Oh yes, he’s got a lot of good advice for the lefties. Before your head explodes, hold your nose, because there is really good precedent for those same lessons, from a guy called Huey Long.
In no particular order, here you go.
Populism melts hearts, and melts down the media. You can channel the id of society, and allow it to live in the open. People will dance to it. Traditional conservatives and traditional liberals will hate it, because it needs few if any of their constructs. Everyone other than the traditional left and right will love you; on radio, in social media, on television, your name will echo until it goes in and out with every breath. Trump’s airwave-dominance is very similar to Huey Long’s huge radio show base that started in 1930s Louisiana, perpetual public speaking tours, and massive capacity for newspaper drama. They have both named things no-one else dared name for so long, and made them popular. Long even generated a popular song for the radio for it: Every Man A King. You can get a glimpse of this kind of campaigning in the film O Brother Where Art Thou? Wikipedia has a number of other films and media on Long as well.
Your policies can be outrageous, and still popular. Build a wall ocean to ocean? It’s an idea that perfectly names white anxiety of growing ethnic infection and wealth-leakage. Define the virtuous inside, the evil outside, and reap the rewards. Trump has named the acceptable Mason-Dixon line.
Huey Long was even more outrageous. His plan, Share Our Wealth, proposed capping personal fortunes at $50 million, making the top income $1 million per year, and all inheritance to $5 million. In return for this huge set of taxes, everyone would get $5,000 per household, and one third of the average household income on top of that. Bernie Sanders wants free tertiary education? Hah! Long went for free college education, plus 4 weeks’ leave, plus free pensions, plus a 30-hour working week. Just for starters.
Long was Roosevelt’s left-flank critic, thought-leader, and southern champion. He was outrageous, and was the most popular, daring and successful politician Louisiana has ever produced.
You’re going to have to be a bully. Between the Constitution, the media, and campaign financing, the scope for change in the United States is very small. To break these limits and get real policy change, you’re going to have to hound people out of office, belittle your remaining opponents in the media, and otherwise clear your policy implementation path by all means but firing guns. As state governor, Huey Long fired officials by the hundred, humiliated all who opposed him, hounded out judges, and even lay siege to the Deputy Governor with state troops. Huey Long once said, “I used to try to get things done by saying ‘please’ … Now, I dynamite ’em out of my path.” Trump’s versions of that you can find detailed in Huffington Post.
You’re going to need financial independence. Trump is self-funded from his own wealth. As we’ve seen last week with Gareth Morgan, financial independence gives you the power to speak and act without fear and with the capacity to achieve. In February 1934, Long formed a national political organization, the Share Our Wealth Society. It was intended to operate outside of and in opposition to the Democratic Party and the Roosevelt administration. By 1935, the society had over 7.5 million members and 27,000 clubs across the country. It was a mighty political and fundraising entity; a machine that is the primary precedent to Obama and Sanders’ donor organization. Huey Long won the 1928 election by tapping into the resentment of rural Louisianans; the rest was pure machine. He also used it to carry out a major part of his policy realization. This perpetuated his populist base – with lessons Obama could well have learned in carrying momentum beyond the electoral win.
You’re going to revel in crisis, because you understand instability is a camel tripping under a vulture: it’s meat, it’s protein, it’s where you pick things clean, and it;s where you get the power to rise and fly again. Create social foment. Be rude-funny more than you are angry. Be slightly crass, fun, cheesy, obvious, oblivious, untidy, and otherwise untrammeled. Politics may be show business for ugly people, but it can and must be sexy. Flirt. Burn your speeches. Learn more jokes and fewer policies. Some successful politicians can be wonks like Corbyn and Sanders and Hilary. But those three are far too sober. Sanders would share a bong. But Trump and Long would share your bong, hire the strippers, then get you laid.
Playing by society’s rules doesn’t work. Not if you’re a radical. Not if you need the energy of the people to do the political work of sweeping power away. The people are the only weapon you really have. That works for left or right.
Who knows, maybe the US will go back to being sensible, constitutionally balanced, and only slightly governable, I mean to say, Hilary Clinton. Maybe Donald Trump is the biggest renewal in US democracy since Kennedy.
Since I mentioned Kennedy. Going hard can also mean go out. Long, on the verge of challenging Roosevelt for the Democratic presidential nomination, was assassinated in 1936. I’m not wishing or predicting, just reminding that attempting to re-order whole power structures means ‘they’ will be angry. Lots of angry. Break the rules often enough, and there’s no rules left for you either.
Last lesson, you’re going to have to sink big wedges in. So don’t bother being subtle. A politician proposing to re-order your values to their values needs to make that process very simple. For Huey Long, rich people were simply evil. He called them out, black and white. For Trump, it’s foreigners in all their guises. You need some good, some evil, some grand moral drama. Sink that wedge so deep into society’s political rock that you are prepared to shatter it.
Over 200,000 people attended Huey Long’s funeral in baton Rouge in 1936. The interstate to the Texas border was bumper to bumper.
Just once every generation or two, you get a genius combination of charisma, bravery, financial independence, bullying, good jokes, machismo, steel nerves, and bold policy that reminds you it can be done.