Dilbert creator Scott Adams gives his take on why Donald Trump is President. In Adams view, Trump is a “Master Persuader” and through this lens, it is easier to see why he won the Republican nomination and beat Clinton.
The popular interpretation is that Trump understood the American people and devised policies they wanted. Adams argues Trump convinced people his policies were the ones they should care about most.
Adams sees Trump as a classic “deal-maker” who starts with an outrageous position, but is willing, and expects to moderate that position. But people remember the outrageous position. Trump was never going to build a “Wall” but people saw that Trump agreed with them on an emotional level, and that immigration was a big problem that needs fixing. That is all they needed to remember.
Adams argues that in debates and interviews, Trump was a master of the High Ground Maneuver, which takes the discussion out of the weeds, and elevates it to the high ground where no one can disagree. Say something that is absolutely true while changing the context at the same time. Once the move has been executed, others risk looking small minded if they drag the debate back down.
In contrast, Clinton had success when she effectively tagged Trump as “Dark”. However, most of her communications attempts missed the mark. Trump branded his campaign as something for all Americans and successfully tagged the “Deplorables” comment as “Contempt”.
Facts and reason?
Adams challenges the common world view is that we can understand reality through facts and reason. We think we are the enlightened ones and people who disagree just need better facts because this view makes us happy. But we all have movies in our heads that we believe are accurate views of reality. And all those movies are very different.
People don’t change opinions about emotional topics just because some information proved their opinion non-sense. The worst thing your brain could do is reinterpret your reality into a whole new movie with each bit of information. That would be exhausting. Instead, your brain takes new information and puts it into your existing worldview.
Thus, it is not easy to change someone’s aspirations, but you can improve the power of your persuasion by grafting your story onto people’s existing aspirations.
Adams weaves together familiar themes from Cialdini’s Influence and Pre-suasion, findings of Behavioral Economics Thinking Fast and Slow, and Made to Stick and other top books on psychology and persuasion to argue Trump just had a better understanding of human nature than the other candidates. Concepts like anchors, cognitive dissonance, filters, imagination, pacing, and confirmation bias, are all discussed as persuasion tools, often using examples from Trump’s campaign.
Some other ideas Adams puts forward:
- When there is confusion, people gravitate towards the strongest, most confident voice. We don’t like uncertainty, so we are attracted to those who offer clarity and simple answers.
- People gravitate towards the future that they are imagining most vividly, even if they don’t want the future they are seeing.
- Humans need contrast in order to make solid decisions and turn to action. People make decisions in the context of alternatives. If you are not framing the alternatives as bad, you are not persuading at all.
- People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.
- You need to surprise the brain or make it work a bit harder to form memories. We more easily remember things that violate our expectations.
- In general, people are more influenced by visual persuasion, emotion, repetition, and simplicity than they are by details and facts.
- Cognitive Dissonance – people rationalize why their actions are inconsistent with their thoughts and beliefs. It is a common delusion, but we can only see it in other people. Having lots of reasons why something did not go your way is a sign of cognitive dissonance.
Of course, Adams has the benefit of 2020 hindsight, and can fit his narrative to reflect Trump’s victory, but there is a lot to chew on here as we increasingly communicate in a world where “Facts Don’t Matter”.