We are at a pivotal moment in the history of our country. Civilized debate and discussion have become inappropriate and offensive. We are at the point where we pay more attention to the voices from the fringe than those of compromise and reason. For a country founded on discussion and debate, this spells trouble.
A good example of this is the outcry over the proposed Marcy’s Law constitutional amendment. Any amendment to Idaho’s constitution requires a ballot vote. In the case of Marcy’s Law, it is the legislature’s job to pass a proposal that makes sense. Then it is the voters’ job to choose to accept or reject it. However, opponents of Marcy’s Law would have the voters think differently.
The internet and social media have given a platform to a new kind of rebel. Today’s rebels fight in the digital sphere with threats of blackmail and destruction. Their destruction is much worse than the threat of destroying property. Their threat of choice is the assassination of character. The problem with the radicals approach to change is they don’t have an answer. Many radicals don’t even know or understand what they are fighting against. They want to burn the establishment down in hopes that something better will replace it. There is no reasoning, no rational argument, only the need to see the man burn.
In his book Rules For Radicals, author Saul Alinsky outlines 10 ways to start and run a movement for change. In the campaign to derail Idaho’s Marsy’s law, three of the Alinsky’s rules are being used by the opposition.
The first rule of “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.” is evident in the way the attacks against legislators have occurred. The opposition has used social media to make themselves appear much bigger than they are. Facebook pages seek to incite people to action in the name of liberty. They use language like unconstitutional, infringement and protecting 2nd amendment rights to stir up fear and discontent. Then, they get a few associates to go on other more moderate sites and comment using the same language. Using this pack mentality, they attack unsuspecting individuals, making it seem like the whole world is coming down on them. To the uninitiated, this attack seems random but it isn’t. It is a well-coordinated affair, designed to shock and awe the victim.
The next rule in play is “Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy.” For radicals, the internet is the greatest thing since sliced bread. With a few keystrokes on a social media site, they can intimidate their opponents. For many legislators, social media is something they don’t understand. They realize it is a powerful communication tool but they are often unfamiliar with how to use it to their advantage. Often a harmless post by a legislator gets used against them and they begin spending hours worrying about how to respond. If they do respond, then the attacks intensify as new people join in to overwhelm the legislator. Each new response seems to ignite an endless firestorm of negative, personal attacks. Each attack becomes worse than the previous. It often feels like the whole world is watching them through a magnifying glass. Soon, the situation becomes more than they want to deal with and they will do anything to make it go away. Many of Idaho’s legislators come from rural areas and have limited social media experience. What they often fail to realize is they are victims of a coordinated attack made to look and feel bigger than it is. This is how the radicals go outside of the expertise of their enemy and ensure the greatest impact.
The final rule in effect is “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” For the Marsy’s legislation, the senators attacked became labeled as anti-2nd amendment. Their opponents claimed they were in support of having your guns taken away. The key strategy of using this rule is using information slightly out of context. This helps create an emotional reaction from the reader because there is an element of truth to the lie. This sensationalized information shows the victim in the worst possible light and puts them on the defensive. The radicals then use the information to create a personal tie into their intended audience. This one-two punch makes the victim look like a monster who is trying to harm those in the audience. This creates an us versus them mentality, which causes people to think and behave irrationally.”
“When people align around shared political, social, economic or environmental values, and take collective action, thinking and behavior that compromises the lives of millions of people around the world can truly change.” Simon Mainwaring, Author
For the radicals, compromise is not an option. They are in an “all-or-nothing” game that has no real winner. In the case of the Marsy’s Law, the initial bill contained language some felt opened the door for judges to take away guns. The legislators listened to the feedback and made changes to remove the questionable language and add specifics to protect those rights. Yet, this is not good enough for the radicals opposing the bill.
Marsy’s Law is proposed to be a ballot issue for the voters to decide. The legislators introducing the bill have demonstrated a willingness to compromise. Yet the opposition has not. True progress comes when many heads come together to create a solution rather than attack each other and tear things down.
Jeff Hough is an Author, Speaker and Digital Marketer who has been studying leadership, personal development and marketing for the past 20 years. He currently writes a weekly newspaper column that is carried in five newspapers and teaches leadership development workshops. Additionally, he consults with businesses on building and maintaining their digital presence.