In his first week as President of the United States, Donald Trump has changed how the White House communicates to the American people through his frequent tweeting and direct rebuking of media outlets.
In light of this new political landscape, the McCourt School of Public Policy’s Institute of Politics and Public Service’s spring class of fellows, which includes political journalists, advisers and leaders, hope to develop a better understanding of what Trump’s presidency means for American democracy moving forward.
The fourth class of fellows includes Marolon Marshall, former director of state campaigns and political engagement for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, President of Americans for Tax Reform Grover Norquist, Senior Washington Correspondent and co-author of Politico Playbook Anna Palmer, Jen Psaki, who served as director of communications and senior advisor to former President Barack Obama and a media consultant for the 2016 Trump campaign, Tony Sayegh.
In an interview with The Hoya on Friday, the incoming class of GU Politics fellows shared their thoughts on the recent campaign, the implications of Trump’s communication methods and how they plan to use their discussion sessions with students to learn about the perspectives of the younger generations.
Why did you each decide to join this fellowship?
Marshall: Honestly, to get a chance to learn from the students. We are in an interesting time right now in our politics in this country and to learn — obviously, we have had our own political experiences that we want to share — but to really learn from how students are experiencing it and also how to communicate now in this new world. Hearing from students at an institution like Georgetown is going to be really helpful for everyone as we plan moving forward.
Sayegh: There is a lot we can learn from this process. We are practitioners, we clearly talk to a lot of colleagues and friends, but there are so many open questions that to get the input of the next generation of people doing what we are doing in the world of politics and public policy and public service would be terrific. For my part, as well, I was always the beneficiary of great mentoring.
Psaki: It is easy to become jaded and to only listen to the same voices in our political system, and I was drawn to this because it provided an opportunity to hear from fresh and new voices in the student body. I’ve already learned a lot from just the last 24 hours.
Palmer: It gives me time to take a break from the fast pace news cycle of every day … and really reflect a little bit on what’s happened and what is happening, and try to make sense of what is happening in the world and get a broader perspective from the people around this table, as well as the students, in terms of what the dialogue is going to look like.
You all mentioned you wanted to learn from the students. What do you have planned during the year to try and incorporate that process?
Palmer: From my perspective, the way I plan on setting up the lectures and the discussion groups is as less of a lecture and more of a really interactive thing.
Psaki: The focus of my discussion group is social media — the good, the bad and the unknown. There’s no question that students at Georgetown probably have a perception on this, in terms of what tools should government campaigns be using, what isn’t working, how to reach people with all the range of platforms out there.
We are also going to spend a fair amount of time talking about the dangers the use of propaganda.
Sayegh: My discussion group looks at the entire event of the 2016 campaign and tries to in a retrospective way understand what happened, and the short-term and long-term implications.
It is great to bring in practitioners from both sides because this is a conversation which is happening among all the people in our world — whether it’s the policy or the media or the politics world or campaign world.
Marshall: My discussion is on organizing and social justice, looking at how the public’s voice in coming together around certain social justice issues throughout the history of our country has really pushed those issues forward.
With regard to this recent campaign season, what were your thoughts about the how communications have changed during this campaign and what we have seen in these past two weeks with the White House communications team?
Psaki: What we saw through the campaign – one of the opportunities in social media and the expansion of platforms – is that there are a lot of new ways to reach people, and clearly the Trump campaign and Donald Trump took advantage of that and spoke directly to the American people.
Palmer: We’ve seen that for Trump, Twitter is the new bully pulpit. He doesn’t feel he needs the traditional media to get his message across to his supporters. We’re at a point where the media is really in a period of a new development in terms of how they’re going to handle this White House and how they’re going to handle facts and fiction and lies. It’s going to be a process that’s going to develop, and there’s going to be some speedbumps along the way.
Sayegh: No matter what tactical tools or communication tools you have, if you’re not winning the argument, it’s very hard to win the election. It all goes back to the candidate and the message and people’s belief in the message and the person obviously selling it.
To a large degree, and why you’re seeing alternative communications coming out of this White House as far as the president’s own Twitter handle and expanding the pool that covers the president.
That’s actually a major discussion we’re going to be having — the long-term impact on journalism. Are we entering a new world where it’s not just about objective journalism anymore?
I do think you have a president who very much believes it’s his job to communicate to the American people directly.
Going forward, do you think President Trump’s campaign and White House strategy of direct communication will result in a permanent change to the U.S. political climate, or do you think this will be unique to Trump?
Sayegh: You’ve perfectly encapsulated the theme of my discussion group — I don’t know. I don’t think any of us really know.
The one lesson I’ve learned after nearly 500 campaigns since I was 17 is, when you win, you didn’t do everything right and when you lose, you didn’t do everything wrong.
Psaki: Campaigns are aspirational, that’s true for every candidate who’s ever run for president. You can say lots of things and not back it up with action from Congress with the ability to actually get it done.
Governing is real and it’s harder than people think it is, bringing coalitions together is harder than people think it is, getting laws passed is harder. President Trump promised a lot of things to a lot of people, so now this isn’t about whether your tweets go viral, it’s about whether you deliver on the promises and how that impacts people in the country.
Marshall: I do think you’ll see more people running for office who may not have run before, on both sides. Like, “Okay, I have all these different tools now, I can just put my phone towards trying to get my message out.” Which, I think, is frankly good for democracy that people just say, “I’m just going to jump in and run for city commissioner or mayor or something.” I think this election on both sides will get more people to get involved in the process.
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