SOME LESSONS FROM THE TULSA RALLY
by Gennady Shkliarevsky
Opponents of Donald Trump are celebrating. They have succeeded in sabotaging the first rally he held since the start of the pandemic. Many of the saboteurs were 14 to 16 year-old kids who purchased multiple tickets to the rally with no intention of going. As a result, the number of attendants was much below than anticipated based on the number of people who registered for the rally.
The sabotage is a vivid demonstration of the awesome power of networks. They are creative, inventive, unexpected, and invisible. They are everywhere and nowhere; and there is little you can do to fight them. How do you fight 14 year-olds?
The war that is going on in America today is a war for the future of this nation and the world. It is a very modern war. The victory in this war requires creativity, ingenuity, and new ideas. It needs a clear perspective for the future and a capacity to mobilize supporters. Neither side in this war has so far demonstrated convincingly that it is capable of winning this war.
The extremists have been able to mobilize people for a series of protests and demonstrations that have shaken America to the core and paralyzed many of its cities. Their capacity for violent action has proven to be effective. But they have hardly presented a constructive vision of the future. Black Lives Matter wants essentially to purge whiteness from America. Antifa proffers a utopian anarchist vision of society where wealth is equally shared, where there are no hierarchies, no central government, and no police. While both BLM and Antifa have created much chaos and wreaked a great deal of destruction, they have hardly convinced Americans that they know how to achieve their goals or even that these goals are achievable.
The progressive liberals do not have nearly as much capacity for mass mobilization as BLM and Antifa do. The progressives support BLM and Antifa. They count on the latter two to overthrow Trump and clear the path for them to take control of the government. While they certainly are capable of operating the state machinery, the progressives have no realistic ideas as to where they want America to go under their leadership. For the most part they hark back to the New Deal and its ideas slightly refurbished to give them a more contemporary look. The problem, however, is that BLM and Antifa are not obedient allies who will surrender their leadership role and follow the progressive liberals whom they distrust at least as mush as they distrust Donald Trump and the Republicans.
The problems that plague the camp of Trump’s opponents do not, however, make his path to victory easy. President Trump and the Republicans also need new ideas, new approaches, and new visions to lead America into the future; and so far they have had few of those.
President Trump has been innovative in trying to maintain a close contact with his supporters. In this sense, he has followed a tendency away from elite rule that is detested by Trump’s supporters. However, in his case the need for new ideas remains just as crucial as it is for his opponents. The conditions in the country have changed since 2016. Trump’s campaign this year will not be able to succeed on the old anti-establishment appeal.
Trump and his government are the establishment now. He needs new ideas. Yet he has not been able to create a system that would facilitate the rise of new ideas. He still relies largely on the conservative sources that stick to their traditional creed and do not allow nearly as many new and fresh views in their publications as needed.
Trump’s methods of garnering public support are also becoming quickly outdated. Extremists have learned to sabotage his signature mass rallies and make them ineffective and even embarrassing for the organizers. The campaign needs new methods of mobilization that can counter extremists’ subversion.
Although Trump often refers to the future, his slogan “Make America Great Again” suggests a nostalgic look toward the past. He needs to provide more concrete details on his plans that can make America great in this new age. What we have heard from him so far is little different from the traditional conservative agenda with its panacea of the market, law and order. These are certainly appropriate but not sufficient in the new conditions with new players in the political arena.
Trump does not really have many political and intellectual resources. The Republicans are old; they are largely timid and lukewarm. They need more vigorous, passionate, and innovative leaders like Representative Dan Crenshaw, Senator Tom Cotton, Representative Devin Nunes, and others. We hear their voices but their effectiveness remains muted by their more “sober-minded” colleagues.
The Republicans must show more energy and, frankly, more guts. The hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Oversight of the Cross Hurricane Investigation are proceeding excruciatingly slow and indecisively. At the pace they have been going so far we may have the results in a year, if at all. This pace will simply not do in the current rapidly changing conditions.
The picture is not pretty. As tensions and conflicts in the country grow spurred by the ongoing pandemic, the political leadership is lagging desperately behind. Today this country needs decisive and innovative leadership, not old and tired approaches. In view of the recent fiasco with the rally, the Trump camp should definitely revise its strategy, tactic, and methods.
It should provide venues that will enable it to access new ideas and views. Most importantly, President Trump should expand the non-elitist approach that he used in the 2016 campaign; make it more effective and efficient. His connection to the electorate is too important to be compromised by some juvenile hackers.
The current conservative think tanks and media are too traditional and too stale to be the source of innovation. The Republican Party should abandon its wait-and-see attitude and be more proactive in defeating the forces that sow chaos and disorder. Discrediting the Deep State and its leadership is extremely important. The party should also open a path for new and energetic legislators and politicians into leadership positions.
A short article is no place for developing a comprehensive program needed to secure America’s future. More and wider discussions are in order. But more than anything else, there is a need to reinvigorate the commitment made to the American people and to energize the ranks of those who want to see America to succeed. A failure to do this will most likely bring more and more acute tensions and conflicts as we approach the election time.
Gennady Shkliarevsky is a Professor Emeritus of history at Bard College.