to simply an account of the vote? And second, the WHY of separation.

First, WHY the Declaration:  Jefferson wrote that in such circumstances,

“a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind

Think about that for a moment: A DECENT RESPECT for the opinions of mankind.  That’s the foundation of public relations — and of all civil government.  This usually-overlooked opening to the Declaration is in many ways as important as what follows.  It creates accountability and sets a standard — what reasonable people would appropriately expect a responsible provisional government to do when it decides to leave.

Second, WHY the separation: First principle: All are equal.  Second principle: Fundamental rights are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.  Third principle: Government exists to secure these rights.

Move to HOW

And then the HOW: When government fails to do so, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish that government.

Heady stuff.

Of course, it was more aspirational than normative, as Lincoln pointed out 87 years later. We’re still trying to get it right.

Finishing the Draft

Draft of the Declaration, with Franklin's and others' edits

Draft of the Declaration, with Franklin’s and others’ edits

Jefferson’s draft was powerful but wordy.  Franklin edited it; the Committee of Five submitted it; the Congress tweaked it more.

The Declaration was ratified on July 2, and published on July 4.

DOI Final

The Broadside Edition of the Declaration of Independence, published on July 5, 1776.

Note that of the 1,338 words of the Declaration, the first 1,180 are all about the WHY and the HOW.

The WHAT, the text of the actual resolution of the Congress, appears only in the last paragraph and consists of only 127 words:

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”

And the Declaration closes with the final 31 words:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Rivals and Friends

John Adams as the second President of the United States

John Adams as the second President of the United States

Adams never quite got over missing the chance to get credit for the Declaration.  He went on to become the first Vice President and second President; Jefferson to be the first Secretary of State and third President.

TJ

Thomas Jefferson as the third President of the United States

History continues to view Jefferson — with all his flaws and contradictions — more favorably than Adams.

The two were fierce political rivals until both left office; then they became fast friends, frequently corresponding with each other (as only former presidents can do).

But Adams continued to envy Jefferson.

And both died on the same day, exactly 50 years after the Declaration was published, on July 4, 1826, exactly 190 years ago today.

According to legend, Adams, on his deathbed and unaware that Jefferson had died several hours earlier, lamented that Jefferson would outlive him.

He uttered this deathbed regret:

“Jefferson Lives!”

Of course, he was right.

 

Below, for reference, the final version of the Declaration of Independence.

……………………………………..

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

 

By Helio Fred Garcia

Size of Penis Trump

This week the Donald Trump phenomenon seemed to reach a tipping point, with Republican leaders scrambling to prevent his continued wins in the primaries, and with debate discourse hitting new lows.  Not only did we see him feign ignorance of David Duke and the KKK, but we were even treated to debate commentary about the relative size of the candidate’s genitals.

Trump: Not a Cause But a Consequence

But the rise of Donald Trump as the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, and all the bipartisan angst it is creating, is not a cause but rather a consequence.

It is the predictable result of decades of degradation of political discourse, facilitated by a media more interested in grabbing an audience’s attention than in covering issues.  And the worst part is that we should have seen it coming.

In fact, we could have seen it coming if we had known what to look for.  And we should have known.

Even now as the frightening reality is finally being recognized, we seem to be grappling only with the symptom of the problem — what Trump says and how to prevent him from ever being in a position of authority  — without recognizing that there’s a greater challenge that will continue regardless of how we address the immediate problem.

We can solve the Trump problem but still be as vulnerable to another authoritarian figure who energizes the disenfranchised, the angry, and the scared to similar effect.

Orwell Called It

 

41NFa1NER7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_-1

Almost exactly seventy years ago George Orwell published Politics and the English Language.   That brief essay served as the nonfiction treatment for what two years later would become Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Most educated Americans are familiar with Nineteen Eighty-Four.  That popular novel is based in a dystopian future in a continuous state of war, where an intrusive and authoritarian government keeps people uninformed, and where political language is intentionally misleading. So the Ministry of Peace wages war. The Ministry of Truth controls all information, news, propaganda, and art. The Ministry of Plenty rations food. Our term “Orwellian” refers to the use of language to convey the opposite of reality.

1984first

But most educated Americans are not familiar with the essay that served as the novel’s basis.  Sadly, Politics and the English Language helps us understand the current state of the American body politic, and it isn’t pretty.

Says Orwell:

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”

“Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties… –  is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

The problem arises when politicians use language in a disingenuous way, asserting things they don’t necessarily believe and making arguments that may sound compelling but that logically don’t make sense.

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were instinctively, to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.”

But however damaging individual instances of political language, of insincere speech, or of intentionally misleading statements may be, it’s the effect of these that causes harm.

The central idea in Politics and the English Language is this:

  • Political speech has the effect of reducing citizens’ critical reasoning skills….
  • …This creates a self-perpetuating cycle…
  • …where as people become less discerning they become more susceptible to political speech…
  • …which further diminishes their critical reasoning skills…
  • …and so on…
  • …and so on…
  • …until a fully uninformed public creates conditions for authoritarian government to thrive.

 

A Cause Can Become an Effect, And So On:

It’s The Cycle That Matters

Presentation4

The key idea, though, is the relationship between cause and effect.

Orwell notes that an effect can become a cause, and a cause can become an effect.  It’s the cycle that matters.  And in the end the result is a citizenry that remains intentionally ignorant of the issues that matter, unaware of what is happening to them, and easily manipulated by politicians.

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.”

“Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

The predictable result of this cycle is a citizenry that is easily manipulated, that becomes immune to persuasion by evidence and reasoning, and that doesn’t notice the multiple contradictions all around.

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Choosing Ignorance:

Identity-Protective Cognition Thesis

Three years ago Orwell’s argument that political language causes a decline in critical thinking was supported by research by professors at Yale, Cornell, Ohio State, and the University of Oregon.  Their study,  Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government, showed that math problems that seem to be about benign topics are easily solved by people with strongly held political views. But when the same math problems are framed in terms of polarized political issues — in this case, gun rights — both progressive-and-conservative-leaning participants have a very hard time getting the math right.

The authors conclude that

“Subjects [use] their quantitative-reasoning capacity selectively to conform their interpretation of the data to the result most consistent with their political outlooks.”

A 2011 essay in Mother Jones by Chris Mooney on the neuroscience of political reasoning helps us understand why this is so.  The piece begins with seminal research from the early fifties by famous Stanford psychologist Leon Festinger, who concluded:

“A man with conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.”

Mooney explains:

“Since Festinger’s day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions.”

“This tendency toward so-called “motivated reasoning” helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, “death panels,” the birthplace and religion of the president, and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.”

Cover What Orwell Didn't Know

Ten years ago, on the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of Politics and the English Language, the New York Public Library hosted a conference conceived by five journalism school deans and sponsored by the Open Society Institute. The conference proceedings later were published as a book of essays called What Orwell Didn’t Know: Propaganda and the Face of the New Politics.  Much of what was described ten years ago can be seen now.

For example, Susan Harding, a professor of anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, who has written extensively about the religious right, explained a process called “revoicing.”  She described revoicing as creating apparent structures of legitimacy and embedding within them positions, points of view, or ideologies that would not pass muster in actual legitimate institutions.  She says that this revoicing process leads to  controversial positions and institutions becoming mainstream by co-opting the symbols and vocabulary of the mainstream. She gives an example of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell:

“Falwell’s church ministries, media and political organizations, and educational institutions were, in effect, a hive of cultural workshops in which both fundamentalist and secular ideas, images, narratives, and practices were smelted, refashioned, melded, packaged, and distributed with spectacular success.

Falwell’s Lynchburg Baptist College morphed into a liberal arts college, Liberty Baptist College, and then into a university, Liberty University. The Museum of Earth and Life History on its campus occupied the cultural space of a museum of natural history, but recorded displays of man and beast with the assumptions of creation science rather than evolution. Liberty Godparent Homes converted a former home for unwed mothers into a staging ground for pro-life save-a-baby narratives that in turn revoiced feminist story lines in born-again Christian terms.

We can see this revoicing, this co-opting of mainstream symbols, vocabularies, and institutions, playing out over the last decade:

  • The Creation Museum, which has the look and feel of a science or natural history museum, but whose exhibits and educational material assert that the earth is only thousands of years old, that evolution is a fraud, and that humans and dinosaurs co-existed.
  • The Intelligent Design Institute, which seems to be a think tank and educational organization is really a media and production group whose work is used to refute the scientific theory of evolution.
  • Fox News, ostensibly an objective news organization, but whose editorial focus in the promotion of conservative causes and candidates.  It even has an appropriately Orwellian slogan, “We report, you decide.”

This process provides cover for those who would ignore mathematics, science, and observation and insist that reality is consistent with a particular political, social, or religious viewpoint.  Take, for example, a fourth grade science quiz administered by a religiously-affiliated school in South Carolina.  The student received a perfect grade for answers that would have been marked as incorrect in a school, religious or otherwise, with a mainstream science curriculum; in fact, some of the quiz’ questions would have been unintelligible in a more traditional science curriculum.  But this approach is influencing millions of citizens and future voters.

Creationquiz1

Truthiness

At about the same time the revoicing discussion was taking place, the new late night comedy host Stephen Colbert coined the phrase Truthiness to describe political discourse.  Parodying Fox News, he defined truthiness as preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. As  Colbert put it, “I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, no heart.”

 

In 2005 the American Dialect Society named Truthiness the Word of the Year.

Sadly, what Colbert intended as a comedic take on misdirection has proven to be a defining element of much modern political debate.  Candidates argue not the truth they know but the truth they wish, as if it were known.

Why All Heart Matters

Colbert differentiated between thinking with the brain and knowing with the heart.  He actually hit on something profound about how humans make judgments, and why it’s so easy for political language to have the Orwellian effect.

As described by Chris Mooney in Mother Jones:

“The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call “affect”). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of it.”

“That shouldn’t be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.”

“We’re not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn’t take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that’s highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.”

“We have seen this trend for several decades, where for political expediency citizens have been conditioned to not trust any source of news that includes conclusions contrary to those consistent with a political point of view.”

We Apply Fight-or-Flight Reflexes

Not Only to Predators, But to Data Itself

 Such citizens, who reflexively flee from the facts, are unlikely to be aware of, or even care about, contradictions among any candidate’s positions.  Simultaneously holding two contrary positions, the very definition of absurdity, would ordinarily dismiss someone as not to be taken seriously.  But in the political world such contradictions seem not to matter.

In such an environment citizens literally are unable to notice absurdities. But the same part of the brain, the Amygdala, that causes the flight response also causes the fight response.  So any intruder is seen to be worthy of a fight.  And violence tends to ensue.

And as the French philosopher Voltaire once warned, “those who can make us believe absurdities can make us commit atrocities.”

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So within a week of Trump calling for a ban of all Muslims entering the country, we saw a rash of attacks on mosques and on people perceived to be Muslim or Arab.  We have seen people removed from his rallies while being taunted by Trump from the podium, calling for his supporters to punch the person being removed in the face; to have the crowd strip people of their coats before sending them into the freezing weather.  This week, after his flirtation with the KKK and white supremacists, we saw peaceful non-protesting black students ejected from his rallies, and at least one white supremacist leader assault a black woman as she was being removed from the rally.

So what characterizes the Trump voters?

According to Derek Thompson in The Atlantic, the first common element is lack of higher education:

“The single best predictor of Trump support in the GOP primary is the absence of a college degree. ”

“Diplomas are what Ron Brownstein calls the “new Republican fault line.” In 2012, Mitt Romney struggled for months to consolidate support because, even as he had clear support among college-educated Republicans, he fared worse among non-college voters.”

So there’s more than a passing coincidence in Trump’s cheering “I love the poorly educated!” after the Las Vegas caucuses.

The second characteristic is feeling voiceless.  A survey from RAND Corporation, found:

“Voters who agreed with the statement “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does” were 86.5 percent more likely to prefer Trump. This feeling of powerlessness and voicelessness was a much better predictor of Trump support than age, race, college attainment, income, attitudes towards Muslims, illegal immigrants, or Hispanic identity.”

This helps explain voters’ reports that they support Trump because he speaks what they feel.

There is also a fear of the other:

“Trump has clearly played on fears of non-white outsiders, by likening Mexican immigrants to rapists, promising to deport illegal immigrants and to build a wall between the U.S. and its neighbors, pledging to keep Muslims out of the country during the Syrian diaspora, and playing coy with his relationship with the KKK.”

“But he has also told a simple three-part narrative to attract the despondent demographic: America is losing; Donald Trump is a winner; and if Trump becomes president, America will become a winner, too. This Great Man Theory of political change, however, strikes others as potentially dangerous…”

Fourth, Trump voters want to wage war against outsiders, both those within and those beyond our borders.  According to Matthew MacWilliams of University of Massachusetts, Amherst,

“The classic definition of authoritarianism implies a tradeoff — more security for less liberty — but MacWilliams says it’s also about identifying threatening outsiders and granting individuals special powers to pursue aggressive policies to destroy them. The best predictor of Trump support… [is] “authoritarianism … [and] a personal fear of terrorism” that best predicted Trump’s support across the state.”

“Trump’s foreign policy, like his policy for anything, is a muddle. He’s cautious toward the Israel-Palestine conflict, yet he told Fox News he would kill the families of ISIS members to stop their advance, something awfully close to a public pledge to commit war-crimes.”

“But it’s his domestic security policies that have been astonishingly hawkish. He’s promised to shut down mosques, keep a database of Muslims, and round up the children of illegal immigrants. Indeed, when you put it together, Trump’s hysterical promises to protect his white in-group from non-white outsiders looks like race-baiting…”
His support seems to be strongest in places with history of racial animosity:
“According to the New York Times’ Nate Cohn, who used data from Civis Analytics, Trump’s support is strongest from the Gulf Coast, through the Appalachian Mountains, to New York, among marginally attached Republicans (possibly former Democrats). It is a familiar map for some demographers, since it’s similar to a heat map of Google searches for racial slurs and jokes. “That Mr. Trump’s support is strong in similar areas does not prove that most or even many of his supporters are motivated by racial animus,” Cohn writes. “But it is consistent with the possibility that at least some are.”
And what to Trump voters care about?  According to a Public Policy Polling survey of Trump voters in South Carolina,
  • 70% think the Confederate flag should still be flying over the State Capital; only 20% who agree with it being taken down.
  • 38% of Trump voters say they wish the South had won the Civil War; only 24% are glad the North won and 38% aren’t sure.
  • 36% of Republican primary voters in the state are glad the North emerged victorious; 30% are for the South, but Trump’s the only one whose supporters actually wish the South had won.
  • By an 80/9 spread, Trump voters support his proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States.
  • 31% would support a ban on homosexuals entering the United States as well, something no more than 17% of anyone else’s voters think is a good idea.
  • There’s also 62/23 support among Trump voters for creating a national database of Muslims and 40/36 support for shutting down all the mosques in the United States, something no one else’s voters back.
  • Only 44% of Trump voters think the practice of Islam should even be legal at all in the United States;  33%  think it should be illegal.  To put all the views toward Muslims in context, though, 32% of Trump voters continue to believe the policy of Japanese internment during World War II was a good one, compared to only 33% who oppose it and 35% who have no opinion one way or another.

 

Fixing The Body Politic

So what can the nation do to halt the decline and to make things better?

The first thing to note is that things will surely get worse before they get better.

The second is to recognize that there is no easy fix.

Again, Trump is not the problem.  He’s the current symptom of the problem.  South Carolina voters do not hold their positions BECAUSE of Trump.  Trump is merely the person who happens to appeal to their views now.

Rather, the problem is that authoritarian government depends on uninformed, scared, and angry voters, who can channel their negative emotions toward others, and who see in their candidate some relief from their anxieties.

Orwell told us that.  And we have seen it play out over the last few decades.

The problem is a body politic that is comfortable being uninformed and suspicious of facts, data and people with whom they don’t agree or connect.

But the problem arose because of the convergence of social, technological, political, economic, and demographic trends over decades.  The solution is also decades-long.  Regardless of who happens be be the next president.

The central question of our republic is this: Do we continue down the path where authoritarian government becomes both inevitable and seemingly natural, or do we recommit to actual democracy?

There is much we would need to do.

But over the long term, the only sustainable solution will be a restoration of a core founding value of education.  Of elevating the ability of voters to think clearly and to discern carefully.

Indeed, founding father Thomas Jefferson called for education as the key to democracy.

Jefferson becomes the antidote to Orwell.

Jefferson: An Educated Citizenry

is Necessary for a Thriving Democracy

Jeffereson

Throughout his life, including before and after serving as president, Jefferson noted that education is the key to accepting others and to exercising effective citizenship.  (Indeed, on his tombstone, he lists only three accomplishments: author of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom; author of the Declaration of Independence; and founder of the University of Virginia.  His term as president didn’t make the cut.)

Among his views on the relation between education and democracy:

  • “I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”
  • “The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries, they may be enabled to know ambition under all its shapes, and prompt to exert their natural powers to defeat its purposes.”

And, as if in direct rebuke to Donald Trump:

  • “No nation is permitted to live in ignorance with impunity.”
  • “[I have] a conviction that science is important to the preservation of our republican government, and that it is also essential to its protection against foreign power.”

A Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind

But of all the Jeffersonian notions, the one that most directly speaks to remedying the challenges Orwell describes is a little-remembered but central idea from Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.  In the opening paragraph, Jefferson describes why the Declaration was needed in the first place.  He declared:

“…a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

That decent respect for the opinions of mankind goes in many directions:

  • A decent respect by politicians for the opinions of citizens.
  • A decent respect by citizens of this nation for the opinions of those in other nations.
  • A decent respect by governments for the people.

 

But decent respect has been sorely missing in American politics for some time.  Orwell called it…

Fred

Please note: Helio Fred Garcia is executive director of Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership; board chair of the Interfaith Alliance Foundation; and an adjunct associate professor of management and communication at New York University School of Professional Studies, MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication, where he teaches, among other things, communication ethics.  But the views expressed here are solely his own and not necessarily reflective of any other entity.

by Helio Fred Garcia

I’ve been in China for just over a month, the last two weeks of which were spent on book tour in connection with the publication of the Chinese edition of The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively.

Book Tour

 

Publications - PC China Cover - 2014 Jun 12
The concepts from the book and the best practices and principles applied by Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership have been very well received by both academic and business audiences here.  I have spoken so far in three cities: Shanghai, Nanjing, and Tianjin.  I’m now in Beijing, and all the remaining work will be here.

By the time we’re done, I will have spoken at fifteen universities, including most of the top-10-ranked Chinese universities.  And also will have spoken at a half-dozen corporate events.

From business school deans and graduate students to newspaper editors to business executives, there has been an appetite for the best practices in crisis management and crisis communication, and also in executive leadership skills.  As China goes through extraordinary change, there is also a recognition that a management approach that promotes a culture of compliance but not of innovation may not be sustainable.  The tough migration to leadership that inspires, and to timely decision-making that maintains trust, has produced meaningful desire to get the principles right.  It is part of a larger change taking place across all elements of Chinese society.

Announcement at Nanjing University

Announcement at Nanjing University

Three universities so far have asked to discuss formalizing long-term relationships with Logos Institute, but no commitments in either direction have yet been made.

Shanghai

The tour started in Shanghai, in friendly territory: NYU Shanghai, where NYU Shanghai student and Logos colleague Evan Chethik made introductions.   The school, only in its second year, is housed in an ultra-modern building with smart classrooms, up-to-date labs, and even iPads in public areas for student use.  Their art lab has two 3-D printers.  I gave two classes, one on The Power of Communication and Leadership for the Global Liberal Studies course, and a public lecture focusing more on Power of Communication and barriers to effective audience engagement.  The students were smart, engaged, and engaging.  About half of my group were Americans visiting for a year; some were from NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus; the rest were Chinese, part of the first two classes of Chinese students to get an NYU Degree completely from NYU’s Shanghai college.

With my Logos colleague and NYU Shanghai student Evan Chethik

With my Logos colleague and NYU Shanghai student Evan Chethik

Our NYU Shanghai contact, Professor Ray Ro, is also on the faculty at Sino-British College, a consortium of University of Shanghai for Science and Technology and nine British universities.  We went there the next day.  Most of the students were Chinese, majoring in either engineering or business.  They too were quite engaged and engaging.

Teaching MBA students at Shanghai International Studies University

Teaching MBA students at Shanghai International Studies University

The same day we visited Shanghai Jiaotong University’s School of Media and Design, teaching graduate students on effective interpersonal communication.  Great students.

With Dr. Zhen Fan, Dean of the School of Business, Shanghai International Studies University

With Dr. Zhen Fan, Dean of the School of Business, Shanghai International Studies University

The next day we visited Shanghai International Studies University School of Business.  This was the first of two visits to the university, and three classes.  Here the students were getting their MBAs, some with a concentration in communication.  Most were Chinese, but there were some Americans and several Europeans.  The discussion was lively and vivid.

Teaching undergraduate business students at Shanghai International Studies University

Teaching undergraduate business students at Shanghai International Studies University

We returned to Shanghai International Studies University, to teach School of English Studies and in the undergraduate business school.

NYU MS in PR/CC Student Reunion

2014 grads of the NYU MS in PR/CC. L to R, Iris Wenting Xue, Ci Song, Judy Zhu, and Ada Yang. (I was thesis advisor to Iris and Judy)

2014 grads of the NYU MS in PR/CC. L to R, Iris Wenting Xue, Ci Song, Judy Zhu, and Ada Yang. (I was thesis advisor to Iris and Judy)

One of the highlights of the Shanghai visit was a reunion of several of my NYU MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication students who now live and work in Shanghai.  All are working in good public relations jobs.  (A similar reunion is planned for Beijing.)

Corporate Presentations

While in Shanghai we had the opportunity to speak at three corporate events.

Shanghai Daily, the English language newspaper of Shanghai, invited me to give a luncheon workshop on crisis management to the heads of communication of about 25 multinational corporations.

Shanghai Daily StoryThe event was also attended by a number of editors and reporters from the newspaper, and officials of the Shanghai city government.

With Joyce Wu, Editor-in-Chief of Shanghai Daily, the English language newspaper of Shanghai

With Joyce Wu, Editor-in-Chief of Shanghai Daily, the English language newspaper of Shanghai

That evening we went to the headquarters office of Vanke, a the largest residential real estate developer in China.  Our evening was jointly sponsored by Vanke and Ivy League English, which hosted us several times.  The session was on strategy, leadership, and the power of communication.

The main room at Vanke, 250 people, plus 40 offices participating remotely via video hookup

The main room at Vanke, 250 people, plus 40 offices participating remotely via video hookup

In addition to the 240 people in the headquarters office, forty of Vanke’s offices throughout China also participated via video hookup.  This was the first session we held where we needed simultaneous translation into Chinese (although at all sessions, our slides were in both English and Chinese).  Ivy League English will also sponsor a similar session in Beijing.

Vanke employees at one of 40 remote locations participating in the workshop

Vanke employees at one of 40 remote locations participating in the workshop

Several days later we met at Ivy League English’s Shanghai headquarters offices for a meeting of Shanghai CSR We Can, a group of 25 heads of corporate social responsibility for major Chinese companies and for the Chinese offices of multinationals.  We spent the afternoon covering the overlap between corporate responsibility and crisis management; especially the need in each instance to take seriously stakeholder expectations and concerns.  We had lively discussion and debate.

Nanjing

We then took the bullet train to Nanjing, and spent a whirlwind 36 hours there.

That night we gave a public lecture at the Johns Hopkins University Nanjing Center, a campus of the School of Advanced International Studies.   The topic was the use of power in all forms, but especially communication as soft power, and therefore more sustainable than hard power.  The students were getting their MAs or graduate certificates in international relations and foreign policy.

The announcement at the Johns Hopkins University Nanjing Center

The announcement at the Johns Hopkins University Nanjing Center

These students, generally older and more experienced internationally than the business students I had met at other universities, had a sophisticated understanding of foreign policy, economics, and military force.  We had lively discussions of American foreign policy, framing (ISIS or ISIL?), and the limits of soft power.

Student interaction at Johns Hopkins University Nanjing Center

Student interaction at Johns Hopkins University Nanjing Center

Another unexpected delight on the trip was a surprise visit to the Johns Hopkins lecture by my former NYU PR/CC student Tao Feng.  He graduated in 2014, and now works for Burson-Marsteller in Guangzhou, China.  He happened to be in Nanjing for a client meeting, and saw the notice of the lecture on Weibo (Chinese equivalent of Twitter) and was able to get to the lecture, his boss in tow.  We shared a taxi afterward.

With Tao Feng, 2014 graduate of the NYU MS in PR/CC

With Tao Feng, 2014 graduate of the NYU MS in PR/CC

The next day we returned to downtown Nanjing to speak at a public workshop at Nanjing University on maintaining trust in a crisis.  It was a small but focused group of undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctorate students.

We spent the afternoon at a distant campus of Communication University of China, Nanjing.  The public lecture on effective leadership communication was held in the library auditorium to a standing-room only crowd.  The discussion was lively and toward the end got a bit raucous.  Or, as Dr. Shirley Tse, our host, said, the students were vivid.

Teaching at Communication University of China Nanjing

Teaching at Communication University of China Nanjing

Tianjin

After class we took the bullet train from Nanjing to Beijing, and seven hours later took the bullet commuter train the half hour (90 miles) to Tianjin, a city of 13 million known for its technology and manufacturing base.  (Logos has several large industrial clients with facilities here.)

The announcement at Tianjin University College of Management and Economics

The announcement at Tianjin University College of Management and Economics

That day we spoke at Tianjin University’s College of Management and Economics.  Tianjin University, founded in 1895, is the oldest university in China.

With Dr. Zhang Wei, Dean, College of Management and Economics, Tianjin University

With Dr. Zhang Wei, Dean, College of Management and Economics, Tianjin University

We spoke to the MBAs, Executive MBAs, and other business students on leadership and the power of communication.  The next day we were back in Tianjin to speak at Nankai University’s business school.

Teaching business students at Nankai University Business School

Teaching business students at Nankai University Business School

And then we rested.

My wife, Laurel Garcia Colvin, returned to New York Saturday, after four and a half weeks in China.  I got a three-day weekend, just ending now.

The trip has been ably assembled and managed by Logos Institute Research and China Business Development Associate Iris Wenting Xue (who also did most of the simultaneous translation, when needed). She has worked closely Beryl Young,  a manager with the book’s publisher, Publishing House of Electronics Industry.

Tomorrow the Beijing portion of the trip begins, and will last nine days.  Stay tuned…

Fred

Watchtower on the Northwest Corner of the Forbidden City, Beijing, from across the moat

Watchtower on the Northwest Corner of the Forbidden City, Beijing, from across the moat

 

 

Book Review and Commentary

Helio Fred Garcia Helio Fred Garcia | Bio | Posts
28 Dec 2014

James G. Stavridis tried to leave the Navy in 1981, after his five-year commitment was up, to attend law school.  But he got a call from his Annapolis mentor, then Lieutenant Commander Mike Mullen (later to become Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).  Mullen said, “You want law school. OK. Let me try and get the Navy to send you to a law school.”  The next day he called and offered to have the Navy send Stavridis to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.  Stavridis pointed out that Fletcher is not a law school, but school of international relations.

Mullen’s reply: “It has ‘law’ in the name. And it is hard to get orders to it. So you better take it now.”  Stavridis did.  He received a PhD in international relations and was named the outstanding student in his class, setting in motion a career that propelled him to be one of only two 1976 graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy to receive four stars.  (The other, Marine General John Allen, served as head of NATO and U.S. operations in Afghanistan.)

The nation owes a debt to  Adms. Mullen and Stavridis, both for their service and for the decision-making thirty-three years ago that kept Stavridis in the Navy.

navyadm4wtstar

In 2009 Adm. Stavridis was finishing a three-year tour as the four-star head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) when he was appointed by President Obama to become simultaneously Supreme Allied Commander of NATO (a position known as SACEUR) and also commander of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM). He was the first Navy officer to so serve.  In those two roles he was simultaneously in charge of both all NATO operations around the globe (including the International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan (ISAF)) and all U.S. operations on the continent of Europe.  In those capacities he presided over the 2011 campaign in Libya that ultimately removed Muammar Gaddafi from power.

Adm. Stavridis, who retired from the Navy in 2013 to become the Dean of his Alma Mater, the Fletcher School, has written a memoir of his time in uniform, The Accidental Admiral: A Sailor Takes Command at NATO. (Naval Institute Press, 2014)

Accidental Admiral Book Cover

Worth Reading

The Accidental Admiral is my pick for the best leadership and leadership communication book of 2014.

It is worth reading, not just because it is elegantly written and shows in clear language the challenge of leading such complex organizations.  And not just as a good window into both diplomacy and military strategy over the last five years.  But also for three other reasons:

  1. Because Adm. Stavridis is an inspired and inspiring leader, and The Accidental Admiral is also a handbook on effective leadership, with application well beyond the military.
  2. Because Adm. Stavridis is a proponent of effective strategic communication, again with application well beyond the military.
  3. Because Adm. Stavridis is one of the big thinkers about national security, who will be shaping the views of the next generation of national security leaders.  His views on smart power and open-source security (see below) are particularly worth noting.

Adm. Stavridis lays out the theme of his book early:

“The big lesson that I learned along the way, and which is the underpinning of this book, is in one sense very basic: the world is a diverse and complex place, and single-point ‘silver bullet’ solutions for its problems will almost always fail. Unilateral action is usually a disappointment; alliances, partnerships, and friendships are everything. We must apply international, inter-agency, and public-private connections in creating security in the twenty-first century.”

In many ways Adm. Stavridis echos the philosophy of his mentor, retired Joint Chiefs Chair Mike Mullen.  In his 2009 article in Joint Force Quarterly,  Adm. Mullen decried both the foreign policy and the strategic communication failures of the prior decade.  He chided the nation’s leaders for the arrogance; for assuming that our good intentions by themselves would have us prevail.

“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate…. I also hope we learn to be more humble, to listen more. Because what we are after in the end—or should be after—are actions that speak for themselves, that speak for us. What we need more than anything is credibility. And we can’t get that in a talking point.”

Decision Criteria: When to Use Force?

One of the challenges Adm. Stavridis faced as SACEUR was achieving agreement and commitment for NATO operations, both in Afghanistan and in Europe, from Nato’s 28 member nations.  His investment in relationships and diplomacy came to fruition during the campaign to protect Libyan civilians between March and November, 2011.  That campaign led to the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed by his own people.  In addition to recounting the run-up to and the implementation of that campaign, Adm. Stavridis offers lessons learned from the Libya campaign that can help inform decisions on the use of force in other conflicts, such as in Syria or against ISIL.

what-is-the-levant-why-obama-says-isil-instead-of-isis-islamic-state

“I do think we can draw some quick lessons from Libya that might inform the decision to engage elsewhere…

  1. There must be a pressing need in a humanitarian sense. This is the somewhat controversial legal doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” or R2P, as it is sometimes called. When large numbers of innocent civilians are being killed or threatened by disaster (man-made or natural), intervention must be considered.
  2. Allies and coalitions are crucial. The age of unilateral action is rapidly passing. Despite all frustrations, working with a coalition is vastly better than going it alone.
  3. Regional support is vital. The presence of Arab coalition partners in Libya was key.
  4. You must understand the language, culture, history, and hierarchy of any nation or region into which an intervention is considered.
  5. Bring lots of capability: intelligence, surveillance, targeting, ordnance, ships, aircraft, and – if necessary (and hope that they are not necessary) – troops on the ground.
  6. Try to minimize casualties. Interventions in today’s world are about relieving human suffering, not increasing it. That means working with humanitarian organizations, energizing public-private connections, using only precision-guided munitions, and paying attention to refugees at sea and on the ground.
  7. It will be expensive. More than you expect. Much more.
  8. Bring lawyers, strategic communicators, and public affairs experts, and engage the media early, often, and continuously.
  9. Do it under the auspices of the UN if at all possible. There may be times when it is not possible, but it is vastly better to intervene under legal norms provided by the UN.
  10. Probably most important, good luck. You will need it. In Libya, we had more than our normal share. It won’t always be so.”

Good advice.  And note that President Obama seemed to follow many of these principles in formulating a response to ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

Lessons for Leaders

But the real value of The Accidental Admiral for civilian readers comes from Adm. Stavridis’ leadership principles.  He summarizes his leadership approach:

“Any leader worth his or her salt understands that leaders must work hard to get to know the people on the team as individuals and demonstrate sincere concern for their families. In addition, they must master the skills and technology of any job; encourage teamwork and demand determination and dedication to task and mission; build innovation as a core competency; and insist on civility. In essence, leaders do best when they approach their position with an attitude of ‘leader as servant,’ always treating their teams with dignity, honor, and respect. No mystery there – except, perhaps, why so few leaders actually put those tenets to use…

People will almost always become what you expect and tell them to be: if you are suspicious and certain that they are going to malinger and procrastinate and do anything they can to get out of work, they usually will; if you tell them that they are going to get things done in record time and give them the resources and goals to do it, they usually will… But the key is always ‘leader as servant.’”

Adm. James G. Stavridis

Adm. James G. Stavridis

Adm. Stavridis outlines what he calls “tricks of the trade: important ways in which a good leader can put broad philosophical ideas into operation, make sure the goals of everyone in the organization are aligned, and maintain grace under pressure.”  They include:

  • “Speak and write with simplicity and precision, and don’t accept imprecision from those around you. Casualness in speech and writing can lead to huge disconnects. This is particularly true with e-mail, which – when you hit Send – becomes etched in stone…
  • Prepare thoroughly for key events. Make sure you understand which events truly matter.   Don’t let the chaff floating around in the wind distract you from what is really important to your job…Leaders need to look ahead several months or even a year or two at a time; pick out the events that really matter; and spend an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources ensuring that they are fully prepared.
  •  Be your own spokesperson. When things go wrong, it is much easier to find reasons why you should say nothing than to step up to your responsibilities…. But that gives the impression that the senior leadership is uncaring or unaware…After a sexual assault took place recently in the Australian Army, the Army’s commander, General David Morrison, posted a hard-hitting video and made repeated personal appearances condemning such attacks in the strongest terms and telling the offenders in direct terms: ‘Get out of our Army.’  Similar assaults have plagued the U.S. military, but many senior commanders have held back, fearing that they will ‘prejudice potential juries’ and ‘exert command influence.’ That is the wrong approach in my view – being your own spokesperson means stepping up and calling it like you see it in public.  The Aussies have it right.
  • Carve out time to think. Write down your thoughts. Share them with others whose opinions you respect.
  • Don’t lunge at the ball. Too many decisions are made in haste, under pressure, based on emotional reaction, or with incomplete facts. Take the time to gather the information you need. Don’t be driven by anyone else’s timeline unless absolutely required (i.e., by law).
  • Details matter, but think big thoughts. Balance the time spent on absorbing and understanding details and that spent sitting back from the thicket of the day to day and trying to think through new ideas, concepts, and necessities for your family, your organization, and the nation.
  • Look at the new law or regulation for yourself. Don’t rely on summaries or a staff member’s or lawyer’s opinion as to what the law says. Get it and read it yourself.
  • Organize yourself.  Don’t turn over personal organization to assistants, no matter how good they are. Much of the value of getting organized… is that it forces you to think holistically about events. The essential material thus gets into your head.
  • Carve out time to read. Take a balanced approach: fiction, nonfiction, professional journals, and so on.
  • Make mentorship a priority. Listen, learn, educate, and lead… Walk around and listen to your team. And show up early for meetings.”

Leadership. Churchill

Taking Strategic Communication Seriously

A second reason to read The Accidental Admiral is Adm. Stavridis’ view on strategic communication, which he sees as the glue that holds together all other strategic initiatives.   His recommendations are completely consistent with best practices and with the approach I advocate in my book The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively (FT Press, 2012).  He knows that you can’t move audiences unless you meet them where they are.  In particular, he understands the power of human connection; of taking audiences seriously and engaging them effectively, not as an afterthought but as an essential element of leadership.  As I often say, communication is the continuation of policy, by yet other means.

His philosophy of strategic communication is summarized as follows:

“Effective communication is the key skill a senior leader needs in today’s world… Winston Churchill is said to have observed that the principal difference between management and leadership is communication. Effective communication requires leaders of an organization to take an early and persistent role in deciding how ideas and decisions are shaped and delivered.

Simply stated, the objective of strategic communication is to provide audiences with truthful and timely information that will influence them to support the objectives of the communicator. In addition to truthfulness and timeliness, the information must be delivered to the target audience in a precise way. This generalized approach can be applied to essentially any organization. It may sound easy, but in practice it is as hard as hell. The U.S. Department of Defense and NATO are damn good at launching Tomahawk missiles but can’t launch an idea to save their lives, figuratively (and occasionally literally) speaking.”

Save their lives

He notes that strategic communication is vastly more art than science, but also offers the following insights.

“Here are some things that I have seen work, although none of them is foolproof.

  • Remember that the postman never rings twice. You get only one chance to make a first impression on any story. Pick your spot and start talking carefully, thinking about the setting and the context, getting expert advice, and get out in front – intelligently.
  • You can’t un-ring a bell. Something once said can never be pulled back, especially in the media echo chamber, which demands constant content to fill the 24/7 news cycle. Ill-advised short-, punchy, cute phrases can kill you. Before you speak, make sure you know exactly what you want to say. And remember, there are times when silence is golden.
  • Tell the truth. The most important principle is the simplest: Always provide the truth to your audience. Nothing will more quickly doom strategic communication to failure than a falsehood. A strategic communication team can have a superb message, excellent messengers, and a carefully crafted plan – yet a single lie can bring the entire effort crashing down… Tell the truth and emphasize that you do tell the truth.  Over the long run, it is unquestionably the best approach.
  • Have a good message. The most brilliant strategic communication in the world will not sell a bad message… Again, this seems self-evident, but there are many in the world of strategic communication who believe that a bad message can be sold effectively. It cannot. The strategic message must resonate with the audience because it shares appropriate human values such as liberty, justice, honest, economic improvement, security, and fair treatment.
  • Understand the audience. Can there be two more different countries in the world than enormous Portuguese-speaking Brazil and tiny English-speaking St. Kitts? Or Spanish-speaking, economically strong Chile and poverty-stricken French-Creole-speaking Haiti? The audience is different in each country or territory and each group of people, during each particular season. Therefore, the messages must be evaluated and tailored with the diverse qualities of the receiver in mind.
  • Pull the trigger promptly… Do not let the ‘perfect’ become the enemy of the ‘very good.’ Develop a reasonably good plan fast and execute it right away. Otherwise you are likely to end up back on your heels in the world of the perpetual news cycle. Leaders tend to want to wait until they have all the facts before acting, but they often won’t have the time. Especially in this modern electronic media-driven world you will literally and figuratively be buried before all the facts come in.
  • Think at the strategic level… A strategic communicator must stay at the strategic level and not dip down into the tactical level represented by public affairs…. Indeed, strategic communication consists of a wide variety of tools and processes within a command… Each has a role to play in effective strategic communication at the tactical or operational level, but none of them is a substitute for a strategic plan operating at the level of the entire theater across time, space, language, and culture. At the strategic level, the intellectual firepower of the command must be brought most distinctly to bear.
  • Measure results. Many strategic communication plans flounder because the implementers, thrilled with having developed and ‘sold’ the plan, are completely consumed with its execution and fail to take the most important single step: measuring its results.  The absolute key to effective communication is rolling out a plan, organizing it widely, executing it energetically, and then measuring its results. ‘Organizing it widely’ means making sure that all of the key stakeholders are in on the formulation of the plan – essentially, ‘in on the takeoff, in on the landing.’ Too often strategic communication plans are cooked up by brilliant public affairs professionals, vetted swiftly with the top leadership, and then promulgated. Without wide support on the buildup, though, it is unlikely there will be much ground-level support when the plan comes out.
  • Adjust fire. No strategic communication plan is perfect at conception. All must be adjusted as time goes by. You may go to war armed with the ideas you have, but you will not win unless you are willing and able to modify those ideas along the way – discarding those that fail and welding on new approaches as needed.   One way to approach measurement is to adopt short-, medium-, and long-term views. The short term is immediate reactions – say, twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Medium-term measurement is done after thirty to forty-five days. Long-term measurement takes place at the one-year point. After each of these measurement windows, the plan should be evaluated and recast according to what is working and what is not.
  • Add spice. Strategic communication should not be boring.
  • Maintain steady pressure. Very seldom do strategic communication plans succeed overnight…. All good strategic communication plans take time, sometimes generations, to fulfill.
  • Bursts of energy. The analog of steady pressure, of course, is bursts of energy. In any strategic communication plan there will be moments when it is opportune to hit with bursts of energy…. A creative strategic planner is constantly looking for the right moment to come in high and hard with an energy burst.
  • Accepting defeat and moving on. Some strategic communication battles are un-winnable. Sometimes the message is not going to have any effect no matter how effective the plan.
  • Knowing when you win. Sometimes the hardest thing for any strategic planner is not accepting defeat but rather recognizing victory. As a general rule, ‘winning’ in the world of strategic communication is never clean and seldom obvious.”

These principles make sense, but like Adm. Stavridis I am often shocked by how many individuals and organizations that use the phrase “strategic communication” seem to be neither strategic nor focused on effective communication.  Rather, they tend to blend the strategic and the tactical, or assume that only one set of tools (media, social media, lobbying) matters, rather than seeing the big picture and aligning all the forms of influence.  The discipline of thinking first at the strategic level, what I call being habitually strategic, is difficult, but the key to effective communication.  Flawless execution at the operational and tactical levels also matters.  But if the strategic part isn’t right, flawless execution can have counter-productive consequences.

Adm. Stavridis offers four recommendations worth considering for strategic communication in the twenty-first century.

“First, strategic communication is a team sport. It must be part of a joint inter-agency, and commercial system. It does no good whatsoever to have a perfect strategic communication plan that is ultimately contradicted by other U.S. government agencies, as – unfortunately – is often the case.

Second, at least for strategic communication that goes beyond the shores of the United States, … the international community must be considered and then consulted often.

Third, as we develop and execute our strategic communication plans, we should ask the simple question: who are the thinkers, the idea makers?… Recognize that the ‘strategic communication director’ is more like the conductor of a band than an expert on any given instrument. Moreover, give the director of strategic communication unfettered access to the commander.

Fourth, and finally, anyone who is trying to move a message must work with all the participants to arrive at a shared understanding of what constitutes strategic communication in an international sense.

These insights by themselves would make paying attention to Adm. Stavridis a good investment of time and energy.  And it is gratifying to see this generation of military leaders — Adm. Stavridis, Adm. Mullen, Gen. Allen, understand the need to be effective both in leading complex coalitions and in aligning all actions with effective communication.

But there’s a final reason to follow Adm. Stavridis: He is helping the nation and its leaders re-think the use of power.

Rethinking Power

In many ways he is following in the footsteps of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government professor Joseph Nye, whose 2002 book, The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone described the distinction between hard power — military might and economic clout — and soft power — diplomacy, academic and cultural exchange, and other forms of attraction.   The paradox, according to Nye, is that the more the US would use hard power the more it would squander its reservoir of soft power.  But the converse didn’t apply: the US could use its soft power effectively without diminishing its hard power reserves.  And in his 2011 book, The Future of Power, Nye describes how power is now diffusing and how many threats to national security now come from non-state players.

The-Future-of-Power-Nye-Joseph-S-JR-9781586488918

Open-Source Security

While still in uniform Adm. Stavridis took this approach and introduced the notion of Open-Source Security.  In a TED Talk while still serving as SACEUR/EUCOM, he outlined the concepts of Open Source Security as follows:

“Instead of building walls to create security, we need to build bridges.  Open-source security is about connecting the international, the inter-agency, the private-public, and lashing it together with strategic communication, largely in social networks.  Why do we need to do that? Because our global commons is under attack in a variety of ways, and none of the sources of threat to the global commons will be solved by building walls.”

Among the threats to the global commons — the infrastructure we all share — he includes piracy on the seas, cyber crime, and trafficking — the movement of narcotics, weapons, and humans.  These are done primarily by non-state players, but they create instability and flash-points that can lead to shooting wars.  But there is no single state player solution to these global threats.

Says Adm. Stavridis,

“So here we are, twenty-first century. We know our twentieth century tools will not work. We will not deliver security solely from the barrel of a gun.”

Silouhette of sniper.Stavridis

While some military might may be necessary, and while it must always be available to policymakers, the challenges are much more complicated.  He gives the example of the Afghan security forces.  One of the key challenges they face is that the Taliban restricted education.  So most men and women who serve in the Afghan forces join without the ability to read or write in their own language.  So through a combination of security services, many government agencies of many nations, and private contractors, the Afghan security forces learn to read.  This creates lasting benefits and stability for Afghanistan, and helps fulfill the national security interests of the United States, NATO, and our coalition allies.  But it requires resources of the fifty nations in the mission, plus public-private collaboration.

 

Hard-soft power reastat

He argues,

“Life is not an on-and-off switch. You do not need to have a military that is either in hard combat or is in the barracks. I would argue life is a rheostat. You have to dial it in. And as I think about how we create security in the twenty-first century, there will be times when we will apply hard power in true war and crisis. But there will be many instances… where our militaries can be part of creating twenty-first century security: international, inter-agency, private-public, connected with competent communication.”

 

His TED Talk is worth watching to the end.  It’s just under 17 minutes long.

His conclusion:

“No one of us is as smart as all of us thinking together. No one person, no one alliance, no one of us… My thesis for you is that by combining international, inter-agency, private-public, and strategic communication together in this twenty-first century, we can create the sum of all security.”

I believe that open-source security will be a key organizing principle of much security discussion in the years ahead.  Reading The Accidental Admiral to see the practice in action, and watching the Ted Talk to see the current conceptual framework, will give you a pretty good head start.

Your thoughts welcomed…

Fred

 

 

Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
10 Nov 2014 | 7:42PM

A week after Election 2014, the dust has settled. And that dust — depending on your perspective — comes from either a triumphant fireworks display or a devastating carpet bombing. Whether you were waving the red flag or curling up under a blue blanket last Tuesday, here are the top three takeaways from Election 2014.

 

1. This is what a wave looks like.

Literal waves are usually blue, but this figurative one was red. Deep, deep red.

Races that should’ve been close turned into Republican blowouts. Bruce Rauner (R-IL) claimed the Governor’s Mansion by taking every Illinois county except Cook, home to deep-blue Chicago. Cory Gardner (R-CO) deftly navigated social issues to win by three points and make his seasoned opponent look like a rookie. Michael Grimm (R-NY) retained his House seat by a margin (13 points) almost as large as the number of federal fraud counts he’s facing (20).
And races that should’ve been Democratic blowouts turned close. Mark Warner (D-VA), a man who left the governor’s office in 2006 with a 71% approval rating, hung on to his Senate seat by less than one point. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has won every election since 1986, but it appears that she’ll squeak back into the House this year by only about 600 votes. Peter Shumlin (D-VT), whose race has still not been called, could become the first-ever sitting chair of the Democratic Governors Association to lose reelection.
That leaves Democrats with precious thin silver lining. Just three newly won House seats, one gained governorship, and not a single conquest in the Senate. Astute analysts have argued that voters’ partisan preferences are at odds with their policy preferences, but you have to win to govern — and it’s clear who won Election 2014.

 

2. It's all about the bench.

Election 2014 knocked dozens of promising young Democrats off the political career ladder, and vaulted a few fresh-faced Republicans to its highest rungs. Keep your eye on these three winners from last week.

Senator-elect Tom Cotton (R-AR) Tom Cotton (R-AR) will be President someday. The telegenic Army veteran from tiny Dardanelle ousted incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor by 14 points and ended Arkansas’s Pryor political dynasty — all after less than one term in Congress. Before Cotton won his 2012 House race, Arkansas Democratic power player John Goodson predicted that Cotton would “be our congressman, then our senator, then our president.” Two out of three (so far) ain’t bad.
Charlie Baker (R-MA) will be a national figure. The Boston Globe editorial board gave its first Republican gubernatorial endorsement in 20 years to Baker. It was a sign of the cross-party appeal that not only vanquished his opponent, Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley (or, uncharitably, Martha Chokeley), but that will also propel him to national stardom. We shouldn’t be surprised if, for example, he’s tapped for Republicans’ 2016 State of the Union response. Baker is a combination of Chris Christie without the rough edges and Mitt Romney without the flip-flopping. That’s wicked formidable, Chah-lie.
Senator-elect Ben Sasse (R-NE) Ben Sasse (R-NE) will be the next Ted Cruz. The Senate minority (now majority) shadow-leader, Ted Cruz of Texas, has counted on Utah’s Mike Lee as his sidekick and Kentucky’s Rand Paul as an occasional third wheel. Now he can add Sasse to the burgeoning Senate Tea Party caucus. Like Cruz, Sasse comes with an elite pedigree (Cruz excelled at Princeton and Harvard, Sasse at Yale) and Washington experience (each served as a Bush appointee) to inform his fiery anti-elitist, anti-Washington views. Says Sasse, “If it [Obamacare] lives, America as we know it will die.” We can all look forward to his interpretation of Green Eggs and Ham.

 

 

Gobsmacked Democrats are left wondering how Republicans managed to take the House in 2010, keep their majority in 2012, and still deliver another wave victory in 2014. The answer lies earlier than any of those elections.

Only one party recognized the 2010 census as a golden political opportunity. After each census, Congressional seats are reapportioned (each state’s number of seats is adjusted for population changes) and redistricted (each district gets new boundaries to reflect population changes). Whichever party controls each state legislature controls redistricting, which determines the new district boundaries, which determine who wins the House. So the Republican State Leadership Committee, which focuses on electing Republicans to state legislatures, established the Redistricting Majority Project (REDMAP) to win as many statehouses — and thus control as many redistricting processes — as possible in 2010. It worked.
Republican-controlled state legislatures in 2010 created districts that favor Republicans. That means gerrymandering most of a state’s Democrats into a few lopsided blue districts, and then spreading the Republicans just widely enough to create several safe red districts. In 2010, that enabled Republicans to win 55.6% of House seats with only 51.7% of the nationwide popular vote. In 2012, the GOP won 53.7% of the seats with only 47.6% of the vote. And in Election 2014, REDMAP delivered again.
REDMAP is the most brilliant — and underreported — political strategy of the 21st Century. Yes, more brilliant than Barack Obama’s caucus plan or microtargeting efforts in 2008, because those only mattered for one candidate in one election. REDMAP locks in a Republican House majority for a decade. Only if Democrats can reverse REDMAP in 2020 redistricting can they return Nancy Pelosi — who will then be 80! — to the Speaker’s chair. The lesson for both parties is that long-term strategy, like REDMAP, works.

Share your thoughts here, like this post on LinkedIn, or tweet @Tiouririne.

Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
23 Oct 2014 | 4:06PM

There are few more brightly lit intersections between language and leadership than State of the State season. Each January through April, America’s governors enter the spotlight to tout successes, downplay failures, and set priorities for the year ahead. This is the second in a series of posts using these speeches to analyze which politicians say what and why.

Governors talk about Jobs when they’re in close elections, Education when their schools are improving, and Healthcare when they’re mad at the President.

Who knew it was that easy? In What Women Want, Mel Gibson had to endure electrocution in order to read minds. For those watching America’s governors this election season, all we need to penetrate their psyche is their own words.

These interactive maps show how often governors mentioned Jobs, Education, and Healthcare in their 2014 State of the State speeches. For example, Jobs words (including job, jobs, employment, and others) accounted for 0.05% of the total words in California Governor Jerry Brown’s speech. You can mouse over the maps to explore the data and find your own governor.

Governors facing close re-election races are more likely to discuss Jobs.

Although State of the State season starts ten months from election day, there’s evidence that governors are looking ahead to tough campaigns when crafting their speeches. For both Democrats and Republicans, focusing on jobs is a time-tested strategy to reach undecided voters and avoid divisive social issues. [show-map id=’2′]

Governors facing toss-up re-election contests use Jobs words 26% more often than other governors. Of the four most Jobs-heavy speeches, three were given by governors — Scott Walker (R-WI, 1.57%), Rick Scott (R-FL, 1.21%), and Dan Malloy (D-CT, 1.00%) — who are facing toss-up races, according to the Cook and Rothenberg Political Reports.

Governors with improving school systems are more likely to discuss Education.

On this issue, the star pupils are eager to brag about their high marks. The more a state improved its Education Week Chance for Success rating from January 2013 to January 2014, the more often that state’s governor used Education words in his or her 2014 speech. In addition to the map, check out this scatter plot to see the relationship between 2013 school improvements and 2014 State of the State speeches. [show-map id=’3′]

Tennessee students improved the fastest in Education Week‘s scoring, then heard one of the nation’s most Education-heavy speeches from Bill Haslam (R-TN, 1.70%). Governors like Mike Pence (R-IN, 2.00%), Sean Parnell (R-AK, 1.92%), and Mark Dayton (D-MN, 1.69%) also rank near the top in both their state’s educational improvement  and their speech’s Education words.

Governors opposed to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, are more likely to discuss Healthcare.

Healthcare featured only lightly in 2014’s State of the State season, and was altogether absent from four speeches. But for some governors, mentioning healthcare was enough to raise their blood pressure. Republican governors, who are generally opposed to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, used Healthcare words 46% more often than Democratic governors. And among Republicans, those who rejected Obamacare’s state-based Medicaid expansion were 56% more likely to discuss Healthcare than those who accepted the expansion. [show-map id=’4′]

The top two Healthcare-heavy speeches, by Dave Heineman (R-NE, 0.83%) and Robert Bentley (R-AL, 0.71%), each included a full-throated rejection of the ACA Medicaid expansion. Heineman thundered, “President Obama and his White House political operatives are trying to pressure Nebraska into expanding Medicaid, but Nebraska will not be intimidated by the Obama administration.”

Leading up to November’s election and to January’s 2015 State of the State season, I’ll continue this series of analyses. In the meantime, share your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions for what gubernatorial mind-reading we might try next.

The data used in this study is available here (Excel file) and — if you have a lot of time on your hands — the text of these speeches is available here.

Share your thoughts here, like this post on LinkedIn, or tweet @Tiouririne.

Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
21 Aug 2014 | 10:38AM

There are few more brightly lit intersections between language and leadership than State of the State season. Each January through March, America’s governors enter the spotlight to tout successes, downplay failures, and set priorities for the year ahead. This is the first of a series of posts leading up to the 2014 elections, using these speeches to analyze which politicians say what and why.

“I’m gearing up to win as many governors races as I can this November.”

That’s a remarkable quote. Not for its depth or insight or shock value, but for its sheer impossibility.

No one can win multiple governors races at once. And the man who said it, Chris Christie, isn’t even on any ballots this November. But the New Jersey governor chairs the Republican Governors Association, where his job is to ensure that his party’s gubernatorial candidates (who actually are on the ballot) win.

Even when Christie’s reference make sense, his word choice is still remarkable. The RGA chair’s counterpart at the Democratic Governors Association, Peter Shumlin of Vermont, is more pluralistic in his bluster: “We’ve got a great story to tell,” he proclaimed in a ranging interview last year, avoiding the Mr. Rogers-esque “I’ve got a great story to tell.”

Sure, Christie has a reputation as a me-first pol. But does the Great Pronoun Divide go deeper than just Christie and Shumlin? Do Republicans and Democrats differ in how they use even the smallest words in their vocabulary? An analysis of governors’ State of the State speeches says yes.

Republican governors say I, me, my, and mine almost 40% more often than Democratic governors do.

This chart plots governors by how often they used “I” words (I, me, my, and mine; on the horizontal axis) and “we” words (we, us, our, and ours; on the vertical axis) in their 2014 State of the State speeches. For example, in Maryland governor Martin O’Malley’s speech, 0.97% of the words were “I” words and 5.94% were “we” words.

[visualizer id=”2341″]

You can mouse over the points to explore the data and find your own governor. (Note that seven governors didn’t deliver State of the State speeches in 2014; their legislatures were in recess.) Three things to focus on:

  1. The pattern: This data tracks theorypolls, and conventional wisdom, which all hold that Democrats are more likely to value collectivism (“we”) and Republicans are more likely to value individualism (“I”). A cluster of seven Democratic governors dominates the upper-left of the chart, using fewer “I” words and more “we” words than their peers. On the other hand, of the eight speeches that used “I” words more than 2% of the time, six were given by Republicans and only two by Democrats — and one of those Democrats, Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee, used to be a Republican.
  2. The lack of a pattern: There’s definitely a difference between how Democratic and Republican governors use “I” words and “we” words. But the difference isn’t so stark as to draw a clear dividing line between blue and red. Congressional voting records, for example, are much more polarized than language is here.
  3. Specific governors: Some of the extremes offer interesting, if unscientific, windows into governors’ personalities. Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, the scrupulous conciliator, uses “I” words least often; Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, the policy wonk, uses few personal pronouns at all.

Of course, no political research is complete until it’s been misconstrued for partisan advantage.

These results don’t conclusively show that one party’s governors are better than the other’s. But for those interested in spinning these results to confirm their own positions anyway, enjoy this handy interpretation table:

You would like to interpret these results as a… Democratic governors… Republican governors…
Partisan Democrat Consider their constituents first, before thinking of themselves Are selfish autocrats who govern without concern for others
Partisan Republican Refuse to take accountability for their jobs, shifting the emphasis to others Take personal responsibility for the outcomes of their administrations
Neutral observer Tend to use singular first-person pronouns less than Republicans Tend to use singular first-person pronouns more than Democrats

 

This is the first of a series of posts leading up to the 2014 elections, using State of the State speeches to analyze which politicians say what and why. The data used in this study is available here (Excel file) and — if you have a lot of time on your hands — the text of these speeches is available here.

 

Share your thoughts here, like this post on LinkedIn, or tweet @Tiouririne.

Adam Tiouririne Adam Tiouririne | Bio | Posts
15 Aug 2014 | 10:04AM

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, Britain’s central bank sought a new leader to face new challenges. But Governor Mervyn King’s successor as master of the Pound wouldn’t be a Brit: The UK chose a Canadian, Mark Carney, to lead the Bank of England. Analysts crowed that the “huge surprise” was a “very smart move”. And that unorthodox appointment gets me thinking about another major personnel change, closer to home.

A transatlantic infusion is just what America needs to revive an important political institution of its own: Meet the Press.

NBC’s public affairs flagship has hit rough seas. In the Sunday ratings, ABC’s This Week and CBS’s Face the Nation have sunk the once-dominant Meet the Press. Outgoing moderator David Gregory inspires a phrase I learned in Tennessee for someone who seems fine enough but just hasn’t quite cut it: Bless his heart. (Or his brain, which NBC was colorfully rumored to have psychoanalyzed back in April — a measure the network denies taking.)

As the anti-Gregory drumbeat turned deafening, NBC confirmed late yesterday that the host would be replaced by NBC News political director Chuck Todd — an exciting enough choice for a political nerd like me.

But while Meet the Press chatter rages in America, a placid retirement begins across the pond.

On June 18, 2014, ended the reign of British television’s aggressive, abrasive, brilliant, bearded (sometimes), sneering grand inquisitor, Jeremy Paxman.

For my uninitiated fellow Americans: “Paxo” (the British word for Paxman) joined The Beebs (the British word for the BBC) in 1972 and became presenter (the British word for host) of Newsnight (the British word for the BBC’s nightly newscast) in 1989. His famously forthright interviews have changed the trajectory of public debates, policy plans, and even entire political careers — a journalistic force long, perhaps always, missing from stateside TV.

June 27, 2012: Paxman interviews Chloe Smith, a Conservative MP and Treasury Minister, about the surprise cancellation of a planned rise in fuel duty (gas tax). Smith, at age 30 with just three years of Parliament service, would be justified to complain that she was thrown to Newsnight‘s shark too early. She was out of her Treasury post within months.
May 13, 1997: Paxman, in his most notorious interview, repeats the same question 12 times to senior government minister Michael Howard. May 16, 2002: Paxman confronts Prime Minister Tony Blair with a series of sensitive issues from Blair’s first five years in office. September 25, 2008: Paxman speaks with then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a sample of the rare intensity he would bring to Washington.

And now, retired from the BBC, Paxman is available.

Paxman’s openly adversarial style isn’t just foreign to the United States; its closest American cousins are actually derided as gotcha journalism. But if a politician truly believes that farmers shouldn’t serve in the Senate or that “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”, then he or she should certainly be gotten.

Instead of doing the getting, many of our television reporters give us unmoderated shouting matches and gently lobbed softballs and — I could go further but, in the words of America’s newscasters, we’re gonna have to leave it there.

We need less access journalism, and more gotcha journalism.

Piers Morgan’s ill-fated CNN run gave us a taste of British grilling (Morgan, for his part, is not a Paxman fan.) and legendary Meet the Press host Tim Russert offered an American flavor at times. But on Newsnight, Paxo did it consistently for a quarter-century.

With the rumors of David getting Chucked finally realized, we’re left to dream sweetly of the Meet the Press that could’ve been. Paxman’s next move is unclear. He’s displayed Hillary-esque coyness when pressed about joining BBC rival Channel 4. But NBC News President Deborah Turness, as a veteran herself of Britain’s ITV, would be the right leader to lure Paxman, 64, to Washington.

Recent polls show that Americans disapprove, more firmly than in decades, of not just Congress as a whole but also their own local representatives. Far from alienating viewers, Paxman’s unflagging skepticism might have captured the zeitgeist and catapulted Meet the Press back to its top Sunday spot.

One transatlantic transplant is already the head of Britain’s 300-year-old central bank. Sundays could’ve been even better with Jeremy Paxman as the face of America’s longest-running TV program.

Share your thoughts in the comments here, or tweet them to @Tiouririne. (Paxman himself, by the way, hates Twitter.)

 

On the Wednesday after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, President Barack Obama called for changes in gun laws to prevent similar tragedies in the future. He said:

“We may never know all the reasons why this tragedy happened. We do know that every day since more Americans have died of gun violence. We know such violence has terrible consequences for our society. And if there is only one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events we have a deep obligation – all of us – to try. Over these past five days a discussion has re-emerged as to what we might do not only to deter mass shootings in the future, but to reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day.”

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Marrakech Mosque at Sunset

Over the past 8 months I have had the good fortune to spend time in Beijing, Paris, Zurich, and Marrakech, Morocco, speaking with leaders of governments, the military, religious institutions, humanitarian organizations, universities, and other social institutions.

And in my travels I detected something I hadn’t noticed before: a meaningful deterioration in the regard with which the United States is held. Not about particular events, but a general decline in respect and admiration. Not of Americans, but of the nation’s role in the world.

I’ll blog about this more later, but Sunday’s New York Times has a series of pieces that prompt me to revisit those observations and also to use them as a teachable moment to illustrate some key principles from my latest book.

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