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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- February 26, 2017

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – 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 www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- February 19, 2017

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – Everyone has been talking about the first 100 days of the Trump administration. Forget that! How about the first 30 days, which we are completing this weekend? This has been a wild, roller-coaster ride, but many of the potholes the President hit, have been experienced by others before him. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Out Like Flynn” – They love to split hairs about these things in Washington, DC. No one wants to say someone has been fired; they always “resigned.” Well, what happens is the President of the United States asks for your resignation, which is a polite spin on saying, “You’re fired!” National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is gone; and now his potential replacement - retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward - says he won’t take the job. This NSA position has been a headache for other Presidents, too!

“Tossing Rice” – President Obama’s final National Security Advisor was a lightning rod for controversy. Susan Rice held the job for three-and-a-half years, but earlier troubles prevented her from ever gaining the measure of respect to which the office is entitled. Earlier in the Obama administration, Rice was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. When four Americans were killed at a CIA outpost in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012, Rice went on numerous network newscasts to say the attacks were a direct result of a "heinous and offensive [anti-Muslim] video", and were spontaneous, not pre-planned. We learned not long after that there was no such video motivation and no such protest. It was a calculated and deliberate terrorist attack. The fallout likely prevented Rice from being named Secretary of State.

“A Bad Berger” – To be fair, the late National Security Advisor Sandy Berger violated no laws, ethics, or principles that we know of while he held the post during the Clinton administration from 1997 to 2001. It was after he left the post that he got into a whole heap of trouble. In 2003, Berger was scheduled to testify before the 9/11 Commission about anti-terrorism measures taken while President Clinton was in office. In preparation for his testimony, Berger visited the National Archives, illegally removed four classified documents and smuggled them out of the building. Berger later pled guilty to the charges and had his law license revoked.

“Win One for the Gipper’s Wife” – In 1982, National Security Advisor Richard Allen was forced to resign after a Japanese reporter claimed he had bribed Allen to secure an interview with First Lady Nancy Reagan (a charge never made in court nor resulting in any legal sanction). Allen said he had intercepted a check made out to Mrs. Reagan to avoid any embarrassment to the Reagan family. Nonetheless, the drumbeat of negative headlines eventually led to his departure.

“Why the NSA Pothole?” – Others who held the NSA job ran into political trouble and controversy, too, so why? My assessment is that this is a crucial intelligence, diplomatic, and political job. Imagine, for example, having to be Secretary of State, CIA Director, and Chairman of your own political party - all at the very same time. There have got to be conflicts and temptations galore. I say this not to make excuses for Michael Flynn or the others, but to demonstrate that NSA has been the Achilles Heel of many a Presidential administration.

“The Puzder Puzzle” – Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder officially became the “sacrificial lamb” of the Trump Cabinet appointees. It happens to virtually every President, whether they have Cabinet appointees or Supreme Court nominees go down in flames. It’s a Washington parlor game as a way to one-up a President. Think failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in the Reagan era, or failed Defense Secretary nominee John Tower in the Bush I administration. President Clinton had two nominees for Attorney General torpedoed before finally settling in on Janet Reno. It happens!

“Mending Fences” – Speaking of the failed Labor Secretary nominee, President Trump quickly found a replacement by nominating Alexander Acosta to head the Labor Department. Acosta – if approved – would be the first Latino in Trump’s Cabinet. This was something for which the President was criticized - not selecting a Hispanic in the first place - after Trump garnered 28 percent of the Latin vote nationwide.

“Immigration Delineation” – The President is also on the defensive (both legally and politically) over his Executive Order banning travel to the U.S. from seven majority Muslim countries. While he lost in the Court of Appeals - and may bypass a Supreme Court fight by issuing a more Constitutionally defensible order - he has wasted enormous political capital on his signature issue – immigration reform. Rather than using executive fiat, he would be better served by codifying immigration reform by getting Congress to pass reforms into law. He needs to co-opt his party’s majorities in the House and Senate while he still has them. “Going it alone” is a bad strategy in Washington, DC.

“Why All of This Matters” – It has been portrayed that Trump’s rough start is somehow unprecedented, or an anomaly. We’ve shown here that most Presidents have major hiccups in their first 100 days. But the public and other branches of government have only so much patience. Presidents Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and others had troubles out of the starting gate, but corrected their courses and bounced back. Trump could take a page from the Reagan playbook (pictured above) – Reagan won as a Washington outsider, yet embraced official “insider” Washington when he got there – to great political success. Sometimes, history can repeat itself.

What do you think of President Trump’s first 30 days? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC

Photo courtesy: dailymail.com

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