The Incomplete Trump Revolution

Author’s Note: This is the latest in a series of articles begun in February 2016. For quick reference previous articles are (one) (two) (three) (four) (five) (six)

What has been missing is some clue, some insight, as to why the Trump revolution stalled out and lost traction.

And, suddenly, there it was, an implicit acknowledgement that Donald Trump did not win in 2016. A Sheneman political cartoon in the Washington Post on August 24, 2019, has Jill Biden telling Joe Biden, “why win when not losing is safer?”

Trump ascended to the Presidency because he did not lose. There is a subtle but significant different between winning and not losing. The President does not and may never understand that. But that is just one reason his revolution is incomplete.

Trump is a natural revolutionary but born into a business family. From his earliest years his father wrapped him in a business cocoon destined to never metamorphize. His family, friends, staff and Congressional leaders have hardened the cocoon into a chrysalis from which he cannot break free.

His frustration shows every day as he struggles to discover his identity. He makes mistakes over and over because he is on the wrong path. And why is that?

Natural revolutionaries are few and far between in history. Trump is one, unrecognized by all, himself included. He could have stood among the greats, a small but impressive list. Here is one view of that list and Trump’s place on it.

During the period 1974-1980, I taught Political Revolutionary Warfare at the Naval Amphibious Warfare School, Coronado. Over time we developed a list of the top 10 people in history who had understood revolution. I would put my name in as number four and then erase it leaving the slot open for students to identify someone, they thought we had overlooked. At the time, there was no awareness that some future person would deserve the fourth slot.

That person could have been Donald Trump. And there are two immediate problems with that. First, Trump would never acknowledge that he was not number one. Second, his main competition is Iran. But that is a story for another day. So, who is on the list?

The period 1974-1980 was a rich environment for the study of revolutionary theory. It saw the end of the Vietnam revolution. It matters not whether the revolution was two distinct events or a single revolution in two parts. Either way, Ho Chi Minh went through the revolutionary process twice, once against the French and once against the United States. He comes in as number three on the list.

At the same time the United States was celebrating the bicentennial of its own revolution. And, a bit ethnocentrically, the revolution makes the list, number two under the name Samuel Adams. (The Grand Incendiary: A Biography of Samuel Adams, Noel Gerson, Sep 21, 1973)

Five, six, and seven on the list are the usual suspects; Mao at five, Lenin at six, and Fidel at seven. This is a heady list. Fourth is the high-water mark, at best, for Trump.

The last three slots are reserved for the counterrevolutionaries. Those who oppose revolution deserve some credit. At tenth on the list is Tito. His strategy was to rotate the Presidency in Yugoslavia. It worked in the short term but did not long survive his passing.

Ninth on the list is King Juan Carlos of Spain. His strategy was devolution, more enduring, but problematic in Spain and elsewhere. Devolution has long been in play throughout the British Isles and has implications in the Brexit kerfuffle. Further discussion is left for another day and for those far more knowledgeable in the subject.

Eight on the list is a group who probably deserve consideration for a spot near the top, the Afrikaners. Their strategy was the best possible for those who counter revolution. They joined the revolution.

That leaves open the top spot, homework for the reader, and another discussion for a future day.

With slot four within reach what happened to Donald Trump? There are three things successful revolutionaries do, Trump is zero for three.

First, as the Sheneman political cartoon tells us, successful revolutionaries do not get themselves organized to win. They get organized to give their opponents every opportunity to lose. Perhaps once, in passing, Trump acknowledged that Clinton lost. She did so because of four unforced errors, three tactical and one strategic. She survived the tactical blunders but not the strategic mistake.

Tactically, President Clinton met with Loretta Lynch on a tarmac in Arizona, a rookie mistake. Senator Clinton, for her part, decided her opponents were deplorables, tone deaf pure and simple. Then President Clinton decided to trash Obama care, not just rookie, but a bush-league error.

Strategically, all the airbrushing of the tactical errors came to naught. The Clinton camp failed to protect the Northern flank. The results were unforgiving.

Trump, for his part, claims a win, still. It was not, his opponent lost.

Second, successful revolutionaries focus forward not backwards. Trump’s failure to do this, to keep revisiting the past, boht Obama and Clinton, is a Business 101 failure. Obama and Clinton, and all past administrations are sunk costs. Business owners, large and small know about sunk costs. Heads of households do as well. Trump inexplicably does not.

Finally, successful revolutionaries set out to govern, with diligence, purpose, and consistency. Governor Christie set the table for Trump. It was all for naught. Trump threw the baby out with the bathwater and governance ended up as 15 binders in a dumpster.

Revolutionaries succeed because their opposition strangles in its own strength. Clinton did just that. Trump ascended to the Presidency because “not losing was safer.” Will he, too, strangle in his own strength?

Homework done? Aristotle is number one on the list. Men make revolution under the notion they are unjustly treated. Interesting times ahead this election cycle.

The Trump Revolution: 9/11 Presidential-Level Issues Considered


Forget all the election rhetoric of the past many months. The new President will face real issues, real challenges. Now is a good time, therefore, to review important lessons learned from 9/11.

Here are six such lessons, beginning with the most important, transition.

1. Terrorists struck during the transition from one administration to another, and from one party to another.

This is not about current planning being done by both candidates. It is about the actual transition of power, something that does not happen overnight. International actors, known and unknown, will test the new administration.

Transition is an inherent period of instability that requires diligence, efficiency, and collaboration. What thought have the candidates given to transition? How are they going to meld the outgoing administration, the incoming administration and the congress into an diligent, efficient and collaborative team?

A comprehensive transition should facilitate decision making, especially if the transition is from one political party to the other. And that is the second lesson learned.

2. The terrorists were able to operated well within the nation’s decision making process

It is a military imperative to operate inside the decision making cycle of an enemy.

The 9/11 attacking force, numbering just 19 members, easily stayed inside the nations’s decision making process. From the moment the first two hijackers arrived in California on January 15, 2000, until ordinary citizens took matters into their own hands and brought down United Airlines flight 93 twenty months later, the nation was always behind, strategically and tactically

The attackers commandeered commercial airliners and converted them into guided missiles that destroyed the World Trade Center complex, seriously damaged the Pentagon, and ultimately failed to strike a final target. Not once did the government under two administrations gain the upper hand, always playing catch up, and just missing a final opportunity to keep flight 93 from taking off.

What will the new President do to streamline decision processes among and within the organizations that make up the bureaucracy?

Just one system was attacked on 9/11. But there are many systems and subsystems in the bureaucracy that are supposed to keep the government functioning and the people safe. And that is the third lesson learned.

3. Government is a complex mix of systems and subsystems that need protection

9/11 was an attack on the National Airspace System (NAS), a subsystem of the National Transportation System. Two people, the National Operations Manager, and the Commander, Northeast Air Defense Sector, were responsible for the operation and defense of the NAS on the East Coast. Over time, the occupants of those positions had never met, their staffs did not know each other, and the two organizations had never exercised together. They never shared a common operating picture of the threat, or the battlefield as the attack unfolded.

What will the new President do to ensure operational information gets to where it is needed and that the operators and defenders of government systems and subsystems share critical information? Do the candidates appreciate the complex arrangement of systems and subsystems that keep the government functioning?

The operators and defenders of the systems and subsystems of government were and are the battle commanders. And that is the fourth lesson learned.

4. 9/11 was a battle in a larger war on terror

Presidents and Generals fight wars. Colonels and civilians of equivalent grade fight battles. There was no time for national level involvement. As it happened, the national level was just getting itself organized when American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon. No National Command Authority should be so surprised.

What role can and should the President play in a fast moving battle? What are the relevant authorities of the President? What should the President further delegate and how can that be done quickly? Is the National Command Authority where it needs to be to face a national threat? And that is the fifth lesson learned.

5. The National Command Authority failed to recognized that the 9/11 attack was a threat to the nation, not a threat to the person of the President or Vice President.

The attack was a national threat. The Secret Service, with help from the White House Staff and the Pentagon, perceived a personal threat. As a result both the Vice President and President were denied the opportunity to stand and deliver, to face the threat and, if necessary, die.

The Vice President was consigned to PEOC purgatory. The President hightailed to the hinterland because that is where Air Force One took him. Neither could communicate effectively with the other.

How will a new President seek to ensure that the National Command Authority is present for duty in a chaotic situation? And that is the sixth lesson learned.

6. 9/11 and the aftermath descended into Chaos, nearly unmanageable.

Chaos is the one, near universal, word used to describe the events of September 11, 2001. Participants were recorded using the word, eyewitnesses and other commentators used it, and writers and journalists continue to use it. No one defines chaos, it is simply understood.

John Farmer, in a Team 8 memo to the Commission front office wrote:

In perhaps no aspect of the 9-11 attacks is the public record, as reflected in both news accounts and testimony before this Commission, so flatly at odds with the truth. The challenge in relating the history of one of the most chaotic days in our history…is to avoid replicating that chaos in writing about it.

On September 12, 2010, Ted Koppel, in the Washington Post, Outlook Section, wrote:

Could bin Laden in his wildest imaginings, have hoped to provoke greater chaos?” The article was titled: “Let’s stop playing into bin Laden’s hands.

Chaotic events eventually settle into a steady state. Koppel’s comment suggests we are nowhere near a new steady state. The nation and the world must be prepared to manage chaos. How will the new President do that?

Turning Washington upside down on day one is not the answer.


The Trump Revolution: A final word


It is November 3, 2017. This is the sixth and penultimate occasional article on the Trump Revolution. We began the series with the primaries when it appeared that Trump was a new breed of revolutionary. That perspective had a short shelf life, just three articles (one, two, three). It became readily apparent that the revolution was floundering.

In the fourth article, I wrote that “my original premise has turned out wrong. Whatever Trump is, opportunist or charlatan, he is not a revolutionary.”

In the fifth article, I summarized that

Trump has so far mastered just one process of revolution, intimidation. His casual base is anachronistic (Make America Great Again). He has shown limited talent to effectively harness resources. We don’t yet know if he is capable of decisive action against his opponent.

And that is where I left things. The conventions and the three debates were fascinating theater but they added nothing that encouraged me to comment further. Events took a life of their own that enthralled and consumed pundits of all stripes.

However, the election is fast approaching and it is imperative and compelling that I document my perspective, for the record. I begin with a clear statement of what Trump has been all along.

What Trump Is

Trump is a businessman, always was, always will be. So, the question is what business approach looks like a revolution in its early stages? And the answer is hostile takeover.

Trump has, with some loose ends, completed a hostile takeover of the Republican party. Now he is attempting a hostile takeover of the nation. In Trump’s world bankruptcy has been the outcome. In Trump’s world, all others lose and he  walks away a winner.

The Republican party is a bankrupt shadow of its former existence. The nation cannot afford the same outcome.

Ted Cruz, during the primary debates, and Michael Bloomberg, during the conventions, both labeled Trump for what he is, a con man running a scam. In Bloomberg’s words: “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business. God help us. I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one.”

The con he is running is bait and switch, the same one he used at Trump University.

Bait and Switch

The “New Yorker” describes Trump University as a bait and switch operation. The “National Review” labeled the scam as “massive.” The “bait and switch” technique was no better displayed than students having their pictures taken with a life-sized cardboard cutout of Trump.

Now Trump is running the same con on the American people during his run for President. Two examples will suffice.

First, Trump effectively took the Supreme Court nomination issue off the table by producing a list to lull his base. Those who believe Trump has any allegiance to that list have not been paying attention. That list was and is the bait.  The switch has yet to come.

Second is the wall and mass deportation. Both are bait. Only the true believers think either will happen. Trump has already foretold the switch. He set the table with the formation of an Hispanic council and with a sudden and inexplicable visit to meet the President of Mexico.

Most observers can see the switch coming. No wall, no mass deportation. Trump followers do not see that coming.

So that is where we are, today.

The State of Affairs

The Trump revolution never got off the ground after a nice start during the primary season. The Republican Party as a responsible entity in the national political system has been destroyed. Looming is a hostile takeover of the nation, fueled by incessant stories of gropings, emails, Access Hollywood tapes, and Wikileaks.Those are all depressing looks at the past.

Perspective on the future is needed in the final days leading up to the general election. The nation is at its most vulnerable as it transitions from one administration to another. A different discussion will help the electorate decide who will guide the nation next spring, summer, and fall as international actors, known and unknown, test a new administration and threaten the nation.

During a similar period 16 years ago, the nation was tested, threatened, and attacked. As we approach the 16th anniversary of 9/11 it might be helpful to review Presidential-level lessons learned from that day. That will be the subject of my last article in this series.  Stay tuned.

The Trump Revolution: Convention Time; An Update

It is Monday, July 18, and the political conventions of 2016 are upon us. It is time for another update on the Trump revolution.

This is the 5th in an occasional series of articles begun under the premise that Donald Trump is a revolutionary. That theme played out for three (first, second, third) articles. By the fourth article it was clear that Trump was not a revolutionary and we chatted about that in that last article.

In this article I will discuss the faltering Trump revolution in theoretical terms. Before we delve into that a couple of metaphors may be helpful to set the stage. Let’s begin with a race track metaphor.

The Race Track

Immediately out of the starting gate the Republican field began to sort itself out as the candidates jockeyed for position down the back stretch, the primaries. As the field neared the turn, the pivot in the vernacular, it did not come together as a cohesive pack following a single leader through the turn.

The turn, in race track parlance, is the convention. The thundering herd is supposed to get itself organized behind a thoroughbred leader commanding all erstwhile opponents to follow. That has not yet  happened.

On the Republican side, we have a slip-shod, rogue palomino, attempting to lead a stampeding herd.

Joining him for the stretch run from a parallel race track universe is a filly who has commanded her herd to get in harness and pull together down the stretch. This is no thoroughbred leader on the other side, either.

Even so she has managed to pull together a team of draft horses, to plod a steady course down the stretch.  Clydesdale’s they are not, but it is a team effort.

So that’s where we stand, a plodding team of work horses versus a one horse grandstand show. It is time to break out the popcorn folks.  As you are doing that another metaphor, sand boxes, may help you understand how we got to this point.

Sand Boxes

Consider five sand boxes, two are in the sand lot league, two are in the minor league, and one is the major league–the show, the big dance. The two sand lot boxes are the primaries, the minor league boxes are the conventions, and show time is the general election.

Each party gets a beginners sand box. Here, candidates build castles, hone skills, and toss cat poop at their opponents. Only one can survive, sort of “Hunger Games” on steroids.  The objective is to eliminate all contenders.

On the republican side this was an easy task, even though it was a crowded play space. Some contenders built elaborate policy sand castles. Others peered wistfully over the parapet at the other sides sand box. A few did nothing at all.

Just one person, Trump, understood that it was not necessary to build, peer, or stand idly by. The task was to destroy all sand castles and kick sand in everyone’s face.

The struggle on the democrat side was not easy. There were just two serious players and each had built a castle that could not be easily demolished. It took a while, but one prevailed.

Once the beginners sand box have been conquered the winners advance to the minor league boxes where they must convince the players at that level—the RNC and the DNC—that they are for real and must be supported without dissent.

And that is where we are at as of July 18, 2016. The presumptive nominees are now getting ready to play at the next level. Looking forward, all sides understand that it is necessary to emerge from the conventions with unity to compete in prime time.

With the metaphorical stage set we now have time to go back and revisit an original premise.  That premise was, as outlined in the first article, that the American political system requires that the game of revolution be played every four years.

Those who would be revolutionaries in any other time or place get the opportunity to be just that in our system that, itself, emerged from a successful revolution. Such a revolution was modeled by Roger Darling.

Roger Darling

Unsatisfied with the quantitative, ineffective US Government analysis of the effort in Vietnam, Darling published “A New Conceptual Scheme for Analyzing Insurgency” in February 1974, in Military Review.  He later recognized that insurgency was the wrong term and republished his work in November 1977, again in Military Review, under a new title, “Revolution Examined Anew.”  He changed not a single word in his original work, just the title.

Briefly, Darling identified four processes and three dynamics that described successful revolutions.  His scheme was qualitative, the processes and dynamics were not discrete. Rather, they combined and reinforced each other as the revolution moved forward.

The processes are:

  • Casual
  • Intimidation
  • Resource
  • Guerrilla Action (action against opponent)

The dynamics are:

  • Social Political Participation [primaries]
  • Revolution Resources [conventions]
  • Government (opponent) Resources [general election]

I have added the words in parentheses and brackets to better describe revolution in terms of the American political process. Following is a brief overview of the processes and dynamics as written by Roger Darling

Causal Process

“In…designing the causal process…the qualitative revolution’s leadership is sincerely addressing deeply felt (if not spiritual) sentiments…”  Causes are static.  The causal process makes a static situation dynamic. “The causal process has one basic aim, to capture popular motivation and hold it.” Further, “A revolution’s strength and expansionary capacity arise from [this] process of positive motivation.”

Intimidation Process

This is the negative side of the coin. Darling explained it this way: “The revolutionist is not unaware that some adherents will not be fully attracted…or, if the are, they may waver.” “[The revolutionist]…weaves into [the causal process] a web of real or implied intimidation.” “[Supporters] are induced to cooperate positively through the causal process, and negatively through…intimidation…”

Therefore, “The causal process and intimidation process…become mutually reinforcing in a combined single dynamic.”   Darling called that a “combined dynamic [of] social/political participation.”

He then went on to define the resource process, one critical to maintain, sustain, and grow the organization.

Resource Process

Internally, “the motivation created in the causal process inspires acts of participation.” The cause and resource processes become a dynamic, “a mutually reinforcing relationship.”  That relationship becomes a “self-generating foundation of strength.” That foundation leverages the causal-resource process to generate external resources. In Darling’s words, the resource process “broadens [the] base of strength.”  It becomes a “combined dynamic (re revolutionists) resources.”

The task remains, then, to weaken the opposition base of strength. Darling’s term for that process was guerrilla action.

Guerilla Action Process

Here, we deviate from Darling to focus on the American political process. Nevertheless, his ideas and descriptions remain valid.

The tactics and techniques of the guerrilla action process are the same as those of the intimidation process. Only difference is the target is now the opposition (democrats) not  former opponents (republicans).

Foremost, Darling identified a basic fact. This process is “not geared to win.” It is designed to create a “subtle reign of intimidation” in which the “population is induced to cooperate more significantly with the [revolutionists]” than with the other side. The objective is not to win so much as it is to get the other side to lose.

Darling referred to this last dynamic as a “collective psychological strategy process….[an] exact application of the principle of judo—getting your opponent’s weight and actions to reinforce your actions against him.”

And this is the inherent danger to the democrats in the general election. Aware or not, they are facing the same political judo that laid waste to the republican party.

In Summary

Trump has so far mastered just one process of revolution, intimidation. His casual base is anachronistic (Make America Great Again). He has shown limited talent to effectively harness resources. We don’t yet know if he is capable of decisive action against his opponent. He has yet to show that he is more than a one-trick pony.


The Trump Revolution: So, Where Are We Now?

This is the fourth in an occasional series of articles on the Trump revolution. Given that things seem to be at sixes and sevens it is time for an update as we enter the convention season in the aftermath of the tragedy at Orlando.

To catch up, readers may want to review the first three articles (one, two, three).

In article two we listed four essential tasks for a successful revolution, or political movement, for that matter.  Here they are:

    • Become King of the Hill, the only candidate still standing
    • Master the Game of Thrones, compel all foes to bend a knee
    • Control the Will of the Convention, harness the RNC or become harnessed to achieve unity
    • Run to the Center to cause the election opponent to lose

Trump is King of the Hill, but the revolution has stalled out. He is acting like the dog who caught a car and now does not know what to do with it. It is as if he does not want to win as he consistently sabotages himself. Therefore, it is time for a reassessment.

Trump is not a revolutionary

My original premise has turned out wrong. Whatever Trump is, opportunist or charlatan, he is not a revolutionary. He has shown no ability to master the Game of Thrones. His ability to harness the RNC is increasingly in doubt. He cannot run to a center that does not exist in his world view. We start with the Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones

In a successful revolution all banners are uncased, unfurled, and flying briskly in the prevailing wind. Here we are talking specifically about Trump’s sixteen vanquished foes on his way to be King of the Hill.  He is the only candidate standing, his only success, so far.

Some foes, Bush in particular, have not even uncased a banner. Others have, but they remain unfurled, hanging limply without regard to the hurricane force wind that Trump is blowing. Those that are unfurled fly in disparate directions, with two exceptions, Christie and Carson.

This is not the stuff of a successful revolution. Neither is Trump’s heavy handed approach to the RNC and the convention.

Will of the Convention

No one knows how this will turn out.  In a successful revolution the outcome is predetermined early on and the activists join the banner parade with steadfast enthusiasm. There is nothing ‘stead’ or ‘fast’ about the underwhelming enthusiasm of those who should be supporting Trump.

Further, no one has shown the gravitas to tell the presumptive nominee that he has no clothes. No one has shown the courage to stop what is fast becoming a tilting of windmills. A comparison to Don Quixote, while apt, does Quixote a disservice.

As things are brewing, the convention will be unlike any other. Fascinating theater but to what end for the republican party?  Will the convention be a lemming leap to disaster, a lock step totalitarian parade, or something else we cannot fathom? The early money should be on the latter outcome. We don’t know, but it should be good theater leading into the general election.

Run to the Center

There is a bit of symmetry here. The democrats are also having difficulty getting their act together. They are better organized to run to the center but run the risk of being trampled in the process by someone who has no defined center.

The problem for the republicans is they need a defined center, but their candidate is not interested. So, what do we have with Trump, fantasy or reality? Or something else?

Fantasy and Reality

Let’s call the fantasy story Trumplestiltskin, for lack of a better term. This sentence in the Wikipedia description of the Rumplestiltskin plot is apt (emphasis added): “When she has given up all hope, an imp-like creature appears in the room and spins the straw into gold in return for her necklace (since he only comes to people seeking a deal/trade).”

In reality, we may have the People’s Republic of Trump in the offing. Trump is smarter than every one, so he says. If so, then he knows everything about everything. As such he joins just one other person who lives in that rarefied atmosphere, Kim Jong Un, a person Trump said he would accept if he visited here.

Or Something Else

Something else is uncharted water and no one has the map. Poseidon and Titanic are cautionary words that come quickly to mind as we navigate those waters.

The Trump Revolution: where he is; where he needs to be, second update

This is the third in a series of articles on the Trump revolution. In the first article we established that Trump was a revolutionary, that the American political process institutionalized the processes of revolution, and that Trump was headed down the revolutionary path.

In the second article we set down the following requirements for a successful revolution:

  • Become King of the Hill, the only candidate still standing
  • Master the Game of Thrones, compel all foes to bend a knee
  • Control the Will of the Convention, harness the RNC or become harnessed to achieve unity
  • Run to the Center to cause the election opponent to lose

So, where are we?

King of the Hill

It is now May 4, 2016, and both Cruz and Kasich have suspended their campaigns leaving Trump as the de facto King of the Hill, the only candidate still standing. Difficult tasks are still ahead. The Game of Thrones begins in earnest.

Game of Thrones

Previously, Christie and Carson quickly bent a knee to support Trump. Today, Jindal bent a qualified knee.  His position is that, given a binary choice between Trump and Clinton, he chooses Trump.  Jindal has set the stage for at least a perfunctory bending of the knee by all former Trump foes.

Those who do not bend a knee are consigned to oblivion in this election cycle.  At a minimum, Trump will simply ignore those who do not make at least the Jindal pledge.  Therefore, Trump will approach the convention with at least the illusion that he has unified the opposition.

Will of the Convention

Bending of knees aside, the real battle of wills ahead is that between the Trump vision and the RNC vision of the future.  As that battle looms the RNC would do well to remember from whence came Trump.

Trump has consistently played all sides against the middle. He will continue to do so. Trump is a republican of convenience. As a revolutionary he had two paths to the general election. He could have entered the primary battle as either a democrat or a republican. He chose the clearly weaker path.

What’s not to like about a field of battle divided into fiefdoms by 16 other contenders, as opposed to a field of battle dominated by a single individual?

Interestingly, that other field of battle brought forth its own Trump doppelganger, in the person of Sanders. Both Trump and Sanders are revolutionaries. Both share a common vision, only one has a path to victory, at least so far. The other battle has not yet been decided.

Let the conventions begin to set the stage for the general election.

Running To The Center

Here’s the fundamental factor. Politicians run as close to the center as they can without significantly alienating their base.  For revolutionaries there is no center.  Agendas of base, left-right, liberal-conservative have no bearing.  Why? Because revolutionaries bring their own agenda to the table and that agenda owes no allegiance to conventional wisdom.

This should be a heads-up warning to the democrats and to the democratic candidate.  The Trump revolution laid waste to the republican party. Given the opportunity, it will do the same to the democratic party.  If successful, there will be a new day. There will be no going back to previous conditions. They will no longer exist.

The final Trump challenge is get his democratic opponent to lose.  Regardless of how the run-up to the general election unfolds, neither Trump nor his opponent get to decide.

Successful revolutions rely on assured behavior from the populace.  Nothing about the American populace is assured. The populace will take the measure of the candidates and render a decision. At the end of the day the will of the people will prevail.

“Government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” (Abraham Lincoln)


The Trump Revolution: where he is; where he needs to be, an update

On the eve of the Wisconsin primary it is time for an update on Donald Trump, the revolutionary. When Governor Christie’s endorsed Trump I published “The Trump Revolution: where he is; where he needs to be.” So, where are we?

According to the article, Trump is a revolutionary, the American political system institutionalizes the processes of revolution, and Trump has four tasks remaining to be accomplished.  The four are:

  • Become King of the Hill, the only candidate still standing
  • Master the Game of Thrones, compel all foes to bend a knee
  • Control the Will of the Convention, harness the RNC or become harnessed to achieve unity
  • Run to the Center to cause the election opponent to lose

King of the Hill. Trump has not succeeded in thinning the herd. Two remain, still, at this late date.  His ability to be alone at the top going into the convention is now problematic. Bluster and intimidation are no longer working to his advantage. Successful revolutionary movements have both positive and negative components. A successful movement has an ideology with broad positive appeal. Without positive appeal the Trump revolution lacks quality and has reduced chances of success.

Game of Thrones. Two knees have bent, Christie and Carson. Other knees have also bent, but not in Trump’s favor. In a successful revolutionary movement all knees are bent for the King of the Hill.  Sitting out is not an option; successful revolution requires all knees to bend. If not, the Trump revolution sputters.

Will of the Convention. The necessary outcome of the convention is unity, without reservation. Neither the Trump campaign nor the RNC has demonstrated that they can compel unity. All know they cannot proceed to the general election without unity. The outcome is not predictable, except to say, united they stand, divided they fall.

Run to the Center. Trump has shown an uncertain ability to run to the center if he gets the nomination. He has not shown the astuteness needed to do so in a way that will cause his Democratic opponent to lose.

“On Wisconsin”

The Trump Revolution: where he is; where he needs to be

The Christie Endorsement

Governor Christie endorsed Donald Trump on Feb 26, 2016. A political revolution is well under way. That comes as no surprise when we consider that the American election process is a revolution every four years. Revolution has been institutionalized. Some folks are better at this than others. Enter Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is a revolutionary. He is capturing the Republican Party and the party does not know what to do. The party missed the first sign when Trump fired a shot across the bow of Senator John McCain. From that moment, every move that Trump has made follows revolutionary theory, as I understand it.

Revolutionary Theory

During the period 1974-1980, I led a team which developed an original framework for analyzing political revolutionary warfare. The framework combined the research of two individuals that few have heard of, Roger Darling and Tom Grassey. A detailed discussion of their work waits for another day. Here is the short version.

Roger Darling

In 1974, Roger Darling, dissatisfied with the direction of United States policy in Vietnam, published  “A New Conceptual Scheme for Analyzing Counterinsurgency,” in The Military Review, the house publication of the United States Army’s Command and General Staff College.

Darling provided a qualitative framework for analyzing revolution in an era when quantitative analysis prevailed. Darling’s framework included specific processes and dynamics that all successful revolutionaries follow. Darling later acknowledged an language distinction between insurgency and revolution and corrected himself with a republication of his work in 1976 under the title “Revolution Examined Anew,” again in The Military Review.

Tom Grassey 

In 1976, Tom Grassey, now Dr. Tom Grassey, Captain USN, retired, and former editor of the Navy War College Review published “Some Perspectives on Revolution” in the Review. Grassey’s significant contribution was that he defined the groups in a revolutionary situation—leaders, activists, nonparticipants (the populace), bureaucracy, government in power—and the ways in which those groups behaved.

Grassey, expanding on Darling’s work, unlocked the door to a holistic understanding of revolution, one that exceeded the sum of its individual parts. Donald Trump, so far, appears to have that holistic understanding and is in the process of conducting a revolution. The question is can he accomplish the tasks still before him? We begin with the primaries.

Dynamic of Social Political Participation

Darling identified two processes that combine to produce a dynamic to consolidate power. In politics that dynamic is the primaries.

A causal process defines the specific economic, social, and political factors that motivate leaders and give the revolution a reason to move forward. It helps if the revolutionary leader is charismatic and can carry the day with inspiring rhetoric. The rhetoric does not have to be true; it simply has to be believed as true. A simple slogan, such as making America great again, provides motivation and generates support.

All competitors must be eliminated and that is accomplished through an intimidation process. In revolution, that process is brutal—incarceration, exile, execution. It politics it is equally brutal, but the weapons are words and actions, not violence.

And here is the important point that Trump, alone, has grasped. The combination of cause and intimidation, a dynamic of social political participation, is aimed at those who would oppose the revolution in its formative stages. Yes, there is an ultimate foe, the government in a revolution, or the other party in an election. The ultimate foe can be acknowledged but the emphasis and focus must be on primary opponents.

Republican candidates who thought Clinton was the primary target for their rhetoric missed the point. Trump had no illusions. He knew who the enemy in the primaries was and he systematically went after all of them. He has reduced the opposition to just four individuals after only four state primaries. That task is unfinished.

Trump must now accomplish two things if he is going to emerge the standard bearer. First, he must eliminate the remaining four candidates. In revolutions opponents usually just disappear. The American political process has a different approach; opponents are co-opted.

And that is Trump’s second challenge. He must enlist all former foes in a united front as the party moves forward to the next stage of the revolutionary process. All former foes must sign up or be relegated to oblivion, not to be heard from again in this election. Governor Christie is the first to bend a knee.

Revolutionary Resource Dynamic

Once the consolidation of power is total then resources must be harnessed, a revolutionary resource dynamic according to Darling. Grassey provided clarification by identifying active participants as a key group in a revolution. In American politics these are the national committees, in Trump’s case the Republican National Committee (RNC).

So far, Trump has relied heavily on his own resources. He has also mesmerized the media so that he generates publicity and coverage simply be being there or saying something. His dominance is such that he can say things without regard to the consequences. That is a powerful position, one that gives the dangerous illusion of invulnerability.

The media and the Republican Party are assuming he will over-step and self-destruct. Trump is betting he is smart enough not to do that.

Whatever the case, Trump’s next necessary step is to harness the RNC to do his bidding, without qualification. Despite its best intentions the RNC may end up harnessed despite itself. The convention will tell whether or not the Republicans enter the final campaign united.

And united the Republicans must be. Trump knows that. The RNC knows that. They just don’t want to unite behind Trump, yet. However, successful revolutions are united when it comes time to directly challenge the opponent.

Grassey made a very important point about this direct challenge. Revolutionaries get themselves organized not to win, but to give the opponent every opportunity to lose. In revolution, cities fall before they have to be taken. In politics the opposition self-destructs.

Conventional wisdom is that the Republican Party, itself, will self-destruct. Trump’s only route to power requires the opposite to happen. Can Trump accomplish that, RNC in tow?

Collective Psychological Strategy

Darling used the term collective psychological strategy to describe the outcome of a successful revolution. To run the table, to get the other side to lose, Trump has to deal directly with the opposition, whoever the Democrats nominate, to win in November by taking the case to the people

Grassey defined the people as the non-participants, the ones who actually make the decision. Revolutions succeed or fail based on a compliant population. No one at this point knows how compliant the population is for a Trump victory.

But every politician knows what the final step is. No one should be surprised when Trump runs to the center, as he must.

In sum

So, there we have it. Trump has so far been successful in intimidating all foes. He must complete that process and then enlist former foes to support him. Christie has led the way. Who is next? Then he must harness the GOP writ large, specifically the RNC. Finally, he must run to the center in a way that causes his opponent to lose.

There is a cautionary note to Governor Christie and others who would support Trump. A successful revolutionary will cast aside anyone no longer useful. What has been heard lately from Sarah Palin?





9-11: The national level; descent into Chaos, a look ahead

Ted Koppel

Today’s (Sep 12, 2010) Washington Post featured an above-the-fold editorial in the “Outlook” section by Ted Koppel; “Let’s stop playing into bin Laden’s hands.”  At the end of the continuation, “Our overreaction to 9/11 continues,” Koppel posed a rhetorical question.  “Could bin Laden in his wildest imaginings, have hoped to provoke greater chaos?”

Readers will pardon me from leaping ahead of my own story; that question by Koppel is too good to resist.  (Koppel, as does nearly every other writer, researcher, and historian, uses the word “chaos” without definition.)

I need to speak to his use of the term in the context of his article, my own understanding of chaos, and my understanding of political revolutionary warfare.

As I am writing David Gregory on “Meet the Press,” (Sep 12, 2010) is discussing the Koppel article with Rudy Giuliani.  Gregory quotes Koppel extensively including the text: “Through the initial spending of a few hundred thousand dollars, training and then sacrificing 19 of his foot soldiers, bin Laden has watched [al Qaeda] turn into the most recognized international franchise since McDonald’s.”

My initial intent

It was, and remains, my intention to write a series of articles detailing the national level’s descent into chaos the morning of 9-11.  I have posted an initial article depicting the friendly situation at 10:10, the time that Air Force One turned away from a return to the capital.

A paradigm shift

Koppel’s narrative is a game changer.  He extends the chaos metaphor far beyond the events of 9-11 by stating that we have “played into bin Laden’s hands.”  And that leads me to the subject of political revolutionary warfare.

My experience

For six years (1974-1980) I was the lead instructor and course manager for the Navy’s Counterinsurgency Orientation (COIN) course at the Naval Amphibious School, Coronado.  During those six years we changed the focus of the course to revolutionary warfare.  The course name changed as well to become a political revolutionary warfare seminar, “Political Warfare Studies.”

We developed a detailed framework to analyze revolutionary and political movements.  I will write about that framework in the future.  For those interested, I did address the framework in this thread on the Small Wars Council forum.

For now it is sufficient to simply state two things that are inherent in any qualitative revolutionary movement.

First, the goal of any revolutionary movement that knows what it is doing is to give the opposition every opportunity to believe in the myth of a military victory.

Second, in the words of Dr. Tom Grassey, Capt (USN-retired), one of our lecturers, an objective of revolutionaries is to encourage the status quo to “strangle in its own strength.”  (Tom Grassey is the former James B. Stockdale Professor of Leadership and Ethics, Naval War College; and former Editor, Naval War College Review.)

Today, Ted Koppel said, “The goal of any organized terrorist attack is to goad a vastly more powerful enemy into an excessive response.”  He  is saying the same thing that Grassey articulated a quarter century ago.

Have we learned nothing?  I will have much, much more to say.