Thursday, January 23, 2020

How Our Presidents have Communicated

At the peak of the Populist Movement of which Isaac Werner and many of our ancestors were a part, the People's Party had succeeded in electing not only local candidates but also state and federal officials.  The People's Party was challenging the Republicans and Democrats for the votes of primarily working people, but also some professionals.  

In 1896, however, they took a strategic risk.  They decided to nominate as the People's Party presidential candidate the same man as the Democratic nominee--Wm Jennings Bryan, a 36 year old man from Nebraska.

Their strategy failed, and it split the People's Party.  But, during his campaign, Bryan used the trains to reach more potential voters than a presidential candidate ever had, traveling 18,000 miles between September 11th and November 1 to give 600 speeches to an estimated 5,000,000 people.

The American constitution stipulates that the president "shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."  We are now familiar with seeing the sitting president deliver the annual State of the Union Address on our televisions, but George Washington delivered his message to congress in the provincial capital of New York City on January 8, 1790, and his 'recommended measures judged necessary and expedient' were left to be conveyed to the public in newspapers and broadsheets..  

How communication has changed over the years!  Rutherford B. Hays was the first president to speak by telephone from the White House in 1877, but it was Abraham Lincoln who installed a line for his use in the War Department, used to communicate with state governors and generals.

Although Warren G. Harding was the first president to make a speech by radio, on June 14, 1922, his voice was first transmitted by telephone to a broadcasting station and from there broadcast over the radio.  Of course, the president we think of as a master of radio is Franklin Roosevelt, who reached out to Americans so effectively in a conversational manner during his regular "fireside chats."

The first televised address was given by Harry Truman on October 5, 1947, but Dwight Eisenhower was the first to use television regularly, particularly his use of television commercials in his 1952 campaign.

What Richard Nixon called "the most historic phone call ever made from the White House" on July 20, 1969, occurred when he spoke to the Apollo astronauts on the moon.  The call was set up in advance over a microwave link between Washington and Houston, then out via microwave link to the Deep Space Network, then over DSN stations with the moon in view via S-band.

Bill Clinton was the first president to use email, initially more of a test to show the president how emails were done.  President Clinton himself regards the first e-mail he sent as president to be the one he sent to astronaut John Glenn soon after he boarded the International Space Station.  About a year later, Clinton became the first president to participate in a Webchat hosted by Democratic Leadership Council and an internet company.

While Obama's 2008 presidential campaign used social media very effectively, the first tweet by President Barack Obama was on January 18, 2010 when he hit the "send" button for a tweet composed by an employee hosting the president and first lady on a tour of the Red Cross headquarters in Washington.

Great technological changes in communication have occurred over those decades.  Today, the faces
The Home of our Presidents
and voices of our presidents are familiar from their many appearances on television.

Donald Trump, our current president, is not the first president to tweet, but he is certainly the one to have made tweeting his trademark.  According to Bustle, an online magazine for American women, Trump tweeted 2,568 times during his first year as president.  An article in the New York Times documented the most tweets sent by Trump in one day, in mid-December of 2019, as 123 tweets.

I do not tweet and I have no account, but many people around the world do.  If fact, it was estimated as of September of 2019 that there were about 350 million global monthly active twitter users, with 100 million active daily, 20.5% of those being in the United States.

I cannot predict the methods future presidents may use to communicate to America's citizens.  I can only hope that the future of communication bears no likeness to the telescreens in George Orwell's classic novel, 1984.  

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