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Many people have heard of Saul Alinsky and know Alinsky’s rules because of their toxic effect on the regressive rightwing. In Wingnut World, Alinsky is one of the 1960s radicals who indoctrinated Barack Obama. The Republicans gave Alinsky more publicity than he ever had when they tried to connect him to the President in unrealistic terms.

Alinsky’s rules encompass durable truths. They make abstract political theory practical and useful. Although Alinsky was published decades ago, the rules are suited to present day social network settings where politics is a competitive game.

“The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative,” is my personal favorite among the rules.
Criticism and complaints are always present and expected in politics. Attack ads are part of campaigning. Since 2009, tea party Bolsheviks have been especially relentless and bitter in their objections.  No matter what the Democrats did it was wrong so that a question had to be asked:
If these policies are so very unsatisfactory to you, what would you prefer? What do you have that will produce a better result?
The strenuousness of their objection was nothing but noise unless they had a better plan. That’s one way the constructive alternative rule is used. It’s also a handy ‘troll’ detector. ‘Troll’ signifies more than internet social networking behavior in this context.

 In our two-party system, a majority caucus has to span from an extreme to the center +1, by definition. We should be used to intra-party dissent but in the two-party system some participants automatically perceive that attacks come from the opposition. The constructive alternative places the source of the attack on the spectrum where it belongs so that civil discourse can take place. Some of the pie fights that break out here reflect the anxiety humans are hard-wired to feel when they’re unsure of the intentions of those around them.

There’s another reason why a constructive alternative is necessary in politics. Having a platform of beneficial policy proposals is a competitive edge.  A political group that defines itself by what it opposes is at a disadvantage.  One of the reasons why Republicans lost in 2012 was excess focus on Obama, instead of their own platform. Of course, their proposals were so unappealing they had to minimize them while running as ‘Not-Obama’ instead of a constructive alternative.

Even though a constructive alternative has obvious value, it’s only useful in a political system that accommodates citizens who have agency.  The system has to be responsive to citizen engagement.  

Nowadays, it’s becoming clearer to an increasing number of people that the political system no longer functions as a liberal representative democracy. Instead, more people are recognizing that the political system is a status quo that resists input from them.  It has become unresponsive and it no longer represents the interests of ordinary people. It's an existential fact that requires participation through a number of daily rituals but there is no chance of ever changing it.

To the people who see the system as a permanent default with its own interests, there is no constructive alternative. In fact, the only alternative is destruction. To that end, the only worthwhile activity relative to the system is dissent.  

I doubt that many people see signs of the amorphous new Nihilism developing  in the US because of the current unsatisfactory situation. The huge scale of this country can absorb and mute a lot. But there's a picture emerging if you're willing to connect the dots.

Of course not everyone will see the same thing.

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