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.