Many of you may be stunned by that question. After all you may be thinking what Donald Trump may have to do with John F. Kennedy, other than one wants to be president and one was president. The only other thing may be that in Trump’s mind that his looks are as enduring as JFK’s. But there is one way the respective presidential campaigns of the two men have something in common.
You may remember not many people took seriously Kennedy’s campaign for the 1960 nomination. He was the junior senator from Massachusetts who, for seven years prior to running, had quite an undistinguished record in the U.S. Senate. But he managed to meander his way through the competition to garner the nomination backed by his father’s copious quantities of cash – and I do mean cash.
What Kennedy was able to grasp and thereby became the first president to do so was the age of television. To refresh your memory, when he had the first televised debates with his opponent Richard Nixon, those who listened to the debate on radio (not everyone had a TV yet) gave the debates to Nixon. The TV audience was astronomical for the time and they carried that image to the polls. That and Kennedy’s father spreading cash around in Illinois turning that state put Kennedy in the White House.
Flash forward to 2016 and we have a totally different time. It has been said that President Obama and his team made great use of social media in his two campaigns, but Mr. Obama is not the first candidate to really grasp the new era of social media. Mr. Obama has no idea how to communicate in this new era of shortened attention spans. I was reviewing a recent Obama press conference and was stunned to find out he had answered just five questions in an hour presser. We all know the President can drone on in a professorial manner that sometimes loses us all. This is not how a person communicates who grasps new media.
Trump not only uses Twitter as a major form of communication; he seems to think and speak in that manner at all times. He puts his positions in short, distinct statements and people understand what he means. The chattering class keeps on asking for details, but the masses just want the bullet points. It is not just what is said, but more importantly how he says it. He understands the art of modern communication.
A few months back I was alerted to theSkimm. It is a website created to be “more in tune with the lifestyles of millennials.” theSkimm asserts it has millions of readers. I did three days and went back to reading the Wall Street Journal. I found it to be as deep as a One Direction song. But whether it was because of theSkimm or whether it was just a changing world, all news services went to having pithy summaries sent out daily to their Internet readers. In fact, the Los Angeles Times canned its traditional distribution and only does summaries.
In the meantime, the news analysis keeps on calling for Trump position papers. Watch the Sunday news shows and they will have their experienced news analysts speaking of the lack of substance in the positions Trump is offering. It may be these people are living in the ghost of campaigns past. People are not analyzing substance. If they were then Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Jeb or Lindsey Graham would be leading the polls.
Don’t think this form of thought is limited to the unsophisticated or the Millennials. Talk to your friends and see how long their attention span is today. Very few people think in multi-paragraph explanations anymore. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and all the other social media sites have destroyed that. The analysts are dinosaurs and Trump is eating their lunch.
It is not just his constant tweets; he regularly communicates in 140 characters or less and people get the idea. I reviewed hundreds of his statements trying to find some prime examples and there are plenty that were not his tweets. For example, he stated to Barbara Walters in an interview “I’m the worst thing that ever happened to ISIS.” Or his comment at a rally where he said “Did you read about Starbucks? No more 'Merry Christmas' at Starbucks. No more. Maybe we should boycott Starbucks." This is the way he gets a clear message across. Whether you like them or not, he communicates his thoughts.
There is also the fact that the level of public discourse is gravely diminished. Interestingly the people who disdain Trump the most have brought this upon us in modern forms of art. Whether it be TV, music, Broadway musicals, movies or art, we have devolved. When I attend a Green Day concert and have Billie Joe Armstrong spewing the word “mother-----s” constantly from the stage, then see someone turn his music into a Broadway musical (American Idiot) with the same profanity (some call this art), then is there any question where public discourse is heading? Is it any surprise we have a presidential candidate using the vernacular that Trump does and people are desensitized to it?
Many say that presidential elections are a reaction to the existing presidency. President Obama was a reaction to President Bush and Mr. Trump in his way is a reaction to Mr. Obama. President Obama is an indecisive, verbose man with an air of superiority about him. Trump certainly has an air of confidence about him, but he speaks in a way that anyone can understand whether you agree or not. For those looking for a change from Professor Obama, Trump certainly offers that.
Analysts have been searching for explanations to the Trump phenomenon. There are a few reasons for his success, but the principle reason is he truly is our first social media candidate. Now let’s find out if that transfers into election victories. If it does Trump, will become the new JFK.