Increasingly visuals matter; words not as much. Tone though is important; it is an important emotional signal. But, since all I have is words, a word on each.
Quick polling on the reaction to President Trump’s speech to Congress and the country underscored the importance of tone. 57 percent, according to a CNN poll, had a very favorable reaction to the speech. This boost was not due to the policy content of his address.
Trump, the day before the speech, had graded himself on his first five weeks. His grades: A+ on effort, A on accomplishments, C to C+ on messaging. Given that too often his voice has been loud, his words harsh, and his feelings raw and indignant,
Instead, I would give him a D- on messaging. Trump had won the biggest job in the country, but was often acting like a jerk.
Hopefully the tonal pivot on Tuesday night is indicative of what Americans can expect. Hopefully the positive feedback Trump received will have the impact of a customer survey at Trump Towers. Trump hotels presumably feature a polite service staff and the President is in a service job. The next formal vote on his service is 22 months away and there will be hundreds of polls along the way.
Words? I thought his outreach at the very outset, recognizing Black History Month, was important. Indeed, much of his address was about those who economically or culturally have been left behind. While policy differences do not get resolved by speeches, the President made a number of nods in the right direction.
So while most pundits recalled his immigration message and thought little had changed on the content front, I disagree. My opinion, he was pivoting toward the second stage in his deal negotiations with several applause lines that forced Democrats to stand up and clap.
At the same time, many fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party stood only because of peer pressure. Trump joins a long line of politicians that promise benefits without sacrifice.
Everybody left, right and center agreed on one thing – the visual impact of Carryn Owens was riveting. On January 29th, she lost her husband, Ryan, while he was protecting America. On March 1, the world watched her; with tears streaming down her face she looked toward heaven repeating, “I love you.”
Next to Mrs. Owens, in an impossibly awkward position, was the President’s daughter, Ivanka. Mrs. Owens was in a simple black dress. Ivanka looked as if she had just stepped from the Oscar stage. The visual, unintentionally, underscored America’s problem.
There are two Americas and where wealth is concentrated few serve in the nation’s military services. And in most of the country, few can afford more than a simple black dress and often that must be purchased on credit.
America’s first families have often been wealthy. Our new first family is both characteristic and uncharacteristic – I suspect that only the Kennedy family could have comfortably shared similar zip codes.
Candidate Trump reached voters in zip codes that were unfamiliar to him with savvy and divisive rhetoric; he won. Now, if he is to actually go from style to substance and on to accomplishment, he will have to begin to unify disparate elements. His speech was a beginning, but only a beginning.
Photo by evan.guest
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.