Trump Is Going Full Alinsky – and His Opponents Are Flummoxed
Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals is considered a bible to the left, a how-to guide for community organizing and activism. Barack Obama was an Alinsky protégé before, during, and after his presidency. Obama used the rules to his advantage, advancing his left-wing agenda.
The left, despite conventional wisdom, has no monopoly on Alinsky's rules. Instead these rules can be used by the right, also as blueprint for effecting change.
The dirty little secret is that Alinsky has little in common with modern leftists. As Ralph Benko writes, "Alinsky was an aggressively anti-communist, anti-big government, populist with a healthy contempt for liberals." He would more likely be found at a Tea Party rally wearing a MAGA hat than at a resistance march wearing a pink pussy hat.
President Trump is reaping the results this month of his foreign policy initiatives. He blew up Obama's sketchy Iran deal. The U.S. embassy opened in Jerusalem, fulfilling a promise made, but never kept, by a slew of recent U.S. presidents. Trump is hopefully sitting down with North Korea's Kim Jung-un after Kim pledged to scrap his nuke program, despite media reports of last-minute attempts by Kim to scuttle the talks. Trump is keeping and following through on promises his predecessors have made but tossed aside due to lack of resolve or political expediency.
All in all, it's been a few good weeks for a rube, unfit for the presidency, out of his depth in conducting foreign affairs, with a temperament to make war as opposed to peace. So how did it happen? Trump, whether intentionally or not, is following Alinsky's rules in shaking up the world, effecting the change that eluded his predecessors, despite their Ivy League pedigrees, silver tongues, and sharp pant creases.
Let's look at a few of the rules Trump has used to turn the new world order upside-down.
"Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have."
Remember how Trump told Kim his nuclear button is bigger than Kim's? And how Trump had no qualms about unleashing the fury of the U.S. military on Afghanistan and Syria – not a ground war, but a salvo of missiles and bombs, and threats for far worse from the U.S. if necessary? Does anyone think Iran and North Korea want to call Trump's bluff?
"Never go outside the expertise of your people."
Trump is sticking to what he knows best – negotiating, financing, and playing hardball. He is staying far away from the nuance of the Kerry-Obama cabal, instead delivering a simple and straightforward message to his geopolitical foes. This message is easy to understand, including by the American people, who can smell John Kerry's nonsensical diplomatic-speak from a mile away.
"Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy."
North Korea and Iran know only threats and intimidation, tactics that have kept past U.S. presidents dancing to their tune. Trump added a new tactic, something not used by past administrations, which they haven't yet had to contend with: economic strength. Trump is using U.S. economic might as a national security club, imposing sanctions and tariffs to squeeze countries opposed to his agenda. Trump took it farther, threatening to stop doing business with countries continuing to do business with North Korea or Iran. China, France, and Germany will think twice before supporting N.K. or Iran over the U.S.
"Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules."
Past administrations have promised to contain N.K. and Iran. They also conveniently, on the campaign trail, promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. All Trump is doing is fulfilling the promises made by others. Those howling with outrage look like fools for complaining about Trump doing what they themselves promised to do.
"Ridicule is man's most potent weapon."
This is President Trump's forte. Using his Twitter account and speeches, calling out Little Rocket Man and the hypocrisy and incompetence of past administrations, he has his political opponents on their heels, playing defense. This is not presidential, according to the pinstriped suit crowd in Washington, D.C. Trump is uncouth and crude, sullying the office of the president. Yet he is getting stuff done, at a far faster rate than any of his predecessors. Willie Brown and David Brooks, liberal Democrat and swamp-dweller, respectively, have recently written about Trump's popularity and effectiveness and the dangers for Democrats in underestimating him and his appeal to voters.
"A good tactic is one your people enjoy."
Just watch one of his rallies. Supporters queue up hours before, and most never even make it to the arena. Trump is funny and entertaining. Imagine either of the Presidents Bush holding a similar rally. Or a President Kerry or Gore. That would be as exciting as watching paint dry.
Trump's opponents don't like his tactics because they are defenseless against them, reduced to braying about Russia or Stormy or calling for impeachment. But his supporters can't get enough of Trump calling out the media and the Deep State.
"Keep the pressure on. Never let up."
Trump is ticking off his promises one by one. He hasn't reversed course, even if Congress stands in his way, as in the border wall. Much of what he campaigned on is happening – Paris climate accords, Iran nuke deal, trade deals, ISIS, judicial picks, and so on.
"The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself."
Trump frequently brags on his military and willingness to use it. When pulling out of the Iran nuke deal, he said, "If the regime continues its nuclear aspirations, it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before." Does Iran want to call Trump's bluff on that? By now, the world knows that Trump says what he means and means what he says.
"Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."
From Kim in North Korea to crooked Hillary, Mueller, Comey, and the Deep-Staters trying to destroy his presidency, he calls these people out. He names names and misdeeds, via tweets and impromptu remarks. The enemies of Donald Trump become the enemies of his supporters, personalized and polarized.
President Trump, knowingly or unknowingly, has co-opted Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, using them effectively to advance his agenda. How ironic that the tactics of the left are being used against the leftists themselves. The left knows the rules only for playing offense. Now that the rules are being used against it, it is at a loss as to how to react and respond.
For Trump-supporters, typically being on the losing end of Alinsky's rules, it's a refreshing treat to finally be on offense, scoring touchdowns, leaving Democrats and NeverTrumps babbling and unable to stop or slow the Trump train.
Brian C Joondeph, M.D., MPS is a Denver-based physician and writer. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.