Trump’s Leadership Style in Alinskyan Perspective

Donald Trump has been characterized as inconsistent, dangerous, rude, insulting, disrespectful and many other unflattering terms. It’s safe to say these characterizations are intended to portray him as someone not fit for national office, unsuitable for negotiating with foreign leaders and lacking the temperament to accept a position of responsibility.

However, throughout his campaign to win the Republican nomination, Donald Trump methodically defeated 16 traditionally qualified persons. His critics said that his adversaries, who had experience as senators, successful members of the private sector and governors; were well known and were far more qualified than Trump.

Yet Trump prevailed. The one concession Trump’s critics made to his success was that he appealed to the masses; the middle class and blue collar workers who had lost jobs to China, lost health coverage to ObamaCare, and were tired of the Federal government secretly issuing edicts to them through business regulations and behavioral regulations in public schools among many other grievances.

Trump did have an appeal that no one else had. And his appeal was through his rudeness, outrageous behavior, and insults in debates and at campaign rallies. While the political experts were baffled at Trump’s success, the voters still chose him over all others.

The key to understanding Trump’s success may be to understand that he exhibits qualities of leadership the others haven’t exhibited. And the best description of these qualities may be found in the most unlikely of places: the writings and comments of the radical community organizer Saul Alinsky. Looking back at Alinsky’s major work, Rules For Radicals, one finds a startlingly accurate description of Donald Trump’s political persona. The characteristics Trump displays are very similar to what Alinsky describes as the characteristics essential to a leader fighting for socio/economic/political change.

Alinsky said in a 1967 Playboy interview: “When a community, any kind of community, is hopeless and helpless, it requires somebody from outside to come in and stir things up. That’s my job -- to unsettle them, to make them start asking questions, to teach them to stop talking and start acting, because the fat cats in charge never hear with their ears, only through their rears. The instinct of middle-class people is to support and celebrate the status quo, but the realities of their daily lives drill it home that the status quo has exploited and betrayed them.”

In Rules, Alinsky discussed the function of a leader: “In the beginning the organizer’s first job is to create the issues or problems.” “The simple fact is that in any community, regardless of how poor, people may have serious problems -- but they do not have issues, they have a bad scene. Through action, persuasion, and communication the organizer makes it clear that organization will give them the power, the ability, the strength, the force to be able to do something about these particular problems. It is then that a bad scene begins to break up into specific issues, because now the people can do something about it.”

Exploiting specific issues is what Trump has done. He talks about expensive, unfair ObamaCare, about how Federal officials sent jobs to China and Mexico, how political correctness prevents the middle class -- what Alinsky would call Trump’s community -- from voicing their discontent, Trump’s message says. This environment has made the middle class feel frustrated and helpless. Government has created major problems for the middle class, Trump’s recommendations are to become the voice of the middle class, to renegotiate unfair trade deals with foreign countries and build a southern border wall.

These characteristics all apply to Trump: they seem to have been written about him. Alinsky then discusses his tactical philosophy. He used demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts, etc. to bring attention to the grievances of persons who felt they had no clout with big business. Alinsky’s tactics of protest and empowerment included disrupting businesses and embarrassing them. A President Trump will have the power of the presidency behind him and the U.S. economy as a bargaining chip. Alinsky’s community efforts were always small and local.

Summarizing the need for strong tactics to empower the powerless, Alinsky said: “No one can negotiate without the power to compel negotiation.” Trump has stated: “you’ve got to be willing to walk away” if negotiations don't go well. That’s exactly what voters have wanted to hear. Trump said the U.S. has had the power all along to get better trade deals but has not used it because the political hacks who make deals are responding to the demands of lobbyists and insiders, not the voters.

This fits Trump’s idea that we must use the nation’s economic power to renegotiate trade deals with foreign countries. That suits voters well: they are tired of seeing their jobs negotiated away by unaccountable politicians. Trump also said he will bring NATO countries and South Korea into line by forcing them to pay their “fair share” of the costs of NATO and military protection. Similarly, he has threatened to force Arab states in the Persian Gulf to pay for the cost of the U.S. naval protection they enjoy.  Voters feel cheated out of any say in these issues, and cheated by the political hacks, as Trump calls them, who have sold out the voters through these unfair deals.

While Alinsky’s name is constantly brought up as the origin of radical DNC tactics, the truth is the DNC has become the kind of power structure Saul Alinsky wouldn’t like. Joblessness went up when Obama when the DNC had control of domestic economic policies.

Like Trump, Alinsky did not approve of political correctness. He said in the Playboy interview that polite, inoffensive language is a fault of the middle class, and doesn’t produce results. He recalls how he once yelled at a server at a restaurant in order to get her cooperation. He proudly held that up as an example: that sometimes you have to be rude to make a point. Trump is rude.

The biggest difference between Trump and Alinsky is that Alinsky blamed mega-corporations for the plight of the people. Today taxpayers feel government is the problem. Alinsky was not a corporate man, Trump is not a politician.  

If Alinsky were alive today, he would focus on the increase in black poverty and unemployment under Obama, the decline of the middle class, and the million-dollar pensions given to government union members. He would approve of Trump’s rudeness, attack on political correctness, and use of economic clout in negotiations.

Alinsky’s description of leadership is a useful way to describe Trump’s success. 

Donald Trump has been characterized as inconsistent, dangerous, rude, insulting, disrespectful and many other unflattering terms. It’s safe to say these characterizations are intended to portray him as someone not fit for national office, unsuitable for negotiating with foreign leaders and lacking the temperament to accept a position of responsibility.

However, throughout his campaign to win the Republican nomination, Donald Trump methodically defeated 16 traditionally qualified persons. His critics said that his adversaries, who had experience as senators, successful members of the private sector and governors; were well known and were far more qualified than Trump.

Yet Trump prevailed. The one concession Trump’s critics made to his success was that he appealed to the masses; the middle class and blue collar workers who had lost jobs to China, lost health coverage to ObamaCare, and were tired of the Federal government secretly issuing edicts to them through business regulations and behavioral regulations in public schools among many other grievances.

Trump did have an appeal that no one else had. And his appeal was through his rudeness, outrageous behavior, and insults in debates and at campaign rallies. While the political experts were baffled at Trump’s success, the voters still chose him over all others.

The key to understanding Trump’s success may be to understand that he exhibits qualities of leadership the others haven’t exhibited. And the best description of these qualities may be found in the most unlikely of places: the writings and comments of the radical community organizer Saul Alinsky. Looking back at Alinsky’s major work, Rules For Radicals, one finds a startlingly accurate description of Donald Trump’s political persona. The characteristics Trump displays are very similar to what Alinsky describes as the characteristics essential to a leader fighting for socio/economic/political change.

Alinsky said in a 1967 Playboy interview: “When a community, any kind of community, is hopeless and helpless, it requires somebody from outside to come in and stir things up. That’s my job -- to unsettle them, to make them start asking questions, to teach them to stop talking and start acting, because the fat cats in charge never hear with their ears, only through their rears. The instinct of middle-class people is to support and celebrate the status quo, but the realities of their daily lives drill it home that the status quo has exploited and betrayed them.”

In Rules, Alinsky discussed the function of a leader: “In the beginning the organizer’s first job is to create the issues or problems.” “The simple fact is that in any community, regardless of how poor, people may have serious problems -- but they do not have issues, they have a bad scene. Through action, persuasion, and communication the organizer makes it clear that organization will give them the power, the ability, the strength, the force to be able to do something about these particular problems. It is then that a bad scene begins to break up into specific issues, because now the people can do something about it.”

Exploiting specific issues is what Trump has done. He talks about expensive, unfair ObamaCare, about how Federal officials sent jobs to China and Mexico, how political correctness prevents the middle class -- what Alinsky would call Trump’s community -- from voicing their discontent, Trump’s message says. This environment has made the middle class feel frustrated and helpless. Government has created major problems for the middle class, Trump’s recommendations are to become the voice of the middle class, to renegotiate unfair trade deals with foreign countries and build a southern border wall.

These characteristics all apply to Trump: they seem to have been written about him. Alinsky then discusses his tactical philosophy. He used demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts, etc. to bring attention to the grievances of persons who felt they had no clout with big business. Alinsky’s tactics of protest and empowerment included disrupting businesses and embarrassing them. A President Trump will have the power of the presidency behind him and the U.S. economy as a bargaining chip. Alinsky’s community efforts were always small and local.

Summarizing the need for strong tactics to empower the powerless, Alinsky said: “No one can negotiate without the power to compel negotiation.” Trump has stated: “you’ve got to be willing to walk away” if negotiations don't go well. That’s exactly what voters have wanted to hear. Trump said the U.S. has had the power all along to get better trade deals but has not used it because the political hacks who make deals are responding to the demands of lobbyists and insiders, not the voters.

This fits Trump’s idea that we must use the nation’s economic power to renegotiate trade deals with foreign countries. That suits voters well: they are tired of seeing their jobs negotiated away by unaccountable politicians. Trump also said he will bring NATO countries and South Korea into line by forcing them to pay their “fair share” of the costs of NATO and military protection. Similarly, he has threatened to force Arab states in the Persian Gulf to pay for the cost of the U.S. naval protection they enjoy.  Voters feel cheated out of any say in these issues, and cheated by the political hacks, as Trump calls them, who have sold out the voters through these unfair deals.

While Alinsky’s name is constantly brought up as the origin of radical DNC tactics, the truth is the DNC has become the kind of power structure Saul Alinsky wouldn’t like. Joblessness went up when Obama when the DNC had control of domestic economic policies.

Like Trump, Alinsky did not approve of political correctness. He said in the Playboy interview that polite, inoffensive language is a fault of the middle class, and doesn’t produce results. He recalls how he once yelled at a server at a restaurant in order to get her cooperation. He proudly held that up as an example: that sometimes you have to be rude to make a point. Trump is rude.

The biggest difference between Trump and Alinsky is that Alinsky blamed mega-corporations for the plight of the people. Today taxpayers feel government is the problem. Alinsky was not a corporate man, Trump is not a politician.  

If Alinsky were alive today, he would focus on the increase in black poverty and unemployment under Obama, the decline of the middle class, and the million-dollar pensions given to government union members. He would approve of Trump’s rudeness, attack on political correctness, and use of economic clout in negotiations.

Alinsky’s description of leadership is a useful way to describe Trump’s success.