Saul Trumpinsky – Donald Trump and Saul Alinsky

Yes Virginia, there is a United States. Most posts published on this blog are dedicated to Virginia-specific issues. This post is an exception. It is an attempt to understand the unexpected popularity of Donald Trump. While all states are impacted by the federal government and national politics, Virginia is perhaps the most affected state. The proximity of Northern Virginia to the nation’s capital as well as the military influence over Hampton Roads’ economy make the federal government particularly important to Virginia. So it behooves us to understand the president and how the heck he got elected.

Saul who? Saul Alinsky was a Chicago-born community organizer and writer. He was best known for his book Rules for Radicals published in 1971. Even before his famous (or infamous) book Alinsky was on the political radar. In 1966 William F. Buckley wrote an article in his “On the Right” column calling Alinsky an iconoclast and “close to being an organizational genius.” However, as would be the case with many critics on the left and right, Buckley ultimately found Alinsky’s approach ineffective. Famously, Hillary Clinton’s undergraduate thesis was a 92-page critique of Mr. Alinsky and his methods. Back in 1969, 22-year-old Clinton was sympathetic to Alinsky’s concerns but ultimately found his approach ineffective. Even Hoover’s FBI kept a close eye on Alinsky during the late 1960s. But the 1960s came and went and Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals was written and discussed, and then faded from view. There were momentary flare-ups around Hillary Clinton becoming First Lady and Barack Obama becoming president. However, Alinsky was largely relegated to those creaky crevices of the cultural cranium as a curious cartoon-like character. Or … was he?

Donald Trump and the resurrection of Saul Alinsky. As far back as early 2016 the right wing-media outlet Newsmax began to see parallels between Donald Trump’s approach as a candidate and Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. After being elected some of President Trump’s conservative critics continued to associate Trump’s actions with the Alinsky brand. Could it be? Could this odd collection of #neverTrumpers have unraveled the secret to Donald Trump’s inexplicable election success? Is he simply following Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals? Repeated searches of Trumpian philosophy found no fond commentary by The Donald for The Saul. However, there are many points of commonality between Trump and Alinsky.

A baker’s dozen.  Alinsky outlines 13 specific rules in his book. Donald Trump is following 12 of them. To wit (along with the Trump translation or Trumplation):

  1. “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.” (Trumplation: constant exaggeration.)
  2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” (Trumplation: Make America Great Again. A simple, understandable motto.)
  3. “Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy.” (Trumplation: Canada’s 243% tariff on U.S. dairy products … who knew?)
  4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” (Trumplation: Slam Hillary Clinton for taking millions for giving speeches to banks.)
  5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” (Trumplation: Crooked Hillary, Corrupt Kaine.)
  6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” (Trumplation: campaign speeches that look like revival meetings, “deplorables” as a badge of honor.”)
  7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Trumplation: (Whatever happened to the NFL kneeling “controversy”?)
  8. “Keep the pressure on.” (Trumplation: From North Korea to the EU to London to Helsinki backed by an unending chorus of tweets.)
  9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”  (Trumplation: Nominate me or I’ll go third party.)
  10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”  (Trumplation: One Donald Trump tweeting, many Democrats attempting to rebut.)
  11. “If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside” (Trumplation: Forget my business deals, look at Crooked Hillary, Crooked Hillary, Crooked Hillary …)
  12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”  (Trumplation: The only rule he seems to have missed although GDP growth through corporate tax cuts might be an example.)
  13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”  (Trumplation: target individuals not institutions – Carmen Yulin Cruz, Stephen Colbert, Megyn Kelly.)

Advise to President Trump. Read Hillary’s thesis. She did get an “A”. Alinsky’s tactics work well at first but fail to create a lasting unity among their adherents. They generate notoriety at a rapid rate but the momentum doesn’t last. Charles “the Hammer” Martel may have defeated the Moors at Tours but it was his grandson King Charles (aka Charlemagne or “Charles the Great”) who forged an empire. Hammers are forgotten while greatness is not. Hammer time is over. What’s next Mr. President? You’ve taken the rules for radicals as far as they will go. It’s time to start writing “lessons for leaders.”

— Don Rippert

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8 responses to “Saul Trumpinsky – Donald Trump and Saul Alinsky

  1. Where else but Bacon’s Rebellion would we go from radical chic Alinsky to Charlemagne? Such fun….. I agree the parallels are strong, but I do not think Alinsky did anything but package and preach some very ancient demagogic tactics. If our president was going to transition to a different mode of operation, to try a more traditional form of leadership, it would have happened by now.

  2. “Alinsky was largely relegated to those creaky crevices of the cultural cranium as a curious cartoon-like character.” Love it!

    To generalize: bombast becomes tiresome except to the base that’s buoyed by it. And, “your people” [DT’s base] may love all 13 tactics but the “in” group seems not to be growing. As for lasting unity? I just don’t see what even the Trumpistas have in common except anger and lack of education. Meanwhile those left out of the “in” group seem to be drifting further away from the center, towards highly-motivated opposition. Not a recipe for a movement, or for a political party.

  3. All this obsession with Alinsky is silly and unwarranted! It seems to be a stereotypical boogeyman for the right!

    Trump is no Alinsky in any way, shape or form in my view but Trump DOES understand the mindsets of the folks who make up his base AND he knows that many elected GOP in Congress could not be elected – without that base. Just consider several of the Congressional districts in rural Virginia for example.

    From a geographic-electoral point of view and the original intent of the founding fathers – the rural USA will always be a major influence on elected bodies – Congress and the Statehouses and rural America likes what they see in Trump regardless of whether he is “using” Alinisky tactics or not.. Trump and advisers DID SEE that segment of the US population and it’s strong distaste for conventional politics and government and they very much successfully exploited it to change the way the country is run, including the SCOTUS – no question.

    And anyone who might run against him, better be ready for knock-down-drag-out mud wrestling because whoever steps up, you can bet Trump will slime him/her to the max degree possible. You need to look no farther than the trail of disemboweled GOP challengers to POTUS and the equally well-eviscerated Hillary Clinton who conveniently provided all the baggage needed – and more!

    For a second term – the country as a whole will have to decide if they like the way the country is being run AND is there a Dem candidate without major baggage who can ALSO street-fight effectively and stand with Trump – punch for punch.

    The disaster scenario: The Nations hard-core Dems who vote even for Hillary – against Trump America (rural and urban).

    If Trump boosts his numbers to 40-45% ( that gets him close enough to “take down” most conventional limp-wrist candidates) it will be Katy-bar-the-door time but the man is such a bull in the china shop on so many issues , who really knows? When you watch how he conducts himself overall on foreign and much domestic policy – attributing to him Alinsky-like qualities is …. amusing.

  4. A comparison very nicely and convincingly done. Trump focused on the simple — simple policies, simple goals — and a disaffected voter population, albeit not the majority, bought it.

    He doesn’t have any positive goals. He doesn’t appeal to the rational side of voters. If he did that also he’d be even more dangerous. But he’s dangerous for sure as he appeals to raw emotions and exploits the abiding dark side and history of America.

  5. Trump would not be President but for his opponent Hillary Clinton. While popular with the post menopausal crowd and the Clinton true believers (of which there are many), a very large number of Americans abhor Hillary. Unlike Bill, who can be likable, she has the personality of your three nastiest school teachers combined with that of your scolding great aunt, an ego even larger than Bill’s and Donald’s combined and no ethical compass. I suspect many Americans would rather have a root canal than share coffee with Hillary.

    The Establishment (largely self-appointed) holds the typical American in contempt. Donald spoke to them much like Jesse Ventura did to Minnesota voters several years ago. Hillary thinks they are deplorables.

    I don’t like Donald Trump and supported Gary Johnson. But if I had a choice of only Hillary or Donald, I’d hold my nose and vote for Trump. The Clintons are the only people who can make Trump seem to be a decent man.

  6. Interesting if a bit apples and oranges. Somehow I equate Alinsky with organizing in the ghetto in the 1960s — not a real estate blowhard

    • I agree with Peter.

    • Alinsky took up the cause of the downtrodden through his Rules for Radicals. As you know, those rules included a lot of previously avoided tactics like ridiculing one’s opponents. Trump took up the cause of a different downtrodden group (blue collar, often rural workers) and used those same rules. Alinsky fought the governmental establishment claiming to be helping the poor in the inner cities. Trump fought the Republican establishment claiming to be the voice of downtrodden blue collar workers. Both improbably put themselves on the radar through the same mechanism. Alinsky faded from public view when it became clear that his approach worked for a while but didn’t have “staying power”. I believe the same will happen to Trump.

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