The Radical Left’s (Alinsky) Playbook, Part 3: Political Verbal Abuse by Toxic Shaming

Phyllis Beveridge Nissila

Part 1

Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I discussed eight of Saul Alinsky’s rules on how to fundamentally–and radically–transform a nation, the United States, as presented in his book Rules for Radicals (available here in its entirely under an open share license).

In Part 2, I offered a deeper analysis of the damage that arguably has been–and continues to be–inflicted, as the radical left has employed what I would call political sociopathy based on another of Alinsky’s rules: “The organizers first job is to create the issues or problems, and organizations must be based on many issues. The organizer must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; fan the latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expression. He must search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them, for unless there is controversy people are not concerned enough to act. . . An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent.”

For this commentary, I will analyze further what happens when radical left revolutionaries employ another Alinsky tactic that I would define as verbal abuse. Here is his advice:

(Pick a) target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.)

Back to the Playground

There is an idiom in America that most people learned in grade school pertaining to schoolyard bullies who used name-calling to go after their targets (usually small kids, kids with some kind of visible challenge or disability, obese kids, or smart kids). Adults would often (and still do) tell the targets to remember this expression to use whenever the bullies began criticizing and ridiculing: “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

As any kid–or adult, for that matter–can tell you, however, that is not true.

Words can be as abusive and as damaging, and I would add manipulative, as physical assaults.

Few people, young or old, will not be affected or intimidated to some degree or another when a bully (and bullies like to travel in groups) uses derisive, contemptuous, and/or cruel language.

Verbal abusers are also adept at attempting to define others’ reality–and to get the others to believe their definition.

Political groups also use such tactics.

My focus here is on how the radical left, specifically, employs such verbal abuse that often distracts and disheartens their abuse targets, i.e., opponents who would–dare–oppose their radical policies and their playbook.

When verbal abuse is used to also “toxic-shame” a target, the manipulative effects are greatly intensified.

Indeed, such cruel tactics are damaging when anybody for any reason or cause uses them as a means to an end other than just working the playground, in which case they can be regarded as either childhood immaturity or plain old meanness.

Political Verbal Abuse via Toxic Shaming

According to the following definition in Wikipedia, citing the work and words of Patricia Evans and Suzette Haden in field of abusive relationships, there are several reasons bullies verbally abuse others:

Verbal abuse (verbal attack or verbal assault) is when a person forcefully criticizes, insults, or denounces someone else. [1] Characterized by underlying anger and hostility, it is a destructive form of communication intended to harm the self-concept of the other person and produce negative emotions. [2] Verbal abuse is a maladaptive mechanism that anyone can display occasionally, such as during times of high stress or physical discomfort. For some people, it is a pattern of behaviors used intentionally to control or manipulate others or to get revenge. [3]

I have emphasized the third definition because I believe this is most applicable to the behavior of many radical leftists whose motivation arguably aligns more with the control/manipulation/revenge aspect of verbal-abuse-by-name-calling, specifically.

In such politically-motivated verbal abuse there is also the element of virtue signaling by the name-caller who  would attempt to show his/her moral superiority by means of putting down his/her opponent with a shame-based term or string of them.

In this political arena, the verbal abuser might employ any of the following shame-based terms, and more, to signal not only their idea that you are guilty of certain nonpolitically-correct beliefs, thoughts and actions while also, as noted above, suggesting their moral superiority (and how often have you heard the following?): racist, homophobe, islamophobe, sexist/mysoginist/nazi/ and so on.

Of course, people can truly be all of the above, which is that nugget of truth that gives pause. And should. And is in part what has caused many of the ills in our nation to have been successfully addressed, or that are in the process of being addressed, which is one of the sustaining strengths of our representative republic form of government.

In other words, there is legitimate shame for actual wrong thinking/acting, whether in individuals, groups, or nations, that needs to be addressed, has been, and always will be.

However, where ordinary shame as an impetus to improve oneself or make policy changes in a nation turns to the abusive kind, what Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT, calls “toxic shame,” this is a danger zone. And, I would add, this toxicity is where we seem to be politically, in this country, as the radical left arguably uses such shame as a very strong manipulative and controlling device.


A key element in attempting to engender this kind of abusive is frequency*, using the shame-triggering words as often as possible.

This is the case where parents use shame to control their children’s behaviors over time; where others in positions of authority in educational, corporate, and/or religious institutions use it to control students, employees, followers; and, I would argue, where today’s radical left uses it to intimidate, fear-monger, and even attempt to shut down conversation, let alone healthy debate, in today’s volatile American political environment.

And. it. is. very. effective.

On individuals and groups.

As Lancer describes toxic shame and its ramifications in her article “What is Toxic Shame?“:

When shame becomes toxic, it can ruin our lives. Everyone experiences shame at one time another. It’s an emotion with physical symptoms like any other that comes and goes, but when it’s severe, it can cause extreme pain…

As to the significant effects of toxic shame, Lancer writes,

Strong feelings of shame stimulate the nervous system, causing a fight-flight-freeze reaction. We feel exposed and want to hide or react with rage, while feeling profoundly alienated from others and good parts of ourselves. We may not be able to think or talk clearly and be consumed with self-loathing, which is made worse because we’re unable to be rid of ourselves (And to make matters worse) We all have our own specific triggers or tender points that produce feelings of shame. The intensity of our experience varies, too, depending upon our prior life experiences, cultural beliefs, personality, and the activating event.

Whereas ordinary shame, whether caused by abusive bullying heard in the schoolyard to appropriate feelings of shame for legitimate offenses committed (which is part of the function of a healthy conscience) lasts a short time, if addressed, political (toxic) shaming–by pejorative and accusatory words–has far more powerful and destructive goals.

It reaches deeper into the targets’ psychology, his/her/their core sense of self, and by so doing, has the effect of a personalized and/or  cultural-ized, if you will, strike. Think of all the cultural “privilege” categories being cited, these days, with more added every day, it seems.

This tactic is the very best kind of  Trojan Horse, you might call it, method of takeover because it is the most insidious, while also being invisible. And it doesn’t take much to accomplish–a little knowledge of human nature, a bit of a study in psychology, and a good playbook, such as Alinsky’s, for rules on how to fundamentally transform whatever institution (or individual) you are aiming at.

And the conquest can be accomplished quickly, even quietly (although name-calling is usually shouted), by means (or memes) comprised of a few well-chosen and carefully-crafted words inserted in any setting (the more the better) and at any moment (the element of surprise being an added kicker for greater success).

Day after day after day…


Indeed, words can and do hurt–and they can also upend even the strongest of individuals and nations.

The next time you or your group is immediately and repeatedly disrespected, falsely accused, and/or shamed into silence and/or inaction, please remember this may well be just another tactic in the Alinsky, radical leftist’s playbook to wrest power and control of this great nation and to fundamentally transform it to what he calls a “paradise of communism.”

In the case of verbal abuse perpetrated by the radical left in the form of toxic-shaming–figurative sticks and stones, if you will, but also damaging–we need to resist and carry on.

With some of the verbal bullies, however, you may need to also move on, at least for now.

And for those on both sides of the current political arena and who might feel mentally or emotionally cornered, just now, this encouragement: take heart–nothing on this planet or in politics lasts forever.

Thank God (figuratively–and literally).

(For more on generic counter-measures that will also help you to withstand and resist, in this case, political verbal abuse by the toxic-shaming of the Alinsky-esque radical left, see Parts 1 and 2.)


1. “assault”, American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fifth ed.), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2016, retrieved 16 March 2018 .

2. The Verbally Abusive Relationship, Patricia Evans. Adams Media Corp 1992, 1996, 2010.

3. Elgin, Suzette Haden, How Verbal Self-Defense Works, retrieved 13 May 2019.

*One might compare the frequency employed to maximize the manipulation inherent in repeated toxic-shaming as a tool of the radical left to the notorious Big Lie Theory

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