Our response to Trumpism

Jeremy and I founded Clear in 2014 by committing to a single premise: That every stakeholder, regardless of their interests, responds best to information that is clear, consistent, and accurate. We help clients achieve those qualities in everything they say and do. Anything less is unacceptable.

In the United States, the election of Donald Trump, a nativist authoritarian with demonstratively poor judgment, at first called into question the accuracy of that premise. Despite -- or, terrifyingly, perhaps because of -- the Clinton campaign’s commitment to explaining very clearly and consistently what she would do as president and her historically robust qualifications, too many voters (though not a majority of them) chose Trump, whose supposed ideas were, at best, opaque platitudes.

We are aware that elections are not won by merely articulating policy. But we are shocked that voters elected a president whose core values and beliefs with respect to governing are still completely unknown. 

Immediately after the events of Nov. 8, we thought that our foundation was unstable and questioned whether Clear should continue to exist. We thought that our premise must be wrong, and that we had made a grave mistake to assume clarity, consistency, and accuracy are still desirable traits.

But, looking at the incident deeper, we do not believe the outcome contradicts our basic premise. 

Instead, here’s what we think happened. 

Voters were confronted with a candidate in Trump who lies effortlessly, constantly, and without shame. Trump told voters that import tariffs will bring back blue-collar jobs to the midwest. That was a lie. Trump said his administration will get Mexico to pay for a border wall. That was a lie. Trump said he opposed the Iraq war. That was a lie. Trump said he could not release his tax returns because he is under audit. That was a lie. There are myriad more examples.

Trump also denied saying or doing many other things that he said or did. These denials were, obviously, all lies. 

In computing, systems can break when malicious intruders attack them with too much noise. If you want to shut down a website, for instance, you flood its servers with requests from bots. Once the bots cause the server to reach capacity, legitimate traffic can’t get through. 

This -- the flooding of a system (media) with noise (lies) -- is how Trump obtained power. There were grave problems not with the stakeholders, not with the messages, but instead with the systems that deliver them.

This noise overwhelmed media and exposed a vulnerability in the fourth estate. From the fake, pro-Trump news that dominated Facebook to the echo chamber of overconfident professional opinion-havers always present on network news to the print media that, for some reason, failed to simply call a lie a lie, Trump’s unwavering, reflexive, habitual lying rendered ineffective the network of gatekeepers voters rely on. He hacked the presidency by weaponizing lies. 

When a hacker exploits a vulnerability, the owners of that system are responsible for fixing it. 

Jeremy and I took some time to soberly contemplate why this happened and what, if anything, we can do to help fix the vulnerable system. We determined that we want Clear to be a part of the solution. It’s clear that politics occurs in a post-truth world today, where facts are no longer sufficiently persuasive, but business must not fall victim to the same trap. 

So, we are making some changes to our agency in response to this terrible spectacle. 

First, we will incorporate Clear as a public-benefit corporation. Among the consequences of this business structure is the legal obligation to create a materially positive impact on society. In other words, benefit corporations do not exist simply to profit by any legal means available. In addition, there is a direct and legally binding mandate to do good. 

Our public benefit will be an ironclad commitment to communicating with clarity, consistency, and accuracy -- for ourselves and on behalf of clients. We will be, in effect, doubling down on the bet that our premise is sound.

Second, we will be more open to collaboration with other agency service providers. The incoming administration will introduce tremendous uncertainty into the marketplace that wasn’t there before. Uncertainty is bad for business, so I anticipate other agencies are feeling the same pressures we are. We’ll be open to supporting other agencies’ accounts if doing so is in the client’s best interest, aligns with what we do well, and helps protect the lead agency.

Most importantly, we will be more deliberate and energetic in seeking business that provides the opportunity to use our personal beliefs professionally. We’re not going to hide our personal commitment to progressive causes, including and especially holding back what we anticipate will be a hateful, regressive administration that will commit true atrocities on anyone who isn’t wealthy, white, Christian, and male.

We believe that work ought to be personally fulfilling, and this is our small way of making our work count for something more. Our agency may lose out on business opportunities or open itself up to punitive actions from Trumpist regulators and sycophants, but we’ll happily live with the consequences of being clear, consistent, and accurate about our economic and social worldview. 

Anything less is unacceptable.

-- Andrew Graham