Febuary 2017

Charlie Mitchell

 Master of managed messages
           by Charlie Mitchell  

 
     Remember this one? Two people are standing on the shore looking at the vast ocean. One says, “Man, that’s a lot of water.” The other replies, “Yes, and that’s just the top of it.”
    Say there’s a real estate mogul. Say he’s waltzing through one of his buildings and sees two small rooms near the lobby. With a wave of his hand to one of his minions, he decrees the dividing wall be removed. This will be an improvement, the mogul says, and keeps walking.
    Initially, the project looks simple. First, engineers will determine whether the wall is structurally important. Is it holding up the floor above? If not, there’s still more than ripping out the gypsum boards and studs.
    The wall likely has power lines in it, data lines, too. They will need to be removed or relocated.
    And suppose there are water lines extending through it from the basement to the floors above? Rerouting them could be a major project.
    And the ceiling. Will it match or will an entire replacement be needed?
    Finally, suppose a mural by the mother of the building’s main tenant was painted on the wall? Will the landlord offend and lose a client?
    We live in a snippet world and there’s a new Twitterer In Chief.
    In the abstract, it’s an amazing time. Twitter itself is a mere 11 years old. Social media overall is not much older. Haley Barbour was the first Mississippi governor to have someone who followed him around to send out tweets. Few cared. Today, some members of the Mississippi Legislature use social media, but aside from state Rep. Jay Hughes, D-Oxford, almost all use the platforms to flatter themselves, which is fine, but quickly gets old for even the most admiring viewers.
    It is Donald Trump who perfected the art, at least in politics, of both gathering and holding an audience. The world stands poised to find out how President Trump will use this tool of instant global communication. So far we know he will use it to say he didn’t say things he said, and blame it on the media.
    We are witness to Trump using Twitter to control what will be news on any given day. There was a time — seems so long ago — that journalists decided what stories were important and relevant, chose how to report them and then presented their findings to their audience. Big change. Big. Most mass media messengers in 2016 found themselves fixated on whatever Trump had to say in 140 or fewer characters. As should be obvious, that let Trump set the agenda. It let a person who would normally be a source for a story to not only to write directly to the public but to co-opt and direct media reports.
    Still in the abstract — not considering conservative or liberal or even right and wrong — his election, at least in part, can be classified as another in a series of upheavals flowing from the internet and communications technology.
    Here’s the rub, and there is a rub.
    Governance is more like the ocean, more like that wall. We see what’s visible, not everything else.
    Even an infrequent visitor to the worlds of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others has to note the superficiality — how some tiny something said by one person can immediately inflame the most closely held passions of others.
    Once a person posted a photo of a 1957 Chevy and called it a 1959 Chevy. Hundreds – hundreds – of angry comments followed labeling the author a fool, an idiot, a moron. Down the list somewhere, he probably descended into communist traitor, child abuser, kitten kicker.
    Trump’s tweets engender such reactions, are perhaps calculated to raise passions.
    He is not the first new president to describe Washington as a place of mass dysfunction. In fact, it’s hard to remember one who didn’t.
    What’s different is that while his “unfiltered” messaging causes national pundits “concern” (their favorite and most-abused word), the great unknown is whether and how much emotion matters in how his tenure will play out. Some, yes. But how much?
    What Trump is likely to learn is rapid comments aside, there are not a lot of easy or quick fixes to challenges facing the republic. Twitter fuels instant passion, not instant cures.
    As one of the most flamboyant presidents ever, he has earned the chance to try to make America a better place for all of us. He says that’s what he intends to do.
    So far, though, he’s just seen the top of the ocean.