Radical Negotiation Posturing and Political Strategies Trump and Alinsky Essay

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On the surface, the current US President Donald Trump and the 1960s radical activist Saul Alinsky could not have less in common. Trump is currently overseeing what has become the longest government shutdown in US history due to his budget negotiations with Congress over his desire for appropriations to fund a wall on the southwest border of the United States. Alinsky wrote a book entitled Rules for Radicals, originally published in 1971, which outlined grassroots community organizing principles for leftists to challenge the conservative establishment Alinsky and his fellow Marxists wished to destabilize. Yet although Trump is a former businessman, conservative, and supporter of virtually every cause Alinsky opposed, Trump has positioned himself as an outsider figure and used many of Alinsky’s techniques, consciously or unconsciously, to thwart his opposition. Unfortunately for the country as well as for Trump, he has also ignored some of Alinsky’s critical advice, which has resulted in a standoff that has neither helped Trump nor offered a solution to the polarized debate in Congress over immigration.

Trump is not the first conservative figure use Alinsky’s techniques, it should be noted. Many members of the Tea Party that challenged the Obama Administration’s liberal agenda did so as well. But Trump is unusual that even from a position of power he is positioning himself to suggest that government is the problem, not the solution, as famously declared by Ronald Reagan so many years ago. Trump has managed to bring the government to a standstill and force people to consider a proposal that was widely mocked during his campaign, and which even many objective authorities have alleged will have little efficacy in ceasing illegal immigration or enhancing security, the ostensible purposes of building the wall.

Alinsky’s Ethics: Rules Do Not Matter

In Rules for Radicals, Alinsky famously declared that “One’s concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one’s personal interest in the issue, and one’s distance from the scene of conflict” (Alinsky, 2010, p.26). Alinsky stated that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter—hence, those opposed to the Nazis regarded members of the Resistance as heroic figures, while the Nazis themselves regarded the Resistance as the enemy. Similarly, during the Civil War, the Confederate Army regarded themselves as noble defenders of their way of life, while the federal government regarded them as traitors. Donald Trump has positioned himself as a defender of border security, while those who oppose him regard his position as racist. Alinsky would suggest that this polarization cannot be overcome easily through compromise, and is not based in rules or genuine outrage over Trump’s manipulation of the political system, but the simple fact that more liberal members of Congress and more liberal constituents dislike Trump, while conservatives support him.

The question of distance from the issue also impacts the degree to which perceptions of the shutdown are shared by members of Congress, Republicans as well as Democrats.

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Although in the past Republicans have formed a united front against Democrats for Trump, including in engaging in ethically questionable actions such as confirming accused sexual predator Brett Cavanaugh to the…

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…personally (Viser, 2019). But Alinsky also states that radicals should give little concern to ethics, and ethics are once again a matter of personal taste and the interests of the individual, not rooted in any higher authority. “Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical” (Alinsky 2010, p.35).

Collaborating or Compromising: Trump’s Way Out?

The heavy consequences of not winning this particular battle for Trump, and ignoring the advice from Alinsky (2010) to always offer constructive alternatives rather than simply to oppose, this making the radical side seem more reasonable and attractive, suggests that collaboration on a solution is preferable. Collaboration, or creating a mutually beneficial and agreeable alternative, differs from actively making concessions to the opposition, because ideally a better solution than what was originally proposed by either party is selected. The principles behind the ethos of collaboration underline the need to avoid hard, positional bargaining which results in a zero-sum game approach to negotiation (Fisher, Ury, & Patton, 2011).

Unfortunately for the future of his administration and the prospects of ending the shutdown, Trump has not been able to find a mutually agreeable solution that allows him to build a wall that the Democratic opposition finds unacceptable. His latest proposal has been to offer to build the wall only in areas he deems strategically necessary (Rappaport, 2019). But he has still not made a case why a wall would be the most effective means for achieving his stated objective of security improvement; suggesting alternative security means to invest in might be the only potential way….....

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Alinsky, S. (2010). Rules for radicals. New York, NY: Vintage.

Fisher, R., Ury, W., & Patton, B. (2011). Getting to yes: Negotiation agreement without giving in. New York, NY: Penguin.

Rappaport, N. (2019). Trump offers to limit border wall to strategic locations. The Hill. Retrieved from: https://thehill.com/opinion/immigration/426192-trump-offers-to-limit- his-border-wall-to-strategic-locations

Viser, M. (2019). Trump voters now blame him for the government shutdown. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-voters-now- blame-him-for-the-government-shutdown/2019/01/20/416051de-1b55-11e9-9ebf- c5fed1b7a081_story.html?utm_term=.f872f39de275

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