The Trump Administration's Disruptive Reform of Political Communication
While traditional political labels- liberal, conservative, moderate- simply won’t adhere to the Trump Administration, it is clear that Trump is an effective disruptive reformer. The Trump Administration increasingly employs actions and policies designed to disrupt the establishment and render useless the traditional tools used to keep and maintain the establishment.
What is Disruptive Reform?
Disruptive Reform is change that removes the competitive advantage of incumbent or establishment institutions and tools, thereby permitting competing insurgents or reform an opportunity to survive. “Disruptive” does not imply violence or even unlawful or illicit behavior. Disruptive means that reform is accomplished by replacing the traditional tools and institutions that normally support and sustain the establishment with those that challenge, change, and ultimately replace or reform the establishment.
The concept is perhaps Progressive, but the tools developed by Progressives are increasingly being appropriated by others. Others have noticed that it seems to be the Right, and not the Left, that is making effective use of disruptive reform. See, e.g, “Innovation Nation: The Indian Right’s Real Idea Is Disruptive Innovation.”
The effectiveness of disruptive reform is increasingly demonstrated in a rapidly changing technological world, that is less cohesive and more personal. Disruptive reform has revolutionized the computer, telecommunications, and automotive industries. Disruptive reform is the driving force behind recent rapid changes in the use of social media and to secondary education. Disruptive reform has repeatedly been suggested as necessary to reform the health care industry. See, for example, "The Innovator's Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care." It is natural for someone like Donald Trump, whose experience is in the business sector, to reject the traditional tools of politicians in favor of effective tools from the business sector.
Trump’s Disruptive Reform of Political Communication
There are many examples of the Trump Administration engaging in disruptive reform. In my previous article, 'The real significance of the ‘Executive Order on Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,’ for example, I discussed how Trump Administration immigration policy implementation intends to bypass traditional media information sources, and generate effective alternate narratives thereby threatening establishment immigration policy values. But it is political communication that is the most potent example of Trump Administration disruptive reform.
Traditional establishment politics values finely tuned, disciplined, discreet messages designed to find the greatest support and least opposition possible (whether or not true or accurate, by the way). Traditional political communication reinforces the establishment, and discourages reform by relying upon scripted talking points suggesting broad and enduring consensus, whether or not these exist, and threatening catastrophic consequences with alternatives, whether or not these consequences are true or likely. Traditional political communication values the use of surrogates to initiate communication, and values highly repetitive recitation of messages across a variety of media to reinforce the message thereby suggesting consensus. Traditional political communication values trial balloons and nuance that allows politicians and institutions to distance themselves from positions or ideas that later prove controversial or unpopular. Discourse leading to reform is rendered difficult, if not impossible, as those upholding the traditional establishment reject real debate or discussion as threatening established consensus and enduring underlying values.
Disruptive reform rejects and abandons these restraints on discourse as tools of the establishment, and so only utilizes the tool of traditional political communication to engage opponents and achieve discreet objectives. The Trump Administration’s reliance upon “direct to citizenry” communication while decried by the establishment as “dangerous,” “unprofessional,” and “inexperienced,” continues to reinforce Trump’s affiliation with those “outside” the establishment. Direct to citizenry content bypassses the establishment filters that would render the message less volatile, and less effective at challenging establishment ideas and institutions. Whatever the content, by communicating in an anti-establishment manner, any suggestion that Trump is co-opted by the establishment is likely to ring false.
Disruptive communication, unlike traditional political communication, can encourage and value vehement opposition, particularly where the opposition reveals opponents, bias, and weakness, or expends energy or resources that otherwise might be marshaled to actually frustrate reform. Opposition can invite consideration, and generate publicity. Opposition communication and discourse under a campaign of disruptive reform reveals in time that the establishment threats of adverse consequences are untrue or unlikely, thereby blunting the effectiveness of reform opponents. It undermines trust and confidence in establishment values, institutions, and structures, replacing traditional communication mechanisms that support the establishment with those that threaten the establishment. In this way, reform communication replaces the establishment emphasis and reliance upon the status quo.
The Trump Administration’s mistrust of traditional media outlets is not new; its unrelenting full-throated attack, coupled with non-traditional means of communicating narratives is new. The ability of the establishment to reject by monolithic opposition and by repetition through various media outlets is muted as consumers of information find effective, inexpensive, and convenient alternatives.
Moreover, once confronted, the establishment predictably threatens extreme, outrageous, and unthinkable consequence. The establishment attack becomes unbelievable and increasingly lacking credibility as people realize that reform is not dangerous - Trump is not Hitler, is not rounding up homosexuals, and is working to parse the difficult immigration issues such as the protection of families, for example. As the establishment becomes more desperate, its agents and operatives become “useful idiots,” unwittingly revealing the true face of the establishment, and the need for reform.The establishment opposing the Trump Administration is increasingly revealed as less concerned with the lives of real people, and more with keeping and maintaining power and influence. It will be interesting to see whether establishment Republicans accept or reject these changes, and whether, if they side with the establishment against the Trump Administration, there will be a political cost that, in a traditional binary Republican-Democrat establishment, enhances or diminishes the Trump Administration’s authority.