I was lucky to attend university outside of the United States. I have strong group of friends and former colleagues that reside outside of North America. In the last 48 hours, I've received numerous messages about the events playing out in U.S. airports with regards to President Trump's ban of travelers from seven Muslim majority countries. In addition to the outrage many of us hold on a personal level, equally, many of us in public relations are scratching our head with regards to why this was implemented in the way it was, which frankly, appears to have little foresight.
As we see tens of thousands of protesters in cities across the world fight for freedom and countries such as Iraq and Iran threatening retaliation, you have to ask, is Trump just that stupid or is he a genius? Is his public relations team that poor or was this the response that was intended? Coming from an international relations background I have a unique perspective, but we will get to that.
So what went wrong public relations wise? Well for starters, there was very little communication prior to the implementation of the policy to travelers. NPR has interviewed several travelers who were in-transit, mid-flight, as the policy took affect like a thief in the night. Transportation Security states that there was ambiguity in the implementation and various protocols were implemented against numerous travelers with no exact uniformity of guidelines adhered to. Some travelers were offered waivers while others were turned away and effectively deported back to their country of origin. If we accept Trump at face value and assume he was simply implementing his campaign promises, then this observation would lead us to believe there was no communications plan in place to properly implement the executive order. Of course, option two suggests that there intention was to implement it in this fashion, and that there's some exterior motive in play here.
So what should have happened? First, the order should have been fielded through legal experts and questions as to its constitutional legality should have decided which likely would have ended the decision before it began. However, let's say Trump really, really wants to do it anyways. Well, then his communications team would prepare and develop a list of responses to overcome objections. For example, why did he choose these seven nations? There's still no answer for that. Polling would have taken place to judge public reaction and regardless of the numbers, if the boss still wanted to proceed, you would ultimately try to limit liability by rolling out implementation in waves with clear and concise instructions throughout the Transportation Security Administrations organizational structure. Lastly, you would provide outreach to the media, airlines and travelers in advance to reduce scrutiny from journalists who may want to use the personal narratives of victims of the policy. What we'd want to see is the effectiveness of the policy against shady terrorist types as the story, not a mother separated from her children, crying in the airport, which is what we have. Was there absolutely any thought that went into any of this?
Answer no, and you have to admit that we have a president with a public relations department with no sagacity. Answer yes and we start to look for more nefarious answers. This is where I will digress into my understanding of world history and with which I recommend we approach hypothetically. We cannot be certain as to President Trump's expectations, only compare this behavior to historical precedent. Are we on the verge of a new ideology or are we seeing symptoms of historical human behavior being played out in a modern context?
The question then to be asked is why? Why would a Trump's public relations on the Muslim ban at airports be nearly non-existent? Why would it be implemented quickly in a communications blackout. More importantly, if you know the policy is going to be a failure then why implement it all? Assumption 1: Trump likes power- and I think everyone would agree with that. Assumption 2: The mistake we're all making is to assume that becoming president was enough for Trump. Why would he stop there? Every expectation we've had for him has been wrong because we expect him to abide by the norm, but he does not. It's us, whom are imprisoned by the paradigm of normalcy and precedent because we somehow believe something, somewhere is going to stop him (or at least limit his power). So I offer you this, what is the one event that has marked every political leader's rise to power who became a dictator? Division of the people (weak majorities). Someone once said, "to conquer a people, first disarm it's citizens", "demoralize from within". Even the American Revolution followed this same recipe. Ask any historian the formula for more power and the answer is create chaos, divide the people and then seize control. Then when everything is in disarray, and the only answer is the unthinkable, the charismatic leader comes in, says "trust me". Someone who is a self-proclaimed "genius" and an energy of great personality whose answer is the alternative. Someone who promises to save us if we accept this alternate way forward. We then permit this person powers beyond his authority so that he or she can become the the voice of the people. However, this could never happen, could it? Trump isn't that smart is he?
"I alone," Donald Trump averred in his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president, can save America, save the world, save you.
-Sydney Morning Herald 7/27/16
Is this a test of power or merely poor public relations?