In recent days I’ve been watching, listening and reading about the latest trials and travails regarding Russia and the Trump administration; simultaneously biting my tongue on commenting and chomping at the bit to weigh in. So without bringing politics into it (if that is at all possible, really), let’s take a look at what has happened from a crisis communications standpoint. I’ll refrain from calling it “adversity management” as no adversity has been at all managed to date.
For context and precedent I would highly suggest picking up a copy of American University political historian Alan Lichtman’s new book, “The Case for Impeachment.” In it, Lichtman reviews past impeachment hearings and proceedings (Andrew Johnson; Richard Nixon; Bill Clinton) while examining scenarios where Donald Trump might face impeachment during his presidency. The work is fascinating in that it shines a spotlight on how Trump has run his business endeavors over the years and why, despite thousands of lawsuits and lies, he has come off relatively unscathed. Today, not so much.
Donald Trump, Lichtman describes, is an egotistical, narcissistic bully who will go to no end to put his own interests above those of anyone else, bend if not make up the truth and throw others under the bus in his wake. And, he has had the money and power to threaten careers and, when forced, to pay off or buyout those he wants silenced. As for the truth, it is forever a moving target.
Many argue it takes a businessman to run the business of the federal government. The problem is, it is not a private business. There are rules and regulations and potential conflicts of interest – scores of which (the world over) Trump has not recused himself from. Rather, in the Oval Office today, it is all smoke and mirrors. Son-in-law Jared Kushner has now modified his security clearance forms three times for failing to disclose meetings with Russian officials. Donald, Jr., has also now been caught in a series of lies including at least one meeting with Russians to discuss possible Hillary Clinton dirt.
Where crisis communications is concerned, the only way to manage a potentially damaged reputation is credibility and transparency. Not the “transparency” (as the administration called it) of Junior’s putting out emails once uncovered and about to be printed by the New York Times. Instead, Trump continues to operate under the misguided assumption that if you say the same things over and over, they will be believed. The CIA was incorrect about Russian interference in our election process. James Comey wrongly handled the Russian investigation and needed to go. This is all ‘fake news.’ Donald Jr.’s actions were ‘transparent.’ This is a ‘witch hunt.’ And on it goes.
Lying, “forgetting” and political naiveté just don’t cut it anymore. Rather, they have destroyed any and all credibility for Donald Trump. Such an M.O. might work in business (and has for him for decades) but it will not work here. Not when you are elected to represent the people. Not when a planet and billions of people are at stake. Rather, nothing short of the truth will do – and, unfortunately, Donald Trump knows all too well that the truth would hurt. To be sure, to finally do so would surely be his undoing.