Lost in America by Al Sikes

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This last week is illustrative. Preparation is underway for a summit with Kim Jung Un, Congress appears to be in the final stages of a new banking bill, teachers are on the march from Oklahoma to Kentucky, but everything is about the President. Well not everything, but given the salacious nature of much of the associated content, I would guess that the national conversation is not about budgets or taxes or education or healthcare or much of anything but President Trump.

Generally, I have avoided writing about the President, but the force field is too strong to avoid. The Trump presidency is revealing and not just about his sexual appetites. It reveals a great deal about democracy in America, 2018.

Last week the “breaking news” revolved around James Comey and Michael Cohen, both lawyers with quite different slants. Comey sees himself as the enforcer and Cohen once called himself the “fixer”.

Comey, in an interview, said Trump was bright enough but not moral enough to be President. Moral enough is an interesting phrase. We begin by asking by whose standards?

Certainly, by the standards of Judeo-Christian values, which have been crucial in nurturing America, he is not. Unfortunately, the standards of the marketplace have largely displaced expectations voiced in churches and synagogues. America’s narrative in recent generations has been re-shaped from opportunity to expectation. The overwhelming narrative of mass entertainment and advertising is about acquisition and its purported pleasures. Indeed much of the new media is underwritten by targeted advertising—appealing even more persuasively as data schemes search for and find our weaknesses.

Now, if the dream is to acquire and the economics of acquisition are in some regards highly unequal, what should we expect? Populism. Most in America see themselves as working hard but barely keeping up. The entertainment media is constantly showing the accouterments of outsized wealth and the relatively small percentage of people who enjoy it.

In the last election, Republicans offered up a wealthy man who gleefully broke the china of conventional politics while pledging to lift up those who perceived that their burdens, at least in part, were caused by unfair trade practices and immigrant laborers. And, if you lost your home equity in the recession or your job had been shipped overseas or your community had been ravaged by a disruptive economy, you didn’t pay a lot of attention to intangible values—the tangibles trumped the intangibles.

The Democrats offered up Hillary Clinton who when out of office regularly gave speeches to Wall Street firms for very large sums of money. Bernie Sanders pointed this out. Additionally, she regularly shared her thoughts while Secretary of State using the same unsecured networks that are regularly hacked. Many who normally voted for the Democratic decided they had had enough.

I imagine a great majority would like to have a reset button for our central government’s elected leadership. It is not available. Democracy is messy and hard work. Informed and discerning citizens are needed more than new ways and times to cast ballots. Also, leadership is not a natural fruit of the political party trees. And it is getting harder and harder for more insightful leaders to use the political parties as a necessary vehicle to ultimate success. Indeed President Trump fought his Party; he had the money to do so.

If the Republican Party is to avoid becoming the party of Trump, somebody will have to seize the initiative to move it in another direction. The ensuing electoral battle will be more about leadership than checking ideological boxes. Trump, after all, had often associated with the Democratic Party and had frequently taken positions on such subjects as gun control and abortion that were at odds with Republican orthodoxy.

The Democrats need a leadership contest and it must go beyond the state-of-affairs that led it to forfeit the White House to Trump. A combination of favoring a bigger and bigger government while embracing the most aggressive agendas of its identity groups is not a winning formula.

Today the Republican Party leaders with only a few exceptions have become compliant. This is not the universe from which the challenge to Trump’s supremacy will come. It is also my guess that the Clinton and Sanders wings of the Democratic party will not produce a transformational leader.

My advice to potential candidates, stand apart while articulating new directions—scripted orthodoxies reveal a locked not agile mind. And most importantly, put away the politics of polarization; it might appeal to your base but will ill-serve you and your country.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

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Letters to Editor

  1. James Reeves says:

    This article should be published in every news outlet in the US. It is the most honest and accurate description of the media and political mess we live with every day. I just finished watching “The Post” and it is startling to realize how the media went from exposing the truth to preaching to the US the error of electing Donald Trump. The bias is so obvious: from the Andrea Mitchell’s smirk to CNN’s crazy graphics linking Stormy Daniels to Putin. It isn’t fake news, it is BAD journalism. If the populace isn’t already tired of it, they soon will be.

    • Deirdre LaMotte says:

      “It isn’t fake news, it is BAD journalism”. Do you say?

      I say this past year has been the hay day of magnificent journalism.

      At least you acknowledge what journalist are reporting is not fake. Good for you! A significant portion of our nation’s electorate enjoy remaining willingly ignorant of Trump’s grotesque and unethical conduct. That is news because he holds our nation’s highest office. If you are sick of hearing negative things about Trump perhaps next time you should not vote for a crook.

  2. Al Sikes says:

    Now that is fake news—I certainly didn’t vote for Trump.

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