Dilbert’s Scott Adams and Donald Trump
Yesterday, Slate published an Amanda Marcotte essay titled “Dilbert has gone fascist: The strange unrequited love Scott Adams seems to have for Donald Trump.”
For those who aren’t readers of Adams’ blog, he has written numerous posts over the past several months admiring Trump’s amazing persuasive abilities, while frequently disclaiming that he doesn’t personally like Trump or think he’d be a good president. Marcotte is angry about it:
Adams really, really, really wants you to believe he’s not a Trump supporter, because he knows, on some level, that outing yourself as a Trump supporter is like admitting in public that your mom still pins your address inside your clothes in case you get lost. But, for all that Adams loves to wax on about how he is an expert on the art of persuasion — he even brags about his supposed ability to hypnotize “everyone” — he can’t even manage, despite intense repetition, to convince readers that he wouldn’t lick Trump’s shoes if given the opportunity to do so.
Some phrases that Adams has used to describe Trump:
- “fIf you understand persuasion, Trump is pitch-perfect most of the time. “
- “The Master Persuader will warp reality until he gets what he wants….”
- “A lot of the things that the media were reporting as sort of random insults and bluster and just Trump being Trump, looked to me like a lot of deep technique that I recognized from the fields of hypnosis and persuasion.”
- “Trump has the best persuasion skills I have ever seen.”
- “You see apple pie and flags and eagles coming out of his ass when he talks.”
In the real world, Trump has off-the-charts unfavorability ratings, but in the world of Scott Adams, Trump is a svengali of politics, headed for a landslide in November, due to the enormous persuasive power of racist cracks and non sequitur ramblings. If you read enough of Adams’s blog, it becomes quickly apparent that the only reason Adams thinks this is because he himself is persuaded to vote for Trump. And, like his fellow narcissistic Donald Trump, Adams mistakes his views for the majority.
Despite claiming not to support anyone, Adams has largely handed his blog over to defending Trump from his critics.
Trump makes a blatantly racist remark about Judge Gonzalo Curiel being “Mexican” and therefore, in Trump’s opinion, unable to render an impartial verdict in the Trump U case? Adams says that Trump critics must therefore be saying Curiel is a “robot” because “100% of humans are biased about just about everything.” (Except, of course, Adams, who is most definitely not biased towards Trump because he is infatuated with him.)
You get the idea.
I can’t do justice to Adams’ long-running analysis of Trump here. Adams, who frequently writes about hypnosis and the emotional aspect of human psychology, is fascinated by Trump. But take, for example, the “Trump has the best persuasion skills I have ever seen” claim from above. An excerpt:
I’ll start with Trump’s slogan first, then look at Clinton’s new offering.
Make America Great Again
Trump’s slogan uses the following persuasion techniques:
1. Provides no targets for disagreement.
2. Everyone has their own sense of what ”great” means and how to do it. That vagueness is hardcore hypnosis technique.
3. It speaks to identity (the strongest form of persuasion) as Americans.
4. It suggests we lost something. Humans have more emotional connection to loss than potential gain.
5. It has ”America” in it. That word is persuasion catnip for Americans. We have been brainwashed to have a twitch response to it.
6. It appeals to both genders.
7. It is aspirational. We all want to be better, or to make the country better.
Now let’s look at Clinton’s new slogan.
We’re Stronger Together
Clinton’s slogan uses all of the persuasion techniques listed below.
Maybe I should tell you what is wrong with Clinton’s slogan from a persuasion perspective. Otherwise, we’re done early.
Adams’ “defense” of Trump’s racist attacks on an American judge with a Mexican heritage is of a similar piece. In part:
But right-and-wrong aside, is it a good legal strategy for Trump to sow doubts about the objectivity of the robot judge? It seems to me that the trial can go one of two ways.
1. Trump wins in court, in which case, Trump wins.
2. Trump loses in court, in which case, Trump says Democrats rigged the system to give him an unfair trial. We’re already primed to believe it.
From a legal perspective, race is not a reason to remove a judge. I haven’t heard anyone argue otherwise. But from a persuasion perspective, Trump is setting the stage for whatever is to come. So yes, it is smart, albeit offensive.
Some have asked why Trump’s legal team hasn’t asked for the judge to be replaced. My guess is that they want to keep him because they expect to lose the case and they plan to pin it on the judge. That’s how I would play it.
The one small problem with Trump’s strategy of questioning the robot’s objectivity is that it creates one more point of confirmation bias that Trump is a racist. Here’s what we have so far:
1. Trump wants to protect the melting pot that is America from the non-Americans who want to get into the country illegally. That’s the job of the President, and yet…it sounds a bit racist. That’s point-one of confirmation bias.
2. Trump said immigrants from Mexico are rapists. Under normal circumstances, a listener would understand him to mean that the socioeconomic circumstances of being an immigrant are correlated with higher-than-average crime rates of all types. But because you think Trump is a racist, your cognitive dissonance turned it into an accusation that all Mexican men, women, children, and unborn babies are rapists.
To make things worse, Trump is pro-life. The implication is that Trump believes one-month-old fetuses from Mexico somehow escape the womb at night to do their raping. It sounds implausible, but once you know Trump is a racist who thinks every single Mexican is a rapist, you have to assume he was talking about the fetuses too. That’s a tell for confirmation bias.
3. During one CNN interview Trump did not disavow the KKK in a clear and quick fashion that viewers expected. He did disavow the KKK and David Duke before the interview, and plenty of times afterwards. But that one time on live television he didn’t hear the question (he says) and he responded inadequately. It seems implausible that a candidate for president would intentionally avoid disavowing the KKK on live TV, but once you assume Trump is a racist, confirmation bias kicks in, and you assume he did just that.
4. Trump suggested a temporary ban on Muslim immigration until we can figure out what’s going on. That sounds totally racist…unless you know that Islam is open to all ethnicities…and as practiced in many places is incompatible with the Constitution of the United States. And ISIS is trying to get terrorists into the country by posing as immigrants. Viewed in isolation, the ban on Muslim immigration is offensive and problematic. But viewed in context with all of the other confirmation bias about Trump, it turns into evidence of racism.
5. And now Trump believes a judge might be biased because his parents grew up in Mexico. On one hand, every person in the world thinks that is a legitimate risk. On the other hand, when viewed in context of all of Trump’s other confirmation bias, it looks racist as hell.
I’m probably leaving out a few points of confirmation bias. But you get the point. Once you see Trump as a probable racist, you see ”evidence” everywhere, even if there is none. That’s confirmation bias.
Now, I happen to think Trump is either racist or strongly appealing to those with a racist and/or nativist bent, a distinction without much difference. But Adams’ analysis is perfectly reasonable. And, indeed, while doubtless distasteful, Trump is probably right that his history of making inflammatory claims about Mexicans might tend to make a person of Mexican heritage, even one who’s a judge with an excellent reputation, unfavorably disposed to him.
Regardless, Adams is simply applying his study of persuasion to the current campaign and explaining why he thinks Trump is a master salesman. The fact that a tremendously unlikable man with no qualification to be president has secured the nomination of one of the two major political parties of the most powerful country on the planet might be one indicator of that. So, too, would a successful decades-long career as a huckster.
While I suspect Adams’ fascination with Trump’s persuasive skills is real, there’s also a tongue-in-cheek quality to his writing on the subject. See, for example, his 5 June posting titled “My Endorsement for President of the United States.”
I’ll start by reminding readers that my politics don’t align with any of the candidates. My interest in the race has been limited to Trump’s extraordinary persuasion skills. But lately Hillary Clinton has moved into the persuasion game – and away from boring facts and policies – with great success. Let’s talk about that.
This past week we saw Clinton pair the idea of President Trump with nuclear disaster, racism, Hitler, the Holocaust, and whatever else makes you tremble in fear.
That is good persuasion if you can pull it off because fear is a strong motivator. It is also a sharp pivot from Clinton’s prior approach of talking about her mastery of policy details, her experience, and her gender. Trump took her so-called “woman card” and turned it into a liability. So Clinton wisely pivoted. Her new scare tactics are solid-gold persuasion. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see Clinton’s numbers versus Trump improve in June, at least temporarily, until Trump finds a counter-move.
With the hook set, Adams continues:
The only downside I can see to the new approach is that it is likely to trigger a race war in the United States. And I would be a top-ten assassination target in that scenario because once you define Trump as Hitler, you also give citizens moral permission to kill him. And obviously it would be okay to kill anyone who actively supports a genocidal dictator, including anyone who wrote about his persuasion skills in positive terms. (I’m called an ”apologist” on Twitter, or sometimes just Joseph Goebbels).
If Clinton successfully pairs Trump with Hitler in your mind – as she is doing – and loses anyway, about a quarter of the country will think it is morally justified to assassinate their own leader. I too would feel that way if an actual Hitler came to power in this country. I would join the resistance and try to take out the Hitler-like leader. You should do the same. No one wants an actual President Hitler.
So I’ve decided to endorse Hillary Clinton for President, for my personal safety. Trump supporters don’t have any bad feelings about patriotic Americans such as myself, so I’ll be safe from that crowd. But Clinton supporters have convinced me – and here I am being 100% serious – that my safety is at risk if I am seen as supportive of Trump. So I’m taking the safe way out and endorsing Hillary Clinton for president.
It’s all interesting reading even if I’m not entirely, no pun intended, persuaded by it. Adams has certainly been more on-target than I have in assessing Trump’s appeal, which I presumed would fade as the craziness of his rantings became more obvious.
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