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.
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.
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:
- 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
“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.”
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.
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.
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.