LIVING UP TO OUR VALUES: These are turbulent times, and it is impossible to keep up with all of the 24/7 media reports, events, photo ops, and reactions coming from all corners of American society and, indeed, of the world. Besides the well-publicized statements of concern from current and retired political and military leaders and community leaders, a number of little-noticed reactions from foreign affairs community players deserve attention and suggest how America’s credibility abroad has been damaged. In this edition let me highlight a few.
1. AAD SPEAKS OUT: The June 9th statement from the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD), a nonpartisan, non-governmental organization of former U.S. diplomats and other senior retired officials under a respected Chairman, Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, and a respected President, Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann. Noting that “the demonstrators and those who have spoken out remind us that America cannot lead the world unless at home we live up to the values we so proudly defend abroad,” their statement bluntly declares that the State Department falls short of this goal, and “women and minorities continue to be significantly underrepresented in the Department of State, most glaringly in the senior ranks.” According to the Academy, out of 189 U.S. ambassadors abroad today, only three are African American and four are Hispanic career diplomats. For the text of the Academy’s statement with five recommendations, go to academyofdiplomacy.org/publication/academy-press-releases/.
2. USAID, EMBASSIES SUPPORT THE FIGHT AGAINST RACISM: Most diplomats, active and retired, feel the urgency of trying to live up to the values that they so proudly defend overseas. A little-noticed reaction was an internal letter that some 1,000 concerned USAID staffers signed and sent to the Acting Administrator John Barsa calling for actions and not just words within and beyond USAID. In part, the letter reportedly said: “We are proud of our work overseas to prevent violence, encourage security sector reform, and promote democracy and good governance in countries with deep ethnic and religious divisions. Yet USAID’s credibility and effectiveness abroad are undermined by systemic racism and injustice at home.” For details, see a June 11 NBC News report at: nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/usaid-staff-demand-action-agency-leaders-over-systems-racism-n1230316.
The letter was remarkable because it came from so many current government employees. Usually, active staff and officials within bureaucracies like State and USAID are reluctant to so openly express their views on contentious public issues.
A few embassies have even shown signs of sympathy with the protestors. One example is U.S. Embassy Seoul, which announced that it was displaying a “Black Lives Matter” banner to show its support for the fight against racial injustice and police brutality.
3. PLEDGING FOR CHANGE: PD professionals, as well as government officials at all levels, are realistic enough to know one profession or the government alone cannot have much impact on history or current practices of racism. They all understand that the private sector — including both new and old media operating in an increasingly diverse marketplace — must also be a fully engaged partner if real, significant change is to happen. It is encouraging, therefore, to see that a coalition of some of America’s most powerful marketers, media companies, advertising agencies, production companies and service providers is publicly standing up to support an initiative committed to “interventions that will have an immediate and sustained impact on equality, inclusion, and systemic change in our ecosystem and in our society.”
The collective voices of The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and The Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) have pledged to use their resources and voices as a force for systemic change. “This means equity in representation at every level, access, and voice – in other words, a seat at the table.” Their statement clearly identified the problem: “As we experience unprecedented loss due to the novel coronavirus, Black and Brown communities continue to face an age-old virus that has infected America for four centuries: racism.”
A list of senior executives taking the pledge reads like a Who’s Who of American marketing and advertising, and includes officials from such giants as Facebook, Google, PepsiCo, Nielsen, Walmart, Nestle, Hilton, McDonald’s, Ford, Verizon, and NBCUniversal. One of their specific commitments is to develop an industry ranking system by which their “marketing, D&I, investment and advertising efforts will be measured” and goals set “to create change and track progress.” Another goal is to “eliminate bias through the accurate portrayal of race, identity and culture in advertising and media programs.” For details of the initiative, visit anaaimm.net.
4. “EXCEPTIONALISM REDUX”: PD work is people-focused, and it is always encouraging to find a professional who not only loved his career and thought he was doing work that mattered but still cares enough to think and write seriously about it. Such an individual is retired USIA officer, former Peace Corps Volunteer, and Public Diplomacy Council member Mark Jacobs, who has had a successful second career as a novelist and short story writer living in rural Virginia. Concerned about diplomacy and recent developments in the country, Jacobs has written a thought-provoking essay in “Evergreen Review,” the online literary magazine. Called “Exceptionalism Redux,” the analysis draws on Jacobs’ rich cross-cultural and PD experiences to comment on our current, very obvious domestic shortcomings and “the intractable contradictions that make up our history.” Among his conclusions:
“The crisis of credibility currently being experienced by the U.S. government will end. When that happens we will have an opportunity to rethink how we deal with the nations, societies, and peoples of the world. The answer to the question of how does not involve technology. Whatever we do with the Internet, or artificial intelligence or flesh-embedded chips will be of secondary importance. The medium is not the message. Technology is an envelope. It’s the content of the letter inside that counts. What we say matters. So does how we say it.”
Trump supporters will not welcome the critique, but during these days of such unrest, the critique is important to hear. The essay, beautifully illustrated with colored art by Sue McNally, is available at: https://www.evergreenreview.com/read/exceptionalism-redux/.
5. WUERKER’S WEEKLY “PUNCHLINES”: Amidst all the unrest and gloom and doom of late, a little dose of punchy, current affairs humor should help keep things in perspective and create a few smiles. I recommend “Punchlines,” a refreshing on-line product created and hosted by Matt Wuerker, POLITICO’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist. Concluding that “America seems to be having quite a moment,” Wuerker’s weekly wrap-up covers “the latest cartoons and political humor dealing with the pandemic, protests and economic volatility.” The 3-minute or so, June 12 edition, for example, looks at how several cartoonists and comedians have responded to “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police” issues. To view recent “Punchlines” editions, go to: politico.com/video/2020.
Dr. Michael H. Anderson is a public diplomacy and Asian affairs specialist with nearly 30 years of Foreign Service experience serving in the US Department of State and the US Information Agency (USIA) and working in South Asia and Southeast Asia. His Public Affairs Officer (PAO) postings included New Delhi, Jakarta, Karachi, Singapore, Manila and Port Moresby. He also has been a journalist, a teacher, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malaysia, an information officer with UNICEF, and an East-West Center grantee. He is a member of the PDC Board.