The Media Adrift
Many members of the fourth estate — newspapers, broadcasters, the press and other media — are having a rocky introduction to the rough-and-tumble world of competitive business at the hands of our new president. So are many politicians.
Long grown accustomed to a stately progression of government and politics, with timeframes for progress long and disruptions rare, they are beginning to realize that they have much to learn about the ins and outs of a world they have scorned and impugned.
America, the corporation is now all of us.
Governments and politicians traditionally follow a different script; they run up trial balloons and conduct polls or listen to their constituents and stakeholders to tell them which way the wind is blowing. Corporations by contrast thrive on surprise and competitive advantage, skills rarely seen in public agencies and legislative bodies.
Within days of taking office, President Donald Trump has done exactly what any business market leader would do in similar situations — say for instance, a General Motors, Google or Apple. He’s making surprise new product introductions and catching his competition off guard.
Trump is, by weak analogy, an iPhone compared to Motorola’s flip phone. He’s rocking the boat, shaking the trees and turning new earth. The media and many politicians are being caught standing and staring like deer in a car’s headlights, incapable of understanding a world in which they’ve never participated and for which they all too frequently held levels of scorn and discourtesy as though they were virtues.
Liberal arts and political science, meet applied business.
While these worthies seek to play catch up in the face of an overwhelming assault, Trump forges ahead, staking new territory and feinting in ways seldom seen in government. His is not the art of the deal, it’s more a game of catch me if you can and have the resources to play.
For those too slow or lacking equivalent resources, the outcome is predictable: it’s game over.
Corporations are responding in kind; they are quickly adapting and adjusting to Trump’s new challenges of posture and direction. Plans that slated factories for closure are being tossed aside and jobs are being preserved in the U.S.A. That’s what pragmatic business leaders do. It’s what their shareholders insist they do.
A few of our international allies are also picking up Trump’s breadcrumbs and moving to take advantage of his actions’ draft.
Trump’s onslaught is tempering Mexico’s president, for instance. His earlier dismissals of Trump’s immigration stance are fading away as he realizes that teeth are about to sink into his country’s preferential export-based relationship with its biggest trading partner.
In similar veins, world leaders from Great Britain, France and Israel are hopping jets for Washington and shrugging away their hunkered-down postures developed over eight years of dealing with Barak Obama’s wayward policies and pronouncements.
And while the media fights the last war, it never realizes that it has been downsized, obsoleted and replaced. Fighting with last millennium’s playbook of gotcha, pin-the-scandal-on-the-target and denial, they are chasing Trump with fact-checkers incapable of formulating a response before he strikes them again.
Let’s look at the first five days: The media parsed how many people attended the inauguration, covered protests and wrote other meaningless stories while drumming Trump’s impending failure. Meanwhile, America’s new president:
- Organized his channels with Congress
- Set the stage to dismantle Obamacare
- Withdrew the U.S. from TPP and NAFTA
- Moved the Pentagon and the nation’s intelligence apparatus from its defensive posture to offensive capability
- Met with his enemies and allies — corporate heads and labor leaders
- Supported England and Israel
- Challenged China in international waters of the South China Sea
- Blocked all federal regulations in progress
- Responded to the Women’s March by attacking Planned Parenthood’s funding
- Acted to approve the Keystone and North Dakota Access pipelines
- Instituted a hiring freeze across non-essential government
It’s an impressive first few days, and it is what business does. It’s not overreach, it’s overwhelm. As president, Trump has the entire resources of our country at his disposal along with his bully pulpit. Trump has both houses of Congress, the Justice Department and America’s military might. After years of wayward drift, he is giving U.S. leaders specific tasks and clear missions to perform and resources to act.
Where other presidents sought a thousand points of light among the people, Trump is seeding a thousand actions among the tens of thousands of public employees starved for real work to do and private companies bound up in useless red tape.
With an unobstructed path ahead of him, Trump is grabbing market and forcing competitors and obstructors to reconsider and acquiesce. It is working.
I have spent decades working in the media and have had an equally long career working in business. What I am seeing is purely and simply distilled as a business-led initiative from our new president. It is the responsibility of both media and politicians to learn how to play the new — for them — game Trump long ago mastered.
As former president Calvin Coolidge famously said in the 1920s, “The chief business of the American people is business.”
And after all, in business those who fail to compete successfully become roadkill.