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14 - 18 June

Hear me out: the future of creative is sound

Imogen Watson

senior reporter, creative

Dr. Rupy Aujla


Jack Preston

director of Acast creative, UK+ & US

John Kelly – the Trump tranquiliser keeping a lid on White House chaos

Without fear or favour, Richard J. Hillgrove VI tips the tables up on world leaders, brands and countries who all often think they can hide behind the smoke and mirrors via their communications professionals. Bang On takes a full throttle, punk approach to dissecting and analysing modern PR and marketing. It's not for the faint hearted....

Firing White House director of communications Anthony Scaramucci was a direct hit for chief of staff John Kelly – a hit with a tranquiliser dart.

Trump might think Kelly is the perfect military muscle to orchestrate his moves, but the reality is this straight-talking general has the president in a sleeper hold.

The straight-talking former head of homeland security has become a better PR than all the president’s men put together. Far from increasing the chaos with this latest sacking, Kelly stands to bring order to an increasingly anarchic White House.

His bipartisan approach has endeared him to the Senate and, importantly, he’s able to soften Trump's hard lines for wider appeal.

He supports a wall across the US-Mexican border, but doubts its effectiveness and suggests it’s unlikely to be built any time soon.

He’s tough on immigration, but has flatly disagreed with Trump's suggestion that all Muslims should be banned from the United States.

He may have failed to persuade the EU to accept a ban on passengers bringing laptops and computer tablets onto flights to the US, but he was savvy enough to negotiate a compromise that brought in tighter checks.

Whatever Kelly’s motives for wanting Mooch gone, ousting him was a bold and positive move to halt the White House’s descent into Fawlty Towers. Let’s face it, this presidency has seen more comings and goings than a Whitehall Farce.

Even Trump put a positive spin on his clean-up guy getting the brush off. In a tweet he said: “A great day at the White House”.

Communication from the top has spun out of control, like a leading man caught with his pants down in the arms of his mistress when the vicar comes to call.

But if you thought Sean Spicer was a hot potato with his alternative facts, Mooch was smokin’ when it came to creating mayhem.

In his first and only week, he said he isn’t like Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon because: “I’m not trying to suck my own cock.”

Called Reince Priebus a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic”.

And said in a leaked private text message to his estranged wife, after she gave birth to their second child: "Congratulations, I’ll pray for our child."

It makes you wonder whether it isn’t all a deliberate distraction tactic, a chaos of convenience. Respected intellectual Noam Chomsky certainly thinks so.

In the past he said speaker Paul Ryan's Republicans are potentially "the most dangerous and savage group in the country" and the White House farce serves only to divert media attention from what’s really going on in government backstage.

If nothing else, Trump’s Twitter transparency has shone a spotlight on just how little power a US president has. That he’s the most powerful man in the world is a PR lie perpetuated by past presidents to a man. Until now.

He can’t get a budget together to build his wall, he’s very unlikely to end up banning all Muslims, and he’s been thwarted over his health care reforms. And he lets us know it.

On July 29 @realDonaldTrump tweeted: “....8 Dems totally control the U.S. Senate. Many great Republican bills will never pass, like Kate's Law and complete Healthcare. Get smart!”

In fact, he's been less effective in terms of legislative change in his first six months than any president in history. Now some Republicans are starting to distance themselves from him.

Karl Rove was moved to describe the president as “vindictive, impulsive and short-sighted” and his public shaming of attorney general Jeff Sessions as “unfair, unjustified, unseemly and stupid”.

Kenneth Starr, Bill Clinton’s onetime grand inquisitor, went further. He called Trump’s treatment of Sessions: “one of the most outrageous – and profoundly misguided – courses of presidential conduct I have witnessed in five decades in and around the nation’s capital”.

Trump, the Democrat turned Republican, is looking more and more like an independent out on a limb. He’s the gobby kid in the playground everyone wishes would shut up and go home.

While it’s common for governments to create distractions while the real politicians get on with pushing through their agendas, it looks like they think The Donald is taking it too far, which is where Kelly the Tranquiliser comes in.

Senators would prefer him out front as a figurehead, performing ceremonial duties Duke of Edinburgh style, but this president just can’t be trusted.

When he addressed America’s boy scouts at their national jamboree recently, he caused a furore by making his speech highly political, breaking with years of tradition. He added insult to injury with a good dose of innuendo, too.

One commentator likened it to a drunken stepdad speech. Parents were not amused.

Nor is most of America, apparently. After only six months in office, Trump has become so deeply unpopular his confidence ranking only reaches 22% compared with Barack Obama’s 64% at the end of his presidency.

Meanwhile, a Pew Research Center survey of 37 countries suggests the rest of the world is looking less to America and doing very nicely without it.

Germany’s Angela Merkel is looking very much the strong and stable politician these days uniting Europe against the unbalanced bouncing ball that America has become.

No longer feared, Trump’s presidency is turning the United States into something worse than derided. It is becoming irrelevant.

You have to wonder where this president’s talents lie. Not on TV as a game show host, and not in business if his four bankruptcies, or Chapter 11 reorganisations, are anything to go by.

Trump's spin is that these proceedings showed good business sense because they saved the companies in question from liquidation. Even so, the numbers would make your eyes water.

His hotels and casinos had racked up an estimated $1.8bn in debt by the time they filed in 2004. This from the man who’s on track to preside over a $20.4tr federal government debt by the end of this year.

Trump’s Big Swinging Dick act is working for the moment, but can he keep it up? While Brand USA takes a battering, it’s hard to see The Donald lasting the course.

The threat of impeachment over Russia looms large. He may tweet that he’ll pardon himself and his family, but Article II of the American Constitution shows that impeachment is the one crime he can’t pardon.

So how does a president in trouble save his ass?

The answer throughout history has been to start a war. He’s already dropped the mother of all bombs and traded fighting talk with North Korea.

Technically, war is something only Congress can start, leaving The Donald merely steering the tank from the cockpit as commander in chief. And he might struggle to find allies as the rest of the world enjoys a new-found freedom from America’s iron grip as the planet’s pistol-whipping sheriff.

But if Trump could get himself enough support through social media to be elected president, what’s to stop him using it to drum up support for war?

So, while it’s easy to dismiss the Trump tenure as a farce, let’s not be fooled.

As legendary farceur Brian Rix might have told you, every exit and entrance in his Whitehall Farces was planned with precise timing for maximum effect.

We may gasp, groan and titter at the comic turns and revolving doors in today’s White House, but maybe the media is merely fiddling while the Stars and Stripes burns.