The Left has taken to violence in the streets, harassing government officials, and promoting socialist candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the future of the Democratic Party. Yet, many on the Left are questioning why the chances of a blue wave are diminishing.
Liberals see Ocasio-Cortez’s victory as a cultural embrace of intersectional politics and progressive values. Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, would say that this is just a perception — and perceptions are relative interpretations of the world we would like to see, not of the world as it is.
Cortez’s victory is particularly noteworthy for progressives hoping to see such a shift. She considers herself a “democratic socialist,” the same title that Bernie Sanders used in the 2016 election. This means that she plans to implement socialism slowly, with the consent of the people, democratically. To seriously consider implementing socialism is a radical kind of thinking in America — one that has proven to be capable of defeating an “establishment” candidate.
Because of Ocasio-Cortez’s victory, it has become a necessity to look to the Alinsky philosophy. Alinsky’s book, after all, teaches radical candidates like Ocasio-Cortez to successfully and pragmatically implement their ideas.
Due to an overwhelming presence of a political establishment, Alinsky advises student organizers in his book to “do one of three things. One, go find a wailing wall and feel sorry for yourselves. Two, go psycho and start bombing — but this will only swing people to the right. Three, learn a lesson. Go home, organize, build power and at the next convention, you be the delegates."
Alinsky does not say “political bombings are evil and therefore should not be used.” He advises students that bombing is politically ineffective and therefore shouldn’t be used. Alinsky posits that the true radical must be willing to work within his relative environment, pandering to the subjective needs of his audience.
For example, Alinsky says, “If I were organizing in an orthodox Jewish community I would not walk in there eating a ham sandwich, unless I wanted to be rejected … . As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be.”
Alinsky is correct in one way. In order to implement a worldview into policy, a politician must understand the culture of the people to which he is communicating his worldview.
In Rules for Radicals, Alinsky says the Left must fight for power on two fronts: politically and culturally. Alinsky rejects the idea that American politics is a contest of ideas, but rather a contest of cultures: bad versus good. He says, "The job of the organizer is to maneuver and bait the establishment so that it will publicly attack him as a ‘dangerous’ enemy. The word ‘enemy’ is sufficient to put the organizer on the side of the people, to identify him with the have-nots."
Socialism is often labeled as a dangerous ideology — one that gives license to charismatic radicals like Ocasio-Cortez to identify with the “have-nots.” Alinsky believes that although the student radical may pursue political power, the real power is one that lies within the people — one that allows them to take down the “establishment.” So long as the radical is able to empathize with the culture of a people, he or she will captivate the masses and become “the people’s champion.”
Since Trump launched his campaign in 2015, the Left has attempted to brand Trump supporters with the mark of bigotry. In the 2016 election, this rhetoric climaxed with Hillary Clinton’s notorious “basket of deplorables” comment.
Alinsky warned the Left against using this tactic when he said, “[the radical] refrains from rhetoric foreign to the local culture: he knows that worn-out words like ‘white racist,’ ‘fascist pig,’ ... have been so spewed about that using them is now within the negative experience of the local people, serving only to identify the speaker as ‘one of those nuts.’"
When Clinton labeled half of the country as bigoted, she failed to communicate culturally. She became what Alinsky would call the ineffective radical. Meanwhile, on both the political and cultural fronts, Trump campaigned for the “forgotten men and women.” He was labeled as the enemy by the political establishment and called names like “racist” and “fascist,” while empathizing with the culture of America that wanted to restore traditional American values. While the Left continues to demonize him, Trump fights for American culture.
One such cultural battle took place during the national anthem controversy. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick lost his audience when he took his message away from police brutality and disrespected the American flag by taking a knee during the national anthem. President Trump resonated with the culture by standing for the flag and the anthem. Alinsky wrote about this exact type of cultural battle.
“Even the most elementary grasp of the fundamental idea that one communicates within the experience of his audience — and gives full respect to the other's values — would have ruled out attacks on the American flag. The responsible organizer would have known that it is the establishment that has betrayed the flag while the flag, itself, remains the glorious symbol of America's hopes and aspirations, and he would have conveyed this message to his audience,” Alinsky wrote.
Trump’s crusade against this movement resulted in a change in NFL policy, which instructs all players to stand for the anthem on the field or sit in the locker room, no sideshows. Polls show that a majority of the American people sided with Trump on the issue. This victory gave more cultural authority to Trump, because he instinctively hijacked the pragmatic strategies of Alinsky and used them against the Left.
The Left did not learn their lesson from the NFL protests. They continue to struggle with empathy for American culture. They have failed to use Alinsky pragmatism and no longer seek to methodically radicalize the public. Alinsky would label many on the Left as unpragmatic, ineffective radicals. Among those include Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who called for the harassment of public officials, pop icon Madonna, who threatened to bomb the White House, and comedian Kathy Griffin, who unapologetically held a decapitated visage of President Trump.
By reading Rules for Radicals, one can understand why the left continues to lose the culture war. They have empowered Trump with more credibility through their ineffective activism, and have granted him inevitable political authority for the foreseeable future. If you want to understand why a blue wave is diminishing, read Saul Alinsky.