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A strategy for winning the post-election narrative war

A strategy for winning the post-election narrative war
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President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Obama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' MORE could be in trouble with the election fraud issue — despite there being no substantial evidence of fraudulent activity — unless Democrats fight back smart, and fight back fast. A new Politico survey shows that 70 percent of Republicans believe the election was not free and fair.

Great leaders do three things well: one, shape the narrative; two, use convincing facts to tell the story; and three, execute relentlessly towards the desired goal. Dangerous leaders carry another weapon in their arsenal: they spread fear-based rumors that are hard to disprove. 

Right now, the Trump administration is dominating on all four fronts. They have convinced large numbers of Americans that mail-in voting and the entire 2020 election was fraudulent while projecting confidence that they will remain in power (the narrative). They’ve pointed to unproven isolated incidents (the “facts”) as “evidence" of widespread fraud, and they’re taking aggressive action to maintain their grip on power through flurries of lawsuits. For its part, the Trump administration authorized the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate fraud claims and it is withholding vital security intelligence and resources from the incoming Biden team.

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Trump is a mastermind of the fourth and most insidious strategy: the whisper campaign. He and his team have worked for months to cast doubt about mail-in voting and the legitimacy of the election process itself. 

Most Democratic voters haven’t caught on to how well this strategy is working. Even if Biden wins the electoral vote count, which he is expected to do, he stands to lose half the country in the court of public opinion if Trump’s misinformation campaign and power grab are allowed to continue.

Democrats urgently need a proactive, coordinated and muscular strategy to take back the narrative, use the facts to tell a different story, stop the rumor mill and take action to regain control of the country.

This starts with a power and purpose-based national narrative about what we stand for, not just what we stand against. America is great because we are about freedom, democracy, due process and care for something bigger than ourselves. We insist on innocence until guilt is proven, we trade in facts, not fear-based rumors and we don’t stand for leaders who lie and manipulate. We stand up and take action to defend these American ideals, like Stacey Abrams did in Georgia. Democrats cannot allow Trump to claim this narrative for his own purposes. It belongs to us all.

An aggressive national communication strategy should be launched about the various election-related lawsuits in progress at the local, state and federal levels. Messages should be drafted to educate the public in simple, digestible terms with clear takeaways and headlines that people can translate into tweets and hashtags. Counter-terrorism experts should be involved and contribute proven strategies to fight disinformation campaigns.

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Party statesmen like George W. Bush and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' Texas warehouse where migrants housed in 'cages' closed for humane renovation North Carolina — still purple but up for grabs MORE could convene moderate Republicans and Democrats to issue a bipartisan statement about election integrity and reassure the public that they will work together to uphold our democratic norms.

Local leaders need to be supported to adopt a more proactive approach to asserting election integrity. State and county authorities could be equipped with professional communication tools and strategies to persuade their constituents of the integrity of the election process and show responsiveness to their concerns. Jeb Bush, who ordered Florida’s election reform, could be an advisor to this effort and help lead a bipartisan coalition to recommend future reform efforts to win back voters’ trust over the long term.

Grassroots leaders could convene safe, socially distanced rallies to show support for election integrity with simple slogans that can support viral messaging like #stoptherumors, #respectthevote and #fightlegalabuse.

Citizens could participate in research-backed virtual training sessions sponsored by philanthropists and academic institutions to arm themselves with a toolkit of simple, effective tactics to fight the false narratives that are spreading like wildfire online. This would help engage large parts of the population in feeling they can do something to help. 

Everyone at all levels of leadership could help identify the best humor and satire that's out there and promote it. Humor gets underneath our defenses in ways that facts and data can’t. 

The contest for people’s hearts isn’t over. But with the right strategies we can win the battle for American democracy.

Kate Isaacs, Ph.D, is a research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management and an executive fellow at the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership. She is a skilled advisor to senior leaders on innovation-focused stakeholder partnerships that generate economic and social value. She has written for The Hill, the Harvard Business Review, Chief Executive and the Academy of Management. Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect the official policy or position of any organization of which she is a part.