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The winning Q&A (from Yoel Magid):
Q. What can we do from a communications point of view to reduce the chasm of the great partisan divide in the US?
A. As so many commentators have noted, the divisions within our country are to a large extent a product of differing sources of information and the growing role of social media in providing information to so many Americans.
The Biden administration, no matter what policies it decides upon, must create a communications strategy that will help bridge divides by providing unifying messaging and respectful public dialogue by reaching out to Americans in new ways. The new communications strategy would be administered by a Presidentially-appointed communications chief.
The communications chief would enlist dozens or hundreds of media emissaries—social media religious/sports/entertainment leaders who together have tens of millions of very diverse followers. These emissaries would not have to endorse each message, but would each promise to provide links to three types of regularly scheduled unifying messages as outlined below:
First, building on the concept in Judaism of Havdalah (differentiating between the Sabbath and the rest of the week), the administration should circulate every Sunday evening a short fifteen minute religious message by diverse faith-based clergy based on fundamental positive values of the differing American religious traditions. These mini-sermons/lessons on healing the sick, caring for the weak, and responsibility to loving one’s neighbor would be offered by evangelical, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and other religious leaders looking for common grounds and beliefs that unite all of us in spite of the different ways we worship. The message of these talks: what unites our religions is greater than what separates us. For many listeners, this would be the first time being exposed to religious leaders and beliefs of the “other.”
Second, a bi-weekly or monthly concert of American music of all sorts (pop, Broadway, country, classical, folk, jazz, rap) performed by volunteer artists. Again, the idea being to emphasize things we all can share no matter what party we support as well as to broaden many of our musical horizons. The message: we don’t have to like everything we hear, but we can recognize and appreciate diverse styles American music and musicians.
Third, a weekly live video of the President or a member of his cabinet (yes, a renewed FDR fireside chat of sorts) of no more than 20 minutes discussing a problem or issue the country faces and why it is important to our collective future. Instead of tweets, this would give the President the opportunity to speak to the American people directly about what he is concerned about and what action he is taking about the issue. The ideas might be controversial to some and minimalistic to others, but the presentation would try to restore honest political dialogue to a country haunted by four years of lying, conspiracy theories and distortions. Following the traditional respectful rabbinical disagreement between Hillel and Shammai that recognizes a second opinion as part of the conversation as well as the traditional broadcasts on the State of Union evening, the opposing party can even be given a short opportunity to present a differing approach (as opposed to a personal ad hominem attack or argument) to the problem outlined by the President or his cabinet secretary. The message: we can disagree respectfully as we talk about issues.
Incorporating additional ideas, the national communications strategy would aim at reaching and opening new links for some of those Americans of differing persuasions locked into and limited by certain kinds of social media presentations.
We need a “how” strategy of reaching people digitally through very different and diverse emissaries who have legions of social media followers, and we need a “what” strategy” of unifying messaging about the beauty of diversity in America as we try to restore sensible, intelligent dialogue to the public forum while emphasizing what unifies us in our religious, musical and political traditions.