Federal Communication, A National Security Imperative


Someone is trying to provoke a civil war, "soft" or otherwise, in the United States. Rep. Steve King recently stated as much and his comments received wide coverage. Certainly the insanely provocative actions of anti-Administration protesters lend credence to the theory. In just the past week or so:
Warning that "This Is Just The Beginning," Hamilton Nolan, who writes for the same publication that gave out Miller's personal phone number to the public, stated:
"Do you think that being asked to leave a restaurant, or having your meal interrupted, or being called by the public is bad? My fascism-enabling friends, this is only the beginning."
Sadly it has become fashionable in some quarters (where they don't actually know what living under a dictatorship is like) to call President Trump a "fascist" and and to target anyone who supports him as evil, as ad man Donny Deutsch recently did, stating: "If you vote for Trump you are ripping children from parents' arms."

All this yelling obscures the pesky facts: Obama himself has argued against open borders, stating that undocumented immigrants must be kept out of the country; parents and children could easily stay together by not trying to illegally enter (note: this post is not about immigration policy, but rather the need for communication about policy; this particular one has been changed); the vast majority of children are coming here absent a parent, and human smuggling is a cash crop that depends on a porous southern border to exist.

Which leads to a question: Why isn't President Trump actually explaining any of this?

Some might argue that the government is doing the best it can, but that the media is hopelessly biased for political reasons. After all, the President, his Cabinet members and his representatives are all speaking out and the media is getting to see detention facilities (which were the same under President Obama, tinfoil blankets and all) for themselves.

However, from where I sit as a longtime Federal communicator (note: I speak only for myself here; I don't work for DHS anymore; all opinions are my own) I believe there is much, much more that can be done to allay the concerns of the American public.

For one thing, the government does not seem to be listening to what people have to say -- only reacting. It is not the case that everyone who expresses concern over the plight of detained children is somehow politically motivated; far from it. In fact, Americans are a good and caring people.

Good Americans worry not only about how desperate children are faring, but also about how the government seems to constantly run roughshod over opposing points of view. They worry that "first they came for them," and if the Administration can simply do whatever it wants to these people who cannot fight back, what will happen to other people who are also deemed "undesirable?"

In its communication with the public, the Trump administration is neglecting all that. The feeling seems to be that if you listen to people's feelings carefully, and repeat back to them what their concerns are, that you are somehow validating whatever it is that they have to say.

But this is not the case.

There is another issue as well. And that is that in any organized system of administering to people's needs, mistakes will be made and abuses will occur. It's not necessary to lay out all the potential examples here, only to state the obvious: S--t happens. But the government's approach, and this is not limited to the Trump administration, is generally to try and keep things quiet as much as possible, to avoid being on the cover of The Washington Post, to avoid stirring up a hornet's nest.

Now possibly this is because "you can't imagine how deep this thing goes," and there are so many secrets that admitting even one would upset the apple cart. But my feeling is that the nature of bureaucracy itself is to preserve the bureaucracy, and to therefore err on the side of silent burrowing in, thinking that the stubbornness itself is a kind of stability.

In an environment where communication is not flowing normally and freely, where the lawyers take charge of most everything you say, and where your posture is defensive -- let's face it the public will not have a lot of confidence in you. Unless that confidence takes the form of "blind faith," because they trust you, even though they may not know all the details.

As a former co-chair of the Federal Communicators Network and a longtime member of this group, I have urged over and over again that the government simply adopt a set of quality standards for communication that promote accountability and transparency.

Nobody is saying that the government has to bend over backwards to satisfy trolls. But something significant has to change, and change now. And there are easily thousands of people in the Federal government who can be relied upon to thoughtfully and creatively explain to the American public, using words and photos and videos, tours and open forums, what the heck is going on at immigrant detention facilities.

This leads us to the next issue, which has to do with Federal communicators who work for the Administration but disagree vociferously with its policies -- which is their absolute right. At the end of the day, as someone once said to me, "If you take the king's coin you must do the king's bidding."

At work, on government time and property, if it's your job to make the case for how immigrants are being treated, then you are obligated to do that, as instructed by your chain of command. If you have concerns about the way your agency is operating, there are processes in place to raise those up the chain of command, both informally and formally, up to and including whistleblowing.

Proper Federal communication is absolutely a national security issue, and if we don't get this under control soon we will absolutely find that words turn into something much more dangerous, God forbid.
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Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. All opinions are the author's own. This post is hereby released into the public domain. Creative Commons Photo via Pixabay.

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