The Today Show President

If Donald Trump becomes POTUS you can give The Today Show a lot of credit, or blame, for it. If you turned on the show on any given week over the last year, roughly the amount of time since Trump announced his candidacy, you almost certainly saw a segment with him being interviewed, discussed or profiled. Of course he’s gotten a lot of play from other networks as well, but The Today Show has ridden him like the ratings pony he is and as a result he’s gotten enough free media attention to negate any fundraising or operational advantage that the more traditional candidates enjoyed.

Interestingly, an article in today’s Wall Street Journal points out that a tactic Trump employed in the 90s to save his businesses has morphed into a winning campaign strategy. From the article:

His success at creating a luxury brand stemmed from building his own celebrity as much as Trump Tower’s fine marble. With Ivana, a former model, by his side, he flaunted his flashy lifestyle and surrounded himself with the rich and famous…

Mr. Trump acknowledged his business was “overleveraged” but blamed falling property values for his financial woes. By then, the U.S. economy was in a tailspin and Mr. Trump couldn’t make debt payments…

Mr. Trump didn’t repay his personal debts to the bank group until 1995. But he proclaimed his comeback as early as 1992 to the media. That year, he told New Jersey gaming regulators his net worth was $437 million to $1.6 billion.

His new business model: He could do deals without taking on more debt by selling his brand and marketing skills.

It was a more conservative strategy that foreshadowed a bare-bones primary campaign relying more on free publicity than fundraising and staff. “Having built a great name and a great reputation and a great brand I guess was good,” Mr. Trump said. “And I get very high ratings…That’s a tremendous advantage. No politician ever had that.”

So there you have it. Trump may seem to be a blustering buffoon, but if nothing else he’s proven the value of a brand and he’s literally taking it to the bank. And to TV, which is where The Today Show comes in.

This morning (July 21, 2016) the show ran a segment about how many times Trump has appeared on the show since the early 80s. It was meant as a lighthearted affair, with comments about how much Matt Lauer’s hair had changed while Trump’s hadn’t, but it inadvertently drove home the point that, to date, the show has had as much to do with Trump’s campaign success as anything else. It also can’t be a coincidence that it’s the flagship show of the network that aired Trump’s greatest branding coup, aka The Apprentice.

While it’s not The Today Show’s job to play gatekeeper of the presidency – after all, this is a show that will transition from a serious news story directly to a segment about celebrity hairstyles – it is one of the most watched shows in the country on a daily basis so it provides a seriously influential platform to anyone who appears. You take away Trump’s appearances on the show over the last year and I’m willing to bet his vote count would have been cut by 10% or more. That’s a BHAG (big hairy as guess) on my part, but I’m sure the number would be significant.

What does this mean for the country? In the short term, it means we have the weirdest race for POTUS in modern history. In the long term, not much. There just aren’t the many orange-haired narcissists who have a personal brand they can utilize at a unique point in history when an angry electorate has on the kind of beer goggles that make that kinda guy look attractive.

SMH

Now that we’re entering the height of the election-year silly season here in the old USofA I find myself shaking my head quite a bit, but not at the candidates. They are politicians, after all, so I expect them to amaze and disappoint me with their character flaws, slips of tongue, dissembling, hyperbolic ranting and all the rest of the unpleasant things that politicians do. No, my head shaking is prompted mostly by other citizens and their reasoning, or lack thereof, when it comes to evaluating the candidates.

The easiest case to point to is what’s going on with the presidential election. Almost everyone is unhappy that they have to pick between Trump and Clinton, and if you ask them many will explain why they’re picking their candidate by detailing why the other candidate is a bigger POS than the one they’re voting for. That’s their right, but I have to tell you that the one argument I have a hard time swallowing is the one I hear from many of my more conservative friends. It goes something like this:

“I really don’t like Trump or Clinton, but I’m gonna vote for Trump because at least he tells it like it is. Clinton’s a criminal – she should be in jail after all that crap with her classified emails – and she’s a liar. And Trump’s a successful deal maker and we need someone like that in the White House at a time like this.”

Believe me, I get not liking Clinton. She’s a truly unlikable candidate for any variety of reasons, not the least of which is her propensity to make everyone think that she thinks she’s better and smarter than everyone else. But what I can’t understand is how these folks think that Trump isn’t a liar or how his business dealings haven’t been as shady as Clinton’s past ventures. The answer is probably that the vast majority of people just haven’t done much research and are accepting talking points being tossed out there by the GOP spin masters or Trump himself.

That’s why I’m hoping this article about the guy who was the ghost writer for Trump’s Art of the Deal gets some serious attention. It’s truly frightening in many ways, and should cause anyone who thinks Trump is somehow a more moral/ethical choice than Clinton to question their own judgment. Here’s just a few samples:

When Schwartz began writing “The Art of the Deal,” he realized that he needed to put an acceptable face on Trump’s loose relationship with the truth. So he concocted an artful euphemism. Writing in Trump’s voice, he explained to the reader, “I play to people’s fantasies. . . . People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and it’s a very effective form of promotion.” Schwartz now disavows the passage. “Deceit,” he told me, is never “innocent.” He added, “ ‘Truthful hyperbole’ is a contradiction in terms. It’s a way of saying, ‘It’s a lie, but who cares?’ ” Trump, he said, loved the phrase…

But Schwartz believes that Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.” He said, “That’s why he so prefers TV as his first news source—information comes in easily digestible sound bites.” He added, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.” During the eighteen months that he observed Trump, Schwartz said, he never saw a book on Trump’s desk, or elsewhere in his office, or in his apartment…

In “The Art of the Deal,” Trump portrays himself as a warm family man with endless admirers. He praises Ivana’s taste and business skill—“I said you can’t bet against Ivana, and she proved me right.” But Schwartz noticed little warmth or communication between Trump and Ivana, and he later learned that while “The Art of the Deal” was being written Trump began an affair with Marla Maples, who became his second wife. (He divorced Ivana in 1992.) As far as Schwartz could tell, Trump spent very little time with his family and had no close friends. In “The Art of the Deal,” Trump describes Roy Cohn, his personal lawyer, in the warmest terms, calling him “the sort of guy who’d be there at your hospital bed . . . literally standing by you to the death.” Cohn, who in the fifties assisted Senator Joseph McCarthy in his vicious crusade against Communism, was closeted. He felt abandoned by Trump when he became fatally ill from aids, and said, “Donald pisses ice water.” Schwartz says of Trump, “He’d like people when they were helpful, and turn on them when they weren’t. It wasn’t personal. He’s a transactional man—it was all about what you could do for him.”

You should read the full article – it’s truly stunning.

And I’ll leave you with this thought: If we have to vote for an asshole, shouldn’t we at least vote for the most competent asshole? If that’s the case then I truly don’t understand how you can vote for Trump. And if you just can’t stomach Clinton then maybe it’s time to check out Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, or start a write-in campaign. Either of those propositions are better than going with His Hairness.

The Victims of Memes

There are many things to love about social media, among them the ability to easily stay connected with friends and family, and there are many things to loath about social media, among them the ability to be repeatedly annoyed and angered by your friends and family and their friends a family. This is especially true when it comes to “big” events, like elections or mass shootings, that stoke emotions and raise the heat in the proverbial kitchen. Those events also tend to motivate “meme” makers to come up with a combination of images and text that, purportedly, reflect the beliefs of a segment of society and are easily shareable by members of the “tribe.” Here’s an example that was recently shared on Facebook:

Memes

If you hate Hillary Clinton, or consider yourself a conservative, you might look at this and nod your head in agreement and then with less thought than you’d give to picking the color of socks you’re going to wear you click “share” and let the world know you think this sentiment is right on. Fair enough; you’re entitled to your opinion. However, if you unpack this meme do you really think it’s fair?

Is she filthy rich? The average American would say so. Is she white? Our eyes tell us she is. Is she nominally Christian? Depends on who gets to determine where the line is between nominal and fully invested. If you think you’re a true Christian and are qualified to make that judgment then please remind yourself of the whole “throwing the first stone” thing. Does she get donations from big corporations? Undoubtedly, but who doesn’t in her position? Voted for the Iraq War? I assume there’s a record of it, and I seem to remember she did.

Now here comes the trouble, “I am everything liberals hate, and yet I am the one they want. If that’s not mental illness, what is it?” These two sentences epitomize what’s wrong with our state of discourse in this country, and why memes like this truly suck. Some points:

  1. Painting everyone in a group with a broad brush with a definitive statement like this is just wrong. I guarantee you there are plenty of liberals who don’t hate rich people, or white people (hell, there are a LOT of liberal white people) or someone voting for a misbegotten war. Just as there are plenty of conservatives who DO hate rich people, white people and people who voted for a misbegotten war.
  2. Ridiculing people on the other side of your debate will almost certainly create acrimony. Simply put, we can debate gun control reasonably up until the point we start calling each other names or questioning the others intellect or morals. Then we just have a fight and nothing constructive gets done.
  3. Reflexively sharing these things just makes the sharer look lazy. Have a point? Make it yourself. And this isn’t as much about the funny “shares” that you’ll see around an issue, unless of course it’s funny because it belittles those on the other side of the table. Here’s a simple test: if the meme is funny because you’re laughing AT your opposite, then it’s only funny to you. If you’re laughing WITH them, then it’s probably okay, but ridiculing your opposite only means you’re making yourself a part of the problem rather than the solution.

Think this is an over reaction? You’re free to disagree, but I would argue that every one of these memes adds one more pixel to the mural of distrust we are painting on the giant wall that our country is quickly becoming.

 

Eating Someone Else’s Cooking to Improve Your Own

When you finish your work day or work week what do you do with your free time? Do you spend it doing for free something you get paid for at work? Probably not, so you might wonder why someone whose full time job is working for a nonprofit organization would spend any of his precious personal time volunteering for other nonprofits. Well, in my case there are multiple reasons, like what purpose that nonprofit serves or what constituency it is helping, but one of the more selfish reasons is that it helps me identify areas in which I can improve at the day job.

A perfect example of what I’m talking about is a role I’m filling this year for a national trade association with which my organization is affiliated. I knew going in that it would be time consuming, but now that I’m halfway through the year I can tell you that I didn’t realize the half of it. There have been far more conference calls, emails, webinars and face-to-face meetings than I dreamed were possible. There have been unanticipated issues that have required extra meetings and consultations. And, of course, there have been “people being people” issues that have required a lot of attention and more than a little finessing. In other words, your average volunteer role in a trade association.

So how is this helping with my day-job performance? It’s reminding me what our volunteer leaders go through with our organization, and it’s making apparent the things I can do to make their lives easier. Here’s just a small sample:

  1. Communicate early and often, but not too often.
  2. Remember that they have day jobs and family lives, so they may not be able to respond to requests immediately and they might not remember something they’ve committed to doing, and thus you need to remind them. That’s why the first part of point #1 is so important.
  3. Make sure you save “urgent” messages for when you really need them. If everything is urgent, then they begin to believe that nothing is really urgent OR you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s why the second part of point #1 is so important.
  4. Be aware that at some point volunteers are going to feel unappreciated. Maybe not by you or your staff, but by other volunteers and the complainers in particular. The other volunteers don’t see all the time you’re putting into your role – the phone calls to discuss agenda items, the debates and decisions regarding organizational policies, the preparation for meetings, the follow up to meetings, the meetings to plan meetings, etc. After a while it grinds you down, and at some point the complaint or offhand comment from another volunteer threatens to push you over the edge. It’s amazing how a simple “thank you” or “you’re doing a great job” from someone, ANYONE, helps get you past that “f*&^ it” moment and makes all the work seem justified. It might be a good idea to have someone make that call to your leaders (of course you can do it yourself, but it’s better coming from a peer).

Much like a chef benefits from sampling other chefs’ cooking, those of us who work for volunteer led organizations can learn a lot by volunteering for other organizations. I’ve truly benefited from being the volunteer who works with staff and observing how they do things, taking notes on things they do that I don’t – and should – and noting things I wish they would do, or not do.

Here’s an interesting learning point: I’m hesitant to share with them the things I wish they would do, or not do, because I don’t want to seem like I’m telling them how to do their jobs. Yet, I’d very much appreciate my own volunteers giving me that same feedback and now I worry that they won’t/don’t for the very same reason. Thus, probably my biggest takeaway is that I need to actively solicit their feedback.

As for my fellow volunteers/members I can say without hesitation what my most significant takeaway is: no matter what I do, or how I do it, someone is going to disagree with me or dislike what I’m doing. That feedback loop is a constant and it can wear you out, so it behooves me to remember that my volunteer leaders are experiencing the exact same thing.

Note to self: increase my budget for “counseling” sessions at local watering holes.

Father’s Day Gift Ideas

Kristen Daukas compiled a list of Father’s Day gift ideas for this year – some of it on her own and some from recommendations she solicited from dads she knows, including yours truly. Here’s my favorites from her list:

Here’s one from my own experience. My better half got me the SkyRoll on Wheels for Father’s Day a couple of years ago and it has completely transformed my business travel life. Easily the best piece of luggage I’ve ever had.

wheels-home-page-product-view

Addressing Homelessness

At the day job I work for a trade association that represents the apartment industry, thus the companies I work with are on the front lines of our nation’s housing situation. You may not be aware of it, but we do indeed have a housing situation that can be best summed up as this: we have too many people who don’t make enough money to pay for the housing that’s available, and/or we don’t have enough housing units that are affordable for people at the bottom of the income scale. Even worse, we have a LOT of people who, thanks to any number of life events, lose their housing and thus end up living in flop houses, cars, tents or under a bridge.

Because apartment owners and managers provide over a third of the housing in the U.S, and a majority of the rental housing, they are often looked to for a solution to the problem of affordability and homelessness. It would be great if they could snap their fingers and solve the problem, but due to the complexity of the issue (static income, increases in the costs of everything from health care to food, lack of housing inventory in general, etc.) this is not something housing providers can solve on their own. That’s not to say that people in the industry aren’t trying, and a perfect example is a woman named Lori Trainer who has been working for years down in Florida to address homelessness in her community. (Here’s a link to a video about some of her work, and I’ll embed it below as well). She just wrote an article for Multifamily Insiders titled The Story Behind the Sign that helps put homelessness in perspective. Here’s an excerpt:

We’ve all seen the homeless person with the sign on the side of the road and when we do, many people think these thoughts.    What the people offering these judgments don’t realize is that the overwhelming majority of people don’t “choose” to be homeless.  In fact, nearly 50% of the homeless in America are working.  Why are they homeless then?  Well, that is the “564,788 person question” (the number of homeless on the street each night according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness).

The causes of homelessness range from sad to tragic.  Job loss, foreclosures, divorce and natural disasters such as the tragedies we are seeing in the Midwest and in Canada are a few examples.  These storm victims certainly didn’t choose to be homeless or do anything wrong but they are indeed homeless now.  If their insurance isn’t perfect, takes a year to work out the details or worse yet, doesn’t pay, what do those families do?  They have lost everything; their homes, belongings and jobs.  They are now homeless…

Another very prevalent and sad demographic in the homeless arena are families.  Approximately 206,268 were identified in the last count. Divorce, domestic violence, death, single parents and low wage workers are all in this category.  Children are resilient but often suffer irreparable damage when forced to live in vehicles, shelters or motels for weeks or months on end.  60 Minutes did a great job highlighting this epidemic:https://youtu.be/L2hzRPLVSm4   (Be sure to have tissues handy!)

Then Lori goes on to point out that there are many, many more people who are just a misstep away from becoming homeless themselves.

Many people think it could never happen to them.  But the truth is that one out of three people are two paychecks away from being homeless.  There are 12 million renters pay more than 50% of their annual income for housing and 37 million people living in poverty in America.  Simple fact, a minimum wage worker cannot support a household and pay rent.  There is a critical shortage of affordable housing in the US and, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition; approximately 200,000 units are destroyed annually.  That combined with the “aging out” tax credit population and the mile long waiting lists for section 8 vouchers, we have the perfect storm.

One of the initiatives we are working on at the national level in the industry is to identify the programs that industry groups are participating in at the local level around the country. For instance, my employer is working with Partners Ending Homelessness to help match their clients with available apartment units in Guilford County. What we’ve found is that like many things in life, the concept is simple but the implementation is complex. Still, we’ve seen progress and we will continue working because this is an issue that will be with us for the foreseeable future.

That’s just one initiative in one community, but that’s the kind of effort we’re going to need in every community around the country to address homelessness, because quite frankly this is not an issue that can be solved from Washington. What our national leadership CAN do is address the big picture issues that underlie homelessness, including:

  • An economy that is not providing adequate income for average workers
  • A health care “system” that bankrupts some, and financially cripples many
  • A crumbling infrastructure that threatens all of us
  • A byzantine regulatory structure (think HUD & EPA) that makes affordable housing development a challenge

Another chief culprit is an under-performing, and some would say under-valued, education system, but that’s not just a Washington issue so let’s not throw it entirely on them. The point is that homelessness is the most severe symptom of an ailing nation. If we are truly measured by how we treat the least of us, then as a nation and a community we have a lot we need to do to heal ourselves.

Here’s the video about the effort in Florida that Lori’s been a big part of:

Proactivism

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last couple of months you’ve heard about a small issue we’ve had here in North Carolina. It’s a piece of state legislation called HB2, aka “The Bathroom Bill”, and it has actually grown into a national issue thanks to the combination of national media attention, acts of protest by well known companies and entertainers and the recognition by many politicians that it is a perfect “wedge issue” for this monumental election year. From amidst the increasingly nasty din that surrounds the issue has emerged a fleetingly rare voice of sanity, and it came to my attention from, of all places, an issue of a trade newsletter I receive called Associations Now, that has a piece about a group that is encouraging musicians to use their shows to protest HB2 instead of cancelling their shows outright in protest:

As an alternative, a pair of activists launched North Carolina Needs You, which encourages musicians to hold shows in the state and use them as platforms to speak out against the measure, known as HB2.

The initiative was born when Grayson Haver Currin, a prominent North Carolina music journalist and onetime codirector of the state’s Hopscotch Music Festival, came up with the strategy after Springsteen canceled. Currin and his wife, Tina, created the campaign out of concern that, in the long run, artist boycotts would do more harm than good.

Almost immediately, the band Duran Duran, which had struggled with whether to cancel its show, collaborated on Currin’s initiative and decided to perform, using the show to draw attention to the cause by bringing critics of the law onstage and by donating money to political nonprofits working to fight the law.

The website also found quick support from those nonprofits, including Equality NC, Progress NC Action, and the state chapters of the NAACP and the ACLU…

The artists choosing to stay have received positive notices from music-industry peers who are directly affected by the law.

The band Against Me!—whose lead singer, Laura Jane Grace, publicly came out as transgender in 2012—announced that it would keep its May 15 show in Durham on the schedule specifically to protest the law. The band is encouraging attendees to use gender-neutral bathrooms at the concert venue.

While it’s easy to understand where acts like Bruce Springsteen are coming from when they cancel shows, this approach seems much more productive. Hopefully more voices like the Currins’ will emerge here in North Carolina and we can get back to some level of sanity.