Updating Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" for the Trump Era
"Money doesn't buy you class!" the young women at the line's center chanted in righteous unison, their arms interlocked with those of 20 or so other young men and women to block the public way.
"Racists!" Others yelled. "Rapists!" "You should be ashamed!" they yelled at the men in tuxedos (many rented) and women in long dresses and heels, some unwisely bare-shouldered in the 40-degree weather, whom the protesters forced out of buses and cars to walk and climb over barriers to our destination, which was the $50-per-person "Freedom Ball" at the inauguration of America’s 45th president.
How interesting that folks who deny freedom of movement on public streets believe that they are standing up for some democratic principle. Curious, too, that these young women chose to hold a seminar on feminism by making other young women, many of whom had never been to a ball or their nation’s capital, not to mention older women (including one lady in a wheelchair just ahead of me), walk an extra half-mile in the chill night air.
And "racist" and all the other "ists" yelled at us as we wound our way toward our celebration -- how did they know, I wondered? Do we wear scarlet "R’s" on our chests? No doubt those free-thinkers in their uniform earth tones saw evil in the bright and varied gowns and the menacing black tuxedos walking past their seminar on class and feminism.
No rocks were thrown as I held my wife's hand and waved at our betters; there were no broken windows, and no publicly owned trash cans were set on fire. We lived through that night's "nonviolent" protests in Washington D.C., which mirrored similar protests snarling Chicago traffic over inaugural weekend.
I have a radical thought: Perhaps we should expect more from our fellow citizens than not destroying property or harming other citizens when they exercise their rights. Perhaps we should expect those exercising rights to respect the rights of others as well.
Perhaps it's time to refresh Saul Alinsky's middle-aged "Rules for Radicals" (now in its 46th year), which has instructed this and prior generations of radicals who want to "burn the system down!"
But upon pulling a dog-eared copy up on my smartphone, I discovered that Alinsky's cookbook for how to upend the establishment (setting aside the awful, outdated Marxism) is more timeless than I realized—and that today’s protesters might want to read it themselves.
“This failure of many of our younger activists to understand the art of communication has been disastrous,” Alinsky wrote in explaining why some tactics invariably turn off many more Americans than they inspire. “Even the most elementary grasp of the fundamental idea that one communicates within the experience of his audience—and give full respect to the other’s values —would have ruled out attacks on the American flag….”
"These rules make the difference between being a realistic radical and being a rhetorical one who uses the tired old words and slogans, calls the police ‘pig’ or ‘white fascist racist,’” he continued, “and has so stereotyped himself that others react by saying, ‘Oh, he's one of those,’ and then promptly turn off."
So there you have it: The anti-Trump crowd is so out-of-touch with the people and even their own principles for effective protesting that their efforts backfire and give aid and succor to their enemies. And, interestingly, the folks that seem to have best learned from Alinsky's instructions for how the powerless can seize power are Steve Bannon and others on the Trump team. Take the third of Alinsky’s rules: "Wherever possible go outside of the experience of the enemy. Here you want to cause confusion, fear and retreat." Doesn’t that evoke Trump and Twitter?
Fourth rule: "Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules." Think Trump and Bill Clinton.
Fifth rule: "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also, it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage." Think Trump and everyone from Jeb Bush to CNN.
Sixth rule: "A good tactic is one your people enjoy." We Deplorables get this -- the Trump campaign was fun. We embraced this absurd characterization of Americans who deplore a system in which a politicized and corrupt Justice Department gave Hillary Clinton a pass no other American would get and that protected the IRS as it abused groups that opposed the Obama administration. The chant "Lock her up! Lock her up!" was not the angry call of a mob, it was a gleeful catnip to a Clinton-loving media, which couldn't resist breathlessly reporting the chant, which then inadvertently served to highlight Obama's refusal to neutrally enforce the law, as well as Clinton's own profound corruption.
The seventh rule is a sage warning to Republicans: "A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag." Republicans must move swiftly while we have momentum, for all too soon, as the ardor of the movement cools, Republicans will be judged on accomplishments and not tactics.
But the rules don't pretend to be comprehensive, so in the spirit of today's search for constant improvement, I hereby suggest a new rule, call it Rule 6A, or perhaps the Golden Rule for Radicals: "A good tactic is one that treats ordinary citizens as anyone would like to be treated and that almost everyone can enjoy."
This applies to the Apostles of Change on either the right or the left. Hopefully, those passionately or professionally fearful of Trump get the point: tactics that are amusing, noticeable and don’t victimize others have a chance to change minds, while bullying your fellow Americans just hardens hearts.
While I disagree with its underlying premise and the over-the-top profanity employed at the self-styled women's protest Saturday, purely as a tactic the pink pussycat hat gets a thumbs-up under our new Golden Rule for Radicals.
On the other hand, thuggishly blocking traffic, shouting epithets at strangers, and making thousands walk in the cold flunks the Golden Rule for Radicals and gets nothing but contempt and the occasional, unequivocal middle finger.