Blog, Politics

Three Worldviews Fighting for Our Hearts, Minds, and Souls

Originally published March 20, 2017 on The Huffington Post

Three wildly different worldviews are fighting for our hearts, minds, and souls: 1. The Populist Revolt, 2. The Elitist Revolt, and 3. We Need to Heal and Come Together.

The Populist Revolt is of course what propelled Trump into the Presidency. It’s marked by extreme anger and distrust of elites and government. It’s also fueled by intense feelings of anger, despair, and hopelessness due to the loss of well-paying jobs and the respect that they once brought. At its core is the intense anger towards elites who have nothing but contempt for working class people. Give Trump a fair chance is the prevailing mantra. He’s their only hope.

The Elitist Revolt is just recently emerged. It’s based on the fact that the Red States receive back far more in federal dollars for support than what they initially paid out in taxes. In short, the Blue States are footing the bill of the Red States, who of course are anything but grateful in return. The Elitist Revolt actually hopes that President Trump and his Republican cronies eliminate federal taxes altogether so that they will then be free to set up their own healthcare plans, social support systems, etc. In effect, the Red States can all go to hell because The Elitist Revolt doesn’t care anymore about “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”. Oppose and resist Trump in every way possible is the rallying cry.

The We Need to Heal and Come Together worldview says that it’s fundamentally wrong to lump all the members of the Red States together and denigrate them as a whole. They all don’t think and act alike anymore than any group does. The different states basically need one another precisely because they are so different. What we gain by being part of a united whole is so great that it greatly outweighs the losses if the states go their separate ways.

Depending on one’s worldview, it’s all-too-easy to dismiss the others. But this is precisely what we must not do, for each contains a substantial element of truth. To appreciate this, it’s necessary to feel, and not just understand abstractly, the emotions that underlie each worldview. Both The Populist and The Elitist Revolt are fueled by anger due to the pains of enormous loss. Each feels hugely disrespected by the other. Overcoming disrespect is the onerous task facing the We Need to Heal and Come Together worldview. Given the tremendous rancor and deep polarization, it feels that it’s virtually impossible.

Those who subscribe to the Elitist Revolt feel that only way in which the proponents of The Populist Revolt will come to their senses is by being deeply burned by President Trump and the Republican Party, for example with respect to health care. In comparison, those who subscribe to the Populist Revolt feel that the only way in which the proponents of The Elitist Revolt will come to their senses is by being forced to face again and again that they are no longer in control.

It’s precisely because we are so bitterly divided that We Need to Heal and Come Together. Senator Bernie Sanders shows that it can be done. By going into West Virginia and listening honestly and respectfully to those who voted for Donald Trump, only then could he counter some of Trump’s ideas and those of the Republican Party. Indeed, nearly everyone he spoke to was deeply afraid of being thrown off the Accordable Care Act.

If we were truly smart, we would send Secretary Clinton and Senators Graham, McCain, and Sanders on a joint nation-wide tour to promote We Need to Heal and Come Together.

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Blog, Media + Politics, Politics

The Ripping Point

Originally published February 24, 2017 on The Huffington Post

Years ago, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the concept of The Tipping Point. This occurs when a system suddenly moves into a dramatically different state. I believe we are confronting a far worse condition, The Ripping Point. We are in a very real danger of ripping apart as a nation. Worst yet, I don’t see any way out.

Differences are the essence of democracy. But some are injurious to its very existence and foundation. Take the issues of a free press and an independent judiciary.

To my knowledge, Trump is the only President who has called the press “The Enemy of the People.” In defending him, Republicans are at best disingenuous. At worst, along with Trump, they are suffering from a collective thought disorder: the inability to distinguish fantasy from reality, indeed to make up whatever reality suits them. When they try to excuse his odious remarks by saying that all Presidents have criticized the press for being overly critical of them, they not only distort the truth, but reality itself. It’s one thing to be critical of the press, which at some point all Presidents have been, but quite another to delegitimize it as an institution, which Trump has done repeatedly.

The same goes for the judiciary. One is always entitled to be critical of a court’s decisions, but not to defame individual judges or the entire judicial system.

The tearing down of the basic institutions of democracy begins with the corruption of thought itself.

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Blog, Politics

Trump: A Master of Deflection

Originally published February 20, 2017 on The Huffington Post

Trump is a master of deflection. Indeed, he’s made it into an art form.

Deflecting a crisis onto something or someone else is one of the primary forms of damage containment. It’s used primarily when someone who is responsible for a crisis wants to distance him or herself from it, and thereby not own up to it.

Thus, Trump wants to blame the intelligence communities and the media—what else is new?—for leaking information about Michael Flynn.

Seen in this light, Trump’s incessant use of Twitter takes on a very different meaning. He doesn’t use Twitter primarily as a means of communication. He uses it to deflect attention away from his self-inflicted misdeeds.

If there is anything good, deflection eventually comes back to cause an even worse crisis for those who used it to protect themselves from an initial crisis. In short, deflection deflects back!

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Blog, Crisis Management, Politics

Denial and the World of Trump

Originally published February 16, 2017 on The Huffington Post

Since the Tylenol poisonings in 1982, I’ve worked both as a researcher and consultant in the modern field of Crisis Management. Indeed, I am greatly honored that I’m regarded as one of the field’s principal founders.

One of the earliest findings of my colleagues and I was that there were direct organizational counterparts to each of the Freudian Defense Mechanisms. (If Freud had accomplished nothing more than his discovery of Defense Mechanisms, it would have been more than sufficient to assure his lasting fame.) For every one of the classic Defense Mechanisms that Freud discovered that individuals used to protect themselves from realities that were too painful to face, there was a corresponding form that organizations used to protect their collective psyches from unpleasant realities as well.

Most important of all was the finding that there was a powerful correlation between the numbers of Defense Mechanisms an organization used and the attention it devoted to Crisis Management. In brief, the more that an organization denied that something bad could happen to it, the far less money and time it gave to Crisis Management. As a result, it didn’t do nearly as well in responding to major crises, which were inevitable, than those organizations whose denial was significantly lower. Further, because they acknowledged the all-too-real possibility of major crises, those organizations that took Crisis Management seriously picked up problems and fixed them before they became major crises. As a result, they were significantly more profitable. In short, Proactive Crisis Management is not only the right, ethical thing to do to protect an organization, its employees and surrounding communities from harm, but it’s supremely good for business as well.

The point is that while Defense Mechanisms were originally discovered as a phenomenon that applied solely to individuals, they are not confined to individuals alone. They apply as much, if not more, to organizations and whole societies.

Seven basic types of Defense Mechanisms are as follows:
1. Denial
2. Disavowal
3. Idealization
4. Grandiosity
5. Projection
6. Intellectualization
7. Compartmentalization.

Denial most often occurs when people are subject to severe traumatic events such as the sudden and senseless death of a child, violent sexual attacks, war, etc. The event is typically so painful and threatening that the mind shuts down completely and refuses to acknowledge it at all. Disavowal is when the mind acknowledges a painful and threatening event but reduces its scope and magnitude such that it’s bearable. Thus, a large, threatening wildcat becomes a small, tame kitten. Idealization occurs when the mind convinces itself that good people don’t face serious threats. Therefore, the wildcat can’t really be there. Grandiosity is the feeling that one is superhuman and can meet any threat. Projection is when one blames others for something bad. Therefore, someone deliberately put the wildcat there. Intellectualization is when one believes that there are no valid reasons for the wildcat to be there. Compartmentalization is when one part of the mind sees the wildcat, and other parts smell and even feel it, but all of the various parts are not put together, for if they were then one would have to acknowledge a threat that one is powerless to overcome.

In organizations, Denial takes the form, “We’re invulnerable; nothing bad can happen to us.” Disavowal is, “Whatever happens, its impacts are negligible.” Idealization takes the form, “Good organizations don’t have major problems.” Grandiosity is the feeling, “We’re too big and powerful to be taken down by anything!” Projection is, “Someone else is to blame for our problems.” Intellectualization assumes the form, “The probabilities of something bad happening to us are too small to worry about.” Compartmentalization is the feeling, “Something bad cannot affect our whole system; in other words, it can be contained.”

In the case of Trump, the Defense Mechanisms are shared between him and his followers. Denial is prominent in Trump’s refusal to believe the assessments of the national intelligence agencies that the Russians hacked the Democratic Party and that it played a part, however small, in the election. Denial is also present in his supporters’ refusal to acknowledge that Trump is in every respect unfit to be president. It’s present as well in the persistent inability to accept that old-line manufacturing jobs and industries are not coming back. Disavowal is paramount when his followers minimize the dangers of a Trump presidency. Grandiosity and Idealization are prominent in Trump’s persistent claims that only he and he alone can fix our enormous problems. Projection is a persistent aspect of Trump’s character in that he blames everyone but himself for any problems. And, Intellectualization occurs when Trump and his followers explain away all of his awful comments as things not to be taken seriously.

This is not to say that Trump’s opponents didn’t engage in their own forms of Defense Mechanisms when all along they denied that he would ever get the nomination, let alone be elected. And, living as I do in California, we are in denial by believing that we somehow live in a protected bubble, even though we are greatly dependent on federal funds, which Trump could play a major role in cutting off.

But most of all, one is in deep denial if one believes that facts alone will cause someone to face reality. This is a prime case of Intellectualization.

No, impersonal facts alone cannot do the job. Instead, calm, trusted voices are needed to make unpleasant facts and realities palatable. Whether formally trained or not, trusted voices are in effect society’s therapists. We’ve never needed them more than we do now.

If not, then reality intrudes as it always does eventually. But the greater the denial, the more and the greater the unpleasant reality that’s needed to finally break through.

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Blog, Politics

For And Against Trump: A Bitter Dialectic That Is Literally Tearing Us Apart

Originally published February 7, 2017 on the Huffington Post

We are caught in the throes of the fiercest dialectic imaginable. It not only shows no signs of letting up, but of getting worse everyday. In a word, it’s literally tearing us apart.

Let me state both sides as briefly and as strongly as I can.

For Trump
Those who support President Trump generally feel harassed if not threatened by those who say they are liberals and thereby supposedly tolerate different points of view, but really don’t. At best, they are liberals in name only. Basically, they are hypocrites. They are constantly complaining about everything that doesn’t go their way. They are hysterical whiners who can’t accept the fact that they lost the election fair and square. They are unwilling and unable to give Trump a fair chance. As a result, they are lacking in fundamental fairness. They deserve to be feared, if not loathed altogether. They are incapable of understanding that those of us who voted for Trump did so in spite of his bluster and coarse language, which we often wish he didn’t do and use because it gets in the way of his basic message. We voted for him because of his demonstrated business successes. We took him at his word to Make America Great Again! Who else can drain the swamp in Washington and bring back good paying American jobs? Hillary? No way! The Clintons are interested only in themselves! They cannot be trusted!

Against Trump
Trump’s constant denigration of women, Hispanics, blacks, Muslims, Secretary Clinton, shrill bombastic tone, offensive attitudes, threats against other countries and those who don’t agree with him are cause not to give him a chance. Indeed, he’s already blown it. In short, he fills us liberals with fear and loathing. His early actions against Muslims only confirm our fears. In addition, the threat of war and violence are all-too-real and constant. All of the above are grounds for impeachment. Trump is supremely unfit to be president because of his temperament and lack of qualifications. Indeed, he suffers from serious mental illnesses. His constant shifting back and forth between whatever reality suits him at the moment is strong evidence of psychosis. And, narcissistic personality disorder doesn’t even begin to describe what ails him. Who else tweets at 3am when he or she is most alone and therefore most afraid of being ignored? Who else but a sociopath feels no guilt about stiffing his workers?

Any Way Out?
As they are stated, it’s impossible for the diehard proponents of either side to come together. But then the basic purpose of a dialectic is not for either of the two highly antagonistic positions. It’s for those who can extract a kernel of truth, or understanding, however small, from either side. Thus, even though I am heavily in the Against Trump side of the dialectic, the For Trump side helps me not just to understand but to feel the intense anger of those who voted for Trump have towards a system that has not only ignored them, but humiliated them continually in the worst ways imaginable. They are treated as if they were than nothing more the punch lines of poor jokes.

I blame myself and my fellow Democrats for abandoning our commitment to working people. We certainly don’t have to agree with everything that they say and do, let alone any group, but we do have to understand their pain. Without this, we are truly lost.

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Blog, Politics

A Serious Exercise In Damage Control: Protecting Ourselves From The Crisis Prone President

Originally published January 27, 2017 on the Huffington Post

By virtue of his endless stream of hateful tirades, constant campaigning, pettiness, deep character flaws, repeated refusals to share his tax returns, and to separate himself clearly from his countless businesses, President Trump has earned the dubious distinction of being The Crisis Prone President. And, this is only his first week in office! The major question is, “What we can do to protect ourselves from the never-ending crises he’s capable of fomenting?”

Damage Control Mechanisms are generally acknowledged as one of the most important parts of Crisis Management. Nevertheless, a great deal of misunderstanding surrounds them, the prime one being that they exist primarily to contain the damage after a major crisis has occurred. While it’s certainly true that damage containment is one of their main purposes, more importantly, Damage Control Mechanisms basically exist to prevent major crises from occurring in the first place. This is precisely why they must be invented far in advance. It’s also why creating them in the heat of battle is self-defeating.

The classic example is BP’s oil spill in the Gulf. Millions of gallons of crude spewed before the well was finally capped. Sadly, the environment continued to suffer damage long afterwards. The disaster revealed the folly of not having well-tested and maintained Damage Control Mechanisms prior to being allowed to operate in highly sensitive areas of the world.

Given their extreme importance, how do President Trump and his advisors fare with respect to Damage Control? Are they acting in accordance with best principles, or are they instead in violation of them?

Physical Containment is one of the major forms of Damage Control. One creates an actual physical barrier that walls off and thus keeps a crisis such as a massive uncontrolled fire or oil spill from spreading and doing damage to other unaffected parts of an organization, sensitive regions, and even whole societies. In President Trump’s case, his repeated failures to “build a wall” between his far flung business interests and the Presidency is not only in direct violation of the whole idea of Physical Containment, but it actually increases the chances of a major crisis due to direct conflicts of interest. What’s particularly onerous is that the particular type of crisis is already well known. There is thus no excuse for not preparing well in advance.

Another major form of Damage Control is Dilution or Dispersion. In this case, one deliberately takes steps to decrease the concentration of a toxic chemical, or more generally, neutralize a potentially dangerous situation. It also includes Deflecting a crisis onto another part of the environment or party. Trump constantly uses this tactic. He is constantly shifting blame for his own self-created problems (berating the intelligence agencies, treating women and minorities with derision, etc.) onto others such as the “crooked news media.”

One of the more important and positive forms of Damage Control is Openness and Transparency. It preempts a crisis before it takes root. In Trump’s case, he would have to reveal his tax returns, which he adamantly refuses to do, thus adding to the perception that he has serious issues to hide.

Finally, Admitting Mistakes, Accepting Blame, and Responsibility are also critical. They are key in establishing and restoring trust. But then Trump rarely if ever apologizes for anything. And of course, his base doesn’t want him to apologize for that would mean that he’s not the all-powerful superman they need him to be.

In short, the best Damage Control is preventative, proactive in the best sense. It is not reactive, or after the fact.

Against this, what does Trump consistently do? First, he’s heavily (“bigly”) into denial. Instead of acknowledging facts, he constantly makes up whatever suits him, never mind that it conflicts what he just said a moment ago. Denial thus leaves no room for Openness and Transparency, Admitting Mistakes, Accepting Responsibility, etc. He also constantly attacks, bullies, demonizes, insults, mocks, and threatens his enemies real and imagined. He thereby constantly makes crises for himself and others. To protect his overly fragile ego, he uses the most primitive defense mechanisms such as sharply dividing the world into good and bad guys. And, God help you if you’re a bad guy.

In sum, Trump is a living, breathing veritable “swamp” of crises. Our only protection is to engage in pre-emptive Damage Control.

Of course The Constitution is our ultimate safeguard and form of Damage Control. But as always, it’s people who enforce The Constitution. That’s why the women’s marches across America are only a beginning. There need to be mass protests every day. For instance, ordinary citizens who are in serious danger of losing health care need to make their faces and bodies known. They need to besiege the halls of Congress wearing signs, “Without Health Care, I am certain to die! Is that what you want to do to me?”

And yes, the Democratic Party must relearn how to reach out to a broader base with a more inclusive message. It must demonstrate sincerely that it not only cares about the harsh lives of those who voted for Trump, but that it can truly help them.

In short, we have to do everything in our power to Neutralize Trump.

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Blog, Crisis Management, Politics

The Crisis Prone Presidency

Originally published 12/15/16 of the Huffington Post

Those of us who study corporate crises distinguish between Crisis Prone versus Crisis Prepared individuals and organizations. Crisis Prone individuals and organizations put their primary energies into all kinds of faulty rationalizations that allow them to persist in the false belief that they will never have a crisis: “we’re too big and powerful to have major crises;” “crises only happen to others;” “if a crisis happens, someone will come to our rescue,” “there’s no need to prepare for what’ll never happen.” They are prime cases of denial writ large.

In sharp contrast, Crisis Prepared individuals are constantly probing themselves and their organizations for dangerous rationalizations that keep them from preparing for worst-case scenarios. They accept that all crises are preceded by a steady stream of early warning signals that show that a major crisis is highly likely. As a result, they do all they can to put in place specific procedures that will pick up early warning signals. In this way, they hopefully head off major crises before they actually happen, the best form of Crisis Management. Nonetheless, since even with the best of preparations crises still occur, they constantly work to improve and maintain Damage Containment mechanisms. They know that the worst time to set up Damage Containment is during the heat of actual crises. As a result, they are absolutely ruthless in rooting dangerous rationalizations that prevent them from being Crisis Prepared.

My colleagues and I have shown that Crisis Prepared organizations experience significantly fewer crises, are substantially more profitable, have fewer lawsuits and injuries, and lose fewer days in resuming operations than Crisis Prone Organizations. In short, Proactive Crisis Management is not only the right ethical thing to do, but it’s good for business.

Against this backdrop, President Elect Trump fares extremely poorly. In failing to set up a true blind trust, he’s setting himself up for major political conflicts of interest. From the standpoint of Crisis Management, a blind trust is one of the major forms of Damage Containment for potential financial and personal crises. It helps ensure that one’s political office will not be used for financial gain. But then, in order to set up a blind trust, President Elect Trump would have to own up to the very real possibilities of major conflicts of interest. In a word, he would have to stop engaging in denial, which given his personality is one of the most difficult things for him to do.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Too many of his cabinet appointments have already set off hailstorms of protest. They are sure to be embroiled in crises for years.

Trump’s constant use of Twitter is nothing but sorry form of preemptive Damage Control. Instead of heading off crises, it only exacerbates them. So do all his preposterous claims, for instance that he actually won the popular vote because of all the illegal votes that were cast for Hillary.

I expect Trump to stumble from one crisis to others again and again. (China?) Of course, none of this really matters to his base. If anything, they want him to create major crises in order to “drain the Washington swamp.” But what happens if all his promises to bring back jobs and help the middle class only end up helping him and his business cronies? Do we really expect the case of Carrier to be easily replicated?

Are we prepared to confront the crisis when so many downtrodden workers realized that they have been royally betrayed?

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