Today’s entry: You’ve talked a lot about what President Trump did right. I’d like to know what you think was Trump's worst quality as president?
Bottom Line: Identity politics. No matter who the president is or what party they adhere to, they’re the president for all Americans. Identity politics is the enemy of unity and undermines the reality that as Americans we inherently have more that unites us than divides us. It exploits differences and uses them to attempt to exact political outcomes. It brings out the worst in everyone who’s engaged. The biggest change in Presidential politics since the Bush administration, in my view, isn’t policy. It’s the use of identity politics.
Did Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush actively broker in identity politics to achieve their political agendas? Yes, you can find examples here or there if you look for them, but it wasn’t pervasive or defining in the way they governed. That’s likely why, in hindsight, all the aforementioned are viewed positively by a solid majority of most Americans, even if they weren’t all especially popular while president. That changed dramatically with the advent of the Obama campaign. As a student of Saul Alinsky, and thus his “Rule for Radicals,” he employed them well before he reached office. While all 13 rules for radicals are disturbing, there are a couple that specifically transformed our politics once employed by Barak Obama.
Rule number 5, Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
One of the earliest examples of identity politics employed in a memorable way by Barak Obama occurred during the 2008 campaign. He said this of his detractors, "they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Sounds a lot like Saul’s 5th rule doesn’t it? The use of ridicule for those who dare bear arms or adhere to their faith.
But the most detrimental of the 13, is number 13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. This is the origin of the modern application of identity politics and it's exactly what Barak Obama employed time and again. From bitter clingers of God and guns, we transitioned to specific Republican politicians who wanted to drop your mother or grandparents off a cliff because they didn’t want Obamacare. Additionally, any supporters of those Republican politicians were likewise desirous of the same. From there Obama transitioned to those who were concerned with Islamic terror. He asserted that Americans concerned with Islamic terror were really just using that as an excuse for xenophobia and racism. In fact, he delivered speeches to that effect overseas. Which with US support, they did, incidentally as an Islamic terror organization with an offshoot called ISIS.
But you specifically wanted to talk about Trump. Donald Trump’s rise was largely born out of those feeling most marginalized by eight years of constant identity politics. And of course, he ran with it and in 2016 won with it. To answer your question regarding President Trump’s worst quality in my view, it was the continuation of the use of identity politics. While in office his policies led to record opportunity and prosperity for all demographics, however, he never gained credit for it with his distractors because many who benefitted from his actions still felt marginalized by his words. This is the case where actions didn’t speak louder than words for millions of Americans. It’s the political equivalent of living and dying by the sword. I’ll note that even President Obama’s reelection in 2012 was by a significantly smaller margin than his landslide victory in 2008. History has shown there’s always a price to be paid for dividing and conquering.
So, my hope for politics going forward and the way I prefer to passionately advance my beliefs is to focus on policy and vigorously debate policy rather than focusing on people and vigorously dividing them. If I had a rule it’d be, "if a political tactic is consistent with one of Saul Alinsky’s 13 Rules for Radicals, don't do it."
Submit your questions using one of these methods.
Parler & Twitter: @brianmuddradio
Photo by: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images