Communication Leadership Blog
This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.
In 1860 as this nation stood on the brink of civil war, President Abraham Lincoln implored Americans and their political leaders to think of, "the better angels of our nature," before committing totally to the dissolution of the Union.
To plea for civility during one of the most bitter and divisive periods of American history was an attempt to call on a cultural tenet of respect for those with whom you disagree. The value of civility was a necessary component of our culture at our founding because we are a union of different states, then led by people with different ideas of how a federal state should look, but all committed to the idea of the freedom of belief and expression. Such an entity created by people holding divergent views cannot exist without basic elements of civility and respect for your fellow politicians and citizens. We learned early on to disagree agreeably.
Today, things are different. We have witnessed a substantial erosion of civility in political discourse in contemporary politics. In my view, the end of civility in our political system is a true loss for every American, Republican and Democrat alike.
President Bill Clinton once said that, "when people feel uncertain, they'd rather have someone who is strong and wrong than someone who is weak and right." It looks like that is happening in America right now.
The state of contemporary politics is one in which bombast is met with approval. Extreme viewpoints are greeted with appreciative nods by a disturbingly large segment of the American electorate, and so the incentive for political leaders to make such comments is significant. Of course, there have always been and will always be people in a free and democratic country such as this who hold views that are extreme or unpopular, and it is their right to do so. But in this country politicians weren't always so easily able to accrue benefit from being egomaniacal, indecent, uncivil and frankly just plain rude.
In 2007 I remember watching a town hall meeting held by then GOP presidential candidate John McCain in which he argued with a voter who made outrageous claims about then Senator Obama's citizenship and religious beliefs. I remember him being booed by some of the people in that audience for simply saying, "President Obama is a citizen and a family man but I disagree with him about many things and that is why I want to be president." Senator McCain response was a class act.
But after watching Donald Trump during much of the campaign and several other candidates, I am wondering if common manners, decency and civility are values that we take seriously in politics or in society itself for that matter. That people often respond to brashness and self-promotion or regard jumped up schoolyard bullying and direct ad hominem attacks as qualities of leadership is deeply disturbing to me not just as a former politician but as an American.
Donald Trump, of course, looms large when discussing the lack of civility in public dialogue, but he is not alone in this trend. Numerous other politicians on all sides are far too willing to cast aspersions, make threats or otherwise fan the flames of hatred and mistrust. In this uncivil process we ignore substantive issues facing actual people in favor of negativity and bitterness. The political rewards for uncivil behavior may give candidates a bump in the polls or increase their fundraising, but the cumulative damage such actions are doing to this country by normalizing those behaviors is astounding.
There are elements of our society charged with keeping things civil, but they are not taking strong enough action on that front. All the world's great religions have elevated the Golden Rule, that we should do unto others as we would wish done unto us. So, where is the religious community on the sad state of public dialogue in America? Have values of humility and decency gone completely AWOL from our modern society? The prophet Micah speaks of the need to "do justice, love mercy, and walk HUMBLY with thy God."
I realize that politics isn't beanbag and debates on important issues can and should have an edge. But what we have today goes beyond an edge. This country is crying out for solutions to our myriad problems but our culture often rewards meanness, division and incivility. The emphasis on the latter makes the former all that much more difficult to achieve. People feel legitimate frustration and anxiety about what economic, social and other forces of modernity are going to do to their lives and what kind of future will exist for their children. But a pluralistic democracy cannot deal with these problems and thrive when cultural norms of basic decency no longer exist. Lincoln's words have real meaning, and I hope our political leaders will try to appeal to the better angels of our nature, and their own.
There is an old Cherokee Native American legend about the two wolves that feels once again apropos for today's conversation in our country (I have cited this before in a previous column), and the emergence of the Summer of Trump. The parable is that a young boy comes up to this grandfather, who is the chief of the Cherokee Tribe to learn about life. The Chief says to him, "The most important principle to know is that within each of us are two wolves -- a bad wolf and a good wolf. The bad wolf represents anger, arrogance, division, ego and envy. The good wolf represents compassion, love, unity, humility and acceptance. And these two wolves are in a battle every day inside you."
The grandson asks the chief, "Well, which wolf wins?" The Chief replies solemnly, "The one you feed."
As I survey our country's politics and communications, I increasingly worry that candidates and others are feeding the bad wolf within -- within themselves, ourselves and the body of the country. Instead of attempting healing and uniting us in one common vision, some leaders are exacerbating the divisions and distrust. Instead of using our frustration and desire for more than the status quo to build a constructive dream, they are pushing us all toward more destructive patterns. They are calling us towards the dark within us, and away from the light.
Today, we are hearing warlike messages that pit white against Latino, black against white, Republican versus Democrat, rich against the poor or middle class, immigrant versus native, men against women and even generational young against old. We hear constantly that our problems are their fault. If it weren't for "them" everything would be better. This has been a disturbing development for the last few years, but it seems to have been taken to a whole new level where division is rewarded, and unity laughed at.
Real, authentic leaders seek to heal, not to dig deeper canyons of differences within our communities. Yes, today we have great hunger for the truth and for strength in our leaders and our country. But so often meanness and bullying is seen as being honest and strong, while expressions of kindness, acceptance and assistance is viewed as weak. We forget that the strongest leaders in history preached a path of love and one that had healing at its core. It is peace found -- and founded internally and externally -- that is the greatest struggle, not the warring of factions to achieve some temporary victory.
As I have watched the rise of Donald Trump, as well as others preaching a politics of division and finger pointing, I understand the frustration and anger it represents. I, too, am tired of the current politics where it is hard to trust people and the institutions they represent, and know we need disruption of the status quo. But the answer isn't in dividing us into geographic or demographic subgroups where we line up against fellow Americans. The answer lies in creating or discovering a vision that binds us all together and heals the divides that have worsened over the years.
We need to each acknowledge that there is a battle going on between the bad wolf and the good wolf. And we need to begin to starve the bad wolf, and feed the good wolf so that it gains strength and can emerge victorious. We each must step back from us versus them and embrace a language of unity and acceptance.
In the end, the only enemy that really exists is the bad wolf within each of us. We are in an epic battle, and our country and its values are at stake. It is time to prepare a banquet each day for the good wolf within us -- that is what we all are deeply hungry for.
There you have it.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent.
CCLP and the USC Center on Public Diplomacy presented a Washington DC forum on countering violent extremism with a specific focus on Boko Haram in Nigeria. The program was organized by CCLP senior fellow Adam Powell III, who also serves as president of the Public Diplomacy Council.
The discussion forum featured Leo Keyen, Director of Voice of America's Hausa Service, and Margot Shorey, Counter Boko Haram Policy Analyst at the U.S. Department of State. Click here to download Margot Shorey's presentation.
Following a discussion of Boko Haram's history, its non-violent origins, and strategies to defeat the terrorist group, audience members asked questions about diplomatic strategies for the U.S. to strengthen ties with Nigeria's government in combating Boko Haram together.
Photo credit: Yingqian Chen
This article was originally published in the Huffington Post.
Candidates on stage tomorrow night will represent over $200 million in Super PAC money alone. The frenetic race for money goes on in a never-ending cascade of donor calls, house parties in Hollywood or Silicon Valley or Wall Street. And no one has stopped to wonder whether or not all of this money is eroding the foundation of our democratic system of government and our deeply held belief that all Americans deserve a government that represents their interests.
Never in American history has the political system endured such a tsunami of cash. Voters are frustrated, party institutions are sidelined in favor of mega-donors, the political system continues to be hobbled by partisanship, and with all this money sloshing around very few people believe that they are getting a fair shake from their leaders.
The truth is that, even though the Republican high-end donors (the four hundred or so families who have given almost half the money raised by candidates so far), are dominating the headlines this is not a partisan issue. As we get closer to Election Day both parties and their eventual nominees will likely be more and more reliant on high-end donors. There is also a strong likelihood that this money rush will spill over into congressional races on both sides of the aisle and have enormous impact on down ballot races.
More cash into more political arenas deepens and hardens public distrust in government and political leaders. Candidates are able to mystify pundits with poll numbers that belie their experience and credentials, and it's often heard that a candidate is "tapping into a vein of unhappiness and distrust in government." But there isn't much questioning of why such a level of distrust exists in the first place. I contend that many voters on both sides have a legitimate belief that our political system is irrelevant to the lives of everyone except those at the top. Sure, candidates offer this or that on income inequality or tax policy or social policy, but mostly the public policy we need for a better America like infrastructure investment, significant education reform and so forth are completely stuck. Voters are unhappy, and they are not being served by a government that is paralyzed by money, money that binds politicians to the views of a handful of Americans, stokes the flames of partisanship and keeps Congress and the president from doing anything truly transformational.
There is much to make us discouraged, but perhaps the most frustrating thing of all is that no one seems to want to do anything about this issue. In fact, I wonder if there will even be a question posed tomorrow to the multitude of candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination about the impact of money in our political system? All of this is going on and we aren't even having a discussion about its impact on our democracy and our country.
It's not just Republicans either; Democrats are just as caught of in the seemingly unstoppable gravity of campaign fundraising as the GOP. Voters and non-political leaders must make money in politics a much higher priority. Community leaders, celebrities, academics, members of the faith based community, business leaders and the voters themselves must do something and speak out or this malignant money craze could consume our system of government. We don't need to arrive at a specific legislative or constitutional solution to this problem; we just need a much more serious recognition that solving this is fundamental to the long term survival of our democratic institutions. When can the discussion or the debate begin?
Our best hope to break this madness is to call on leaders outside of the political system to put their feet down and cry out, like Howard Beale in the movie Network, "I'm mad as Hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" And, the burden ought to be on the media to ask the right questions. Let me suggest one for tomorrow's debate. They might ask the candidates, "You all, in various amounts, have received very large contributions from a very small number of individuals. How can the 'little guy' who cannot afford to contribute more than $100.00 ever hope to compete for your attention in such a system?"
WASHINGTON - "It's a huge elephant in the room."
That was how U.N. Under Secretary Cristina Gallach described the promise and peril of social media, in a briefing last week at the USC Washington Center.
"How do we ensure that we take the maximum out of these technologies?" she asked, adding a comment about the benefits of social media. "It allows us global communication. It's a challenge; I think it's a great challenge."
Gallach said her department, which coordinates all United Nations communications, information and public diplomacy, is fluent in such traditional tools as news conferences, press releases, brochures and broadcasting. But for digital media, it is still a steep learning curve.
Left: Stefania Piffanelli, Deputy Director of the United Nations Information Center in Washington, D.C. Right: U.N. Under Secretary Cristina Gallach. (Photo credit: Yingqian Chen)
"We are learning by doing it," she explained. ""Our presence in twitter is much more like sending a link, you know, a caption, and a nice title, and now we realize the tweet demands a lot of work, and content for social media is critical to have a good social media impact."
Is anger a bad thing? What should we do if a person is angry or a large group of voters is angry and frustrated? Call that person names, tell them they shouldn't be angry, ignore it?
Observing the last few weeks, especially the rise of Donald Trump, and to some degree Sen. Bernie Sanders, made me cognizant of the brewing anger and distrust that exists in America today. And made me pause and wonder about the questions posed above, and what to do with the anger and distrust that resides in a large part of the American public whether it be Republican, Democrat or independent. This anger is about race, inequalities at many levels, being forgotten, war, loss of opportunity and hope, or being lied to too many times.
Anger isn't bad in and of itself. It is just a feeling, not a moral position. Jesus was angry as He turned the tables over in the temple. Gandhi was angry at injustice around the world and especially in India. Martin Luther King Jr. was angry about the unfulfilled promise of America. The question becomes what to do with that anger in ourselves, and how to respond to anger in others.
There are really three options to choose from as regards our own or someone else's anger. As with all things in politics, it plays out always in the lessons we learn in relationships. Politics is nothing but a broader and more public manifestation of what we learn in private and the intimate circles of our life. For personal and political, there are three ways we can approach anger in our relationships and deal with it.
One, we can ignore the anger that bubbles up in ourselves or another and not try to understand it. We can look at it as crazy (Sen. John McCain's philosophy in calling Trump supporters "crazies" or what some people do in relationships by "gaslighting" others), and attempt to disregard it as inappropriate or wrong. This basically puts us in a place of denial, and is definitely not a path for success of our own growth or leading others. By ignoring, downplaying, denying or not understanding the anger this leads us on a movement towards disintegration or disconnection from our own hearts or the heart of another. Many partisans have made this mistake, as well as many in the media, by not trying to understand this anger and give it some validity. They underestimate the undercurrent of frustration and anger that exists in our country today.
The second choice of dealing with anger is to tap into its incredible force, but only use it as a plaything for our amusement or to get what we want. This way is just venting this anger outward in ways that are destructive or don't bring us closer to the life we want to live or the kind of country we want to live in. In this mode, anger is used to make a bad situation worse, or it appeals to our darker angels, and divides rather than unites. In this place we seek to find enemies at whom to vent our anger -- pointing fingers and casting blame. We have had many political figures in our history who did this and weren't helpful for our country. Donald Trump falls into this category of using anger destructively for his benefit, rather than constructively for the country's benefit.
And the third option, which is where leaders fall -- whether in our intimate circles or in the country as a whole -- is understanding someone's anger, meeting them there, and then channeling that anger in a constructive manner. By leading in the midst of anger in a positive way is where all reform and change has come from. This route is by connecting with an angry person or an angry group so they feel understood, and then appealing to their better angels and using that anger for good. The abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, the movement surrounding the Special Olympics, peace movements, and the American Revolution all had anger as a big component of the demand for change and assistance for a neglected group of people. This anger moved towards a positive outcome with the help of leaders who understood its power in achieving good. And in the case of our founding fathers and mothers, instead of destroying a country they built a new one the world had never seen before based on principles of liberty, freedom, and compassion.
If you want to be successful as a leader today in your homes or at the White House, you must come to terms with this anger and figure out ways to move it in a direction of good. Leadership is about understanding the place many are at today, and figuring out a way to achieve a higher and laudable purpose. Don't deny the anger, name-call people who are angry as crazy, play with anger for your own gain, make the situation worse by fomenting anger. Be a leader, and accept that anger, and then use it as a creative powerful instrument in doing good in this world. And like the peace movements, use anger to stop wars, and not start them.
There you have it.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.
A Russian linguist closely examines how the Russian Foreign Ministry's communication has resurrected the creepy old Soviet style.
Russian is a tough language to learn not because of the complex tenses and six cases, but because the style of communication is what matters most. The Russian style not only expresses the mood of the speaker or writer, a certain political situation, or the time and circumstances of the moment; the Russian style also "smells." Or stinks.
Thus, Russian politics are all about the style of expression, and the language used to convey a political message in Russia is more than just a mere communication tool. It's a cult and has been one since 1917.
The quantity of candidates running for president won't matter so much as the quality of leadership and vision that emerges by the end of the process. Having numerous candidates didn't hurt Democrats in 1992 and 2008 when they fielded double digits numbers. Presidents Bill Clinton and Obama made it through successfully while becoming better candidates.
The large field is reflective of four things: three concern our current political environment, and one a reflection of our culture. First, the large field is a sign that many see the real possibility of capturing the White House. The current president's job approval is in the 40s, the percentage of people who think the country is on the wrong track is in the 60s and a majority of voters want a change in policies. All of which improves the odds for the G.O.P. in the general election if the right candidate emerges.
Second, multiple candidates reveals that there is no dominant player in the G.O.P. race. The leading candidate has only 15 percent of the vote. Thus a candidate who gets "hot" can emerge from the process with no elephant candidacy to contend with. This is highly unusual for the G.O.P. where they normally have a candidate-in-waiting ready to take the mantle.
Third, the Republican Party is composed of four equal constituencies: the establishment, Tea Party folks, libertarians, and social conservatives - and no one has found a message or a mechanism in uniting these four elements. It leaves multiple opportunities to appeal to members of these four groups and opens the field for many candidates.
And fourth, the multitude of candidates running is reflective of the current reality TV culture. You could call it the Kardashian effect -- more people now earn a living just by being famous, not for any social good accomplished. I suspect some candidates are running for this reason, to gain publicity and celebrity, and possibly for a book deal or a TV show. In short, to create their own Andy Warhol moment.
Many candidates running for president is a reflection of our current politics and times and isn't going to be a negative for the general election. In the end, a candidate who can appeal to a great majority will determine success, and if that doesn't happen -- no matter if three or 33 ran at the start -- he or she will lose.
Matthew Dowd, a lead analyst for ABC News, has worked in campaigns on both sides of the aisle, including as chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign, and is now a vigorous independent. He is the founder of Paradox Capital, a social impact venture fund, and is on Twitter.
Over the past few weeks, punters in China underwent a near-death experience when their country's two stock exchanges entered freefall. The rapidly inflating bubble that had driven share prices to dizzying heights had suddenly burst. By this spring, the stock markets in Shanghai, with 831 listed companies, and Shenzhen, with 1,700, boasted a combined market capitalization of $9.5 trillion, which made them - along with the much older Hong Kong exchange - the second-largest financial market in the world.
In the 2016 Presidential general election which voters will ultimately determine victory?
So often in life we have to communicate to a group of folks by giving a speech or talk or we need to interview with someone we have never met before for a job we are seeking. And I have learned the best strategy in getting ready to do this effectively is to try and figure out who your target audience is. Who are they, what do they care about, what is their history, and what is going on in their lives. By doing this you can pull a mental picture together, and then understand more clearly the best way to enter into the discussion. So too in politics and in a presidential campaign.
Every single voter group will be important in an election likely to be decided by a very narrow margin -- and determining how a campaign will devote resources to swing voters versus base voters (persuasion vs. mobilization) is a key strategic imperative. But in the end this election is going to be decided by a small group of independent voters.
Unless a strong third party candidate emerges (or if one of the major parties nominates an inherently flawed candidate), this general election looks like it is headed towards another polarized situation -- GOP voters lined up overwhelmingly on one side and Democrats nearly universally behind their candidate. And so about 8 percent of the expected electorate, who are independent, will determine success or failure.
Whether you are the Democratic nominee or the Republican standard bearer, it is of great import to have a mental picture of who your audience is before you enter into the ultimate job interview -- for the presidency of the United States. And that is just what it is -- a job interview. When you are elected to the most powerful position in the world, you are hired by the voters, and it is best not to forget that because they can fire you or elect other people around you to put a stopper on your behavior.
The independent voters who will be doing the hiring in 2016 have many things in common. They believe the country is off on the wrong track and nor going in the right direction. They disapprove of President Obama's job performance, but like him personally. They have negative perceptions of both political parties and the leaders on both sides of the aisle in Congress.
These voters are fiscally conservative, but socially progressive. They pay their own bills every month at home, and don't understand why the federal government can't live within its means. They support gay marriage, but also worry about the loss of traditional institutions. They are faith-filled people who are either religious or spiritual, but they aren't judgmental or think they have all the answers.
These folks love this country, but worry that America's best years are behind them. They want the government to have a role in their lives, but limited and as local as possible. For example, they have mixed feelings about ObamaCare liking some of the elements, but concerned it maybe too much federal involvement. They think both parties are captives of Wall Street and special interests and they wonder whether anyone is looking out for them. They don't like the great income inequality that exists, but are more concerned with the lack of economic mobility. They don't begrudge wealthy people, but have come to believe the system is rigged.
These are middle-class folks with old-fashioned values are facing great change in their lives and are wondering who has their back. And they judge people not based on words or speeches, but on actions. They are tired of being told one thing and watching folks do another. Many of them voted for both President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush -- and came away very disappointed in both. They want both political parties to work together, but only see divisiveness and dysfunction.
And on Hillary Clinton, they like her, but don't trust her. They believe she has done much good over the years, but wonder if she can really change things in Washington D.C. The bounce between "she is part of the problem" and "she has possibility of being the leader" they thought she was. They would prefer to vote for a new leader, but will vote for Hillary if the alternative doesn't represent them. And the same is true for Jeb Bush.
This is the job interviewer that Hillary, Jeb, John, Marco, and others need to keep in mind when they ask to get hired. That's the person they need to practice on to figure out the best way to connect and communicate. Whoever does it best will probably get the job offer in November.
There you have it.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.