Having written a book on culture and leadership (Culture Leads Leaders Follow) and given the voters abrupt departure from convention, in the choice of our next President, I get questions. Regularly I am asked whether cultural changes made Donald Trump’s win possible.
The question can yield to a quick yes or it can give way to a more nuanced answer. My overall sense is that the civil restraint many credit to a Judeo-Christian ethic has broken down. We have been desensitized. And, as the verbal and visual have taken over, we are on a downhill slope heading for a post-literate age that seems to have little time for curiosity or even clarity about things that matter in the public realm.
The news media, which have been an important source of both information and even occasionally knowledge, have become segmented. On TV you have the news that is not really news but life style and celebrity driven, and then various news shows that are organized around the preferences of their audience. It is hard to learn much or even believe what you see or hear if much of it is slanted in one direction or another. Politicians can get away with mis-information if much of the public avoids good journalism or indeed wouldn’t know where to go to find it. A lack of trust in the news media should, but probably won’t, result in a renewal of searching and objective journalism.
A friend recently recalled an essay written by Neil Postman on George Orwell and Aldous Huxley’s dystopian visions:
“Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the ‘feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumble puppy.’ As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’”
Relatedly, Nicholas Kristof, in a year end reflection on network news in the New York Times, noted:
“In 2008, the three broadcast networks, in their nightly news programs, devoted over the entire year a total of three hours and 40 minutes to issues reporting (defined as independent coverage of election issues, not arising from candidate statements or debates). In 2016, that plummeted to a grand total of just 36 minutes.”
When we turn to business, most Americans think well of local business but not of big business. Mylan’s pricing of the epipen is just a recent example of pricing decisions being made without regard to customer well-being. Fortunately most businesses in the United States must compete for the trust of the customer although The Economist reports that consolidation not competition is the business trend.
Politics, which has formed the context for many of the questions directed to me, has been left to last.
We know that campaigns have become increasingly expensive and that there are few limits. Today’s angst over the President-elect’s potential conflicts or those of his appointees is rather ironic. What about the fact that most members of Congress receive much of their campaign financing from the industries that align with their congressional committee assignments? Overall the public has decided left, right and center that all politicians at least flirt with conflicts and that at least Trumps are pretty much in plain view. Plus they see most candidates as poll-tested, scripted and mainly concerned about re-election in their carefully fortified districts. Cynicism has never been a healthy element in representative government and the results were evident in 2016.
When politicians are discerning, they can expect a discerning public. Trump and Hillary Clinton were perceived as flawed messengers in a change election. Voters opted for change, not a careful weighing of whose flaws were the worst.
As I write, the calendar is pushing into 2017. A variety of commentators have begun opining on next year’s outlook. Unfortunately, in my view, most are damning a Trump presidency before he has served a day.
I opted for neither Trump nor Clinton. I wanted to vote for change, but a vote for Trump required me to go too far. Many reporters say they decline to vote as they want to be entirely fair and balanced. My advice: start now. Trump is going to be President and the content of his preparation and service should be the focal point of the coverage.
My guidance for Trump, who has a businessman’s eye for the longevity of assets, visceral policy making and bombast are rapidly depreciating ones.
My prediction for the New Year: it will be a year of adventure and disruption from the technology industry to the White House. Anticipate the unforeseeable. If possible, I am both wary and hopeful.
Photo by Gage Skidmore
Al Sikes’ leadership helped shape the arc of 21st century communication technologies from positions as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and then President of Hearst New Media. In 2004, the Manhattan Institute chose Sikes as one of eight winners of the Social Entrepreneurship Award for having founded READ ALLIANCE, which trains teenagers to tutor children with reading deficiencies. Sikes second book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow was recently published by Koehler Books.