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“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- March 5, 2017

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – It’s never a dull moment in the world of politics, and this past week was no exception. President Trump delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress, and there is certainly a lot to chew on. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“A Different Donald” – I have no qualms about saying it was the best political speech Donald Trump has delivered to date - hands down. I am neither endorsing nor condemning the policies here; instead, I am critiquing the style and tone of the speech. The address was organized, thematic, structured, disciplined, emotional - when it needed to be - and dignified, yet with a challenging tone at times. It was the most “un-Trump” speech he has ever delivered. After his harsh and provocative convention acceptance speech and his Inaugural address, this was quite a departure.

“What is ‘Being Presidential?’” – As I’ve often said, trying to define “Presidential” is just like trying to grab a handful of Jell-O – it’s an elusive quality. But here are some likely traits: confident, yet with humility; respectful of the dignity, traditions, and history of the office you represent; compassionate; respectful of your opposition; strong (emotionally and politically); resolute; firm, but fair; knowledgeable, yet with an open mind to learn (aka, don’t be a know-it-all); and deferential to the expertise of others. I could go on. It’s a tapestry of traits. Whether you agree or not with his policies, this was probably the most “Presidential” Mr. Trump has appeared through the course of the campaign and now his time in office. Will it last? Stay tuned.

“Who Remembers?” – Quick! Name the most memorable line from last year’s final State of the Union Address from President Obama! Or, what was President George H.W. Bush’s most memorable moment in his four addresses? Who was President Clinton’s most memorable gallery guest? What? Cat got your tongue? Don’t feel bad; you are not alone. The State of the Union or joint session addresses are more political pep rallies than they are policy roadmaps. Few – if any – ever result in meaningful laws being passed, or policies being implemented.

“The Opposing Response” – I am of two minds on this. My gut says get rid of the opposing party response; my brain says that - in the interest of trying to show fairness - we need to continue it, potholes and all. It’s always awkward and forced. Remember Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), grabbing the water bottle for an odd gulp a few years back? You knew instantly that it would soon be a Saturday Night Live skit! This year it was former Governor Steve Beshear (D-KY) with a whole host of stiff, frozen, “Hollywood-extra" types, awkwardly sitting behind him. “I’m a proud Democrat, but first and foremost, I’m a proud Republican, and Democrat, and mostly, American,” Beshear said. Huh? The opposition response just never works for either party.

“The Immigrant Crime Victims” – Certainly the most controversial and contentious policies of the new President are with regard to immigration. He has made a point of showcasing U.S. citizens who have been the victims of crimes perpetrated by illegal immigrants. On Tuesday night, some of the victims’ family members were in the gallery. Three of the survivors of murder victims were African-American. Clearly, the President is trying to get beyond the perception that he cares only about white people. It underscores his point and the issue if he shows the impact of illegal immigration on a diverse population of victims.

“Jewish Community Centers” – Noting that it was the final day of Black History Month, the President called out those threatening and attacking Jewish Community Centers, and other bias crimes. "Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week's shooting [of Indian victims] in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms," Trump said. This should silence those who call Trump a Nazi, but some will likely persist.

“Blame it on Obama” – If the speech had a low point, I thought it was the veiled criticism President Trump leveled at President Obama’s performance over the past eight years. Look, that works and is fair game on the campaign trail; but we do have something of a tradition in this country where Presidents don’t bash their predecessors once in office. It’s about “politics stopping at the water’s edge” and preserving a respect for the office itself, while not demeaning the previous occupants. I just found the tone jarring and unnecessary since Obama’s not the President anymore. But, as I’ve said often, U.S. politics is now in uncharted territory.

“Trump’s Dilemma” – By so many accounts – yes, from Republicans, and even from many Democrats – the President made a very forceful and passionate speech before Congress. He looked and sounded Presidential. It played well in the 24-hour news cycle. The problem for him (and many politicians) is that good news has a very short shelf-life, akin to that of a loaf of bread. Within days, the controversy about Russia and Attorney General Jeff Sessions dominated the headlines. The bottom line: It’s tough to get and to sustain positive momentum in the nation’s capital.

“What Have You Done for Me Lately? – Politics is a “What have you done for me lately” business. People want a policy payoff. Anyone can read a teleprompter and give a good speech. It’s quite another thing to deliver bills that Congress will pass that have a positive outcome for the public at large. President Trump has touted immigration reform, job creation, and repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care) as top priorities. But where are the bills? Unless legislation is introduced in Congress – that gains traction, and ultimately an affirmative vote - then all we’ve seen and heard are empty promises.

What do you think should be the number one legislative priority of the Trump administration?
Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017 MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

“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

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