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“The Sunday Political Brunch”—February 26, 2017

Sunday, February 26, 2017


As Bob Dylan sang, “The Times They Are A-Changin’!” Nowhere was that more evident than during Campaign 2016, when both parties set “politics as usual” on its ear. I thought that trend would change after the inauguration, but it has not; and now I don’t think it will for quite some time. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“P’s in a Pod” – I’ve often talked about the “Four P’s in American Politics” – the politicians, the press, the public, and the protests. Sometimes there are calm waters, but most of the time there are stormy relations among these four legs of the "bar stool" of democracy. In my lifetime, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such disconnect and hostility. That can be a good thing; and it can be a bad thing. In any case, get ready for a stormy four years.

“We’re Here; We’re Near; Get Used to It!” – Okay, that’s the gentler version of a popular protest chant, but it bears discussion. We continue to see protests – some very large, some very small – against the Trump administration. The question becomes: Are the protests productive? Will they lead to change, or are people just venting? “The March on Washington” in 1963 led directly to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The "Million Man March" in 1995 led to no legislation. Will “The Women’s March" of 2017 lead to any significant change? Right now, it’s too soon to tell; but unless a schedule and counter-agenda are clearly laid out, it’s dicey.

“Retail Politics” – Lots of people are angry that President Trump is in the White House; and lots of other folks are thrilled that Donald Trump occupies the Oval Office. So who will win out? Look, if his opponents want to make a change, they must do a lot more than protest. If you want to run for Congress in 2018 (or any other office for that matter), you are already late if you haven’t declared yet. I’ve not seen any organized effort at the federal, state, and local level to channel anti-Trump anger into seats on city councils, state legislatures, or in Congress. I’m not being critical; I’m being realistic. If they don’t start fielding candidates at all levels tomorrow, the anger will just be venting, and nothing more.

“Meet the Press; Beat the Press” – I’m probably being kind with the headline, because it’s much more like “Bullying the Press.” No other President in U.S. history has attacked the media with such a sustained vengeance, and I think this will remain the tenor of the Trump terms(s). He hates the press like no other politician in American history. It’s not even close any more. On Friday, CNN, "The New York Times," and others were locked out of a press briefing. It’s the new normal. President Trump makes President Nixon look warm and fuzzy on press relations.

“The Press Piñata” – Having worked in the mass media for forty years, I am well aware of the public’s “love-hate” relationship with my industry. It’s a weird dynamic. Often times the public hates how we operate; yet, it can’t stop consuming our product. News (really information) is like oxygen to people. To be sure, I know traditional newspaper, radio and TV consumption has declined; yet, internet consumption (often from the old media, switching to new media platforms) is booming. The relationship between Mr. Trump and the press corps will likely continue akin to a professional wrestling match, so perhaps it’s appropriate that the former World Wrestling Entertainment executive, Linda McMahan, is now in his Cabinet.

“Results Matter” – If nothing else, the press keeps score. The number of jobs created during an administration is good news; the number of jobs lost is bad news. Is illegal immigration being mitigated? Are people getting affordable health care? Are unemployed folks back at work? The President can bash the press all he wants, but when the answers to these questions turn negative, watch out. This kind of scrutiny destroyed Jimmy Carter’s Presidency in 1980. The numbers were bad; the news was bad. When candidate Ronald Reagan asked people, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” The answer from the vast majority was a resounding “No!”

“Changes in Latitudes; Changes in Attitudes” – Okay, I am channeling singer Jimmy Buffet here. But this is a classic Donald Trump quote when it comes to the press: “The press has become so dishonest that if we don't talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice.” Just last weekend, the press was reporting about President Trump’s suggestion that there was a recent terrorist attack in Sweden: “…you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers [of refugees from Muslim-majority countries].” The problem was that all was calm in Sweden; nothing had happened the night before. If you simply make stuff up, don’t get mad when you get called out on it!

“’Fake News’ Faux Pas” – There is a public backlash against the press right now like I’ve never seen before. I don’t take it personally. People like to vent, and that’s okay. My concern is that every time I hear a politician scream “fake news,” I wonder about their motivation and the truth. Nixon would have screamed “fake news” during Watergate, just as Bill Clinton would have screamed “fake news” during his impeachment. Yet so much of what was reported and revealed in both scandals was fact-based, and turned out to be true. They got caught in serious lies and paid a heavy price. Yelling “fake news” is not a fig leaf.

“Why All of This Matters?” – As mentioned, the “Four P’s” are like four legs on a bar stool – the politicians, the press, the public mood, and the protesters. If one leg of the stool breaks, the whole dynamic can collapse. This I know: The more the press is pushed and provoked, the more the press will push back. As for the public mood, if people are employed and if most public issues are abated, their concerns are mollified; but if protesters fail to arouse the anger and to offer a field of candidates for effecting change, the protests will fade. The fate of politicians may play out as a consequence of this dynamic. President Trump would be wise to leverage his strengths and to minimize his weaknesses in the struggle between the “Four P’s!” One cautionary note for him: The press will not be vanquished!

Who has the upper hand right now in managing the “Four P’s” of American politics? Just click the comment button at http://www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.


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