Monday, May 30, 2016

Scott Adams is not only...

...the creator of the comic strip Dilbert, but also an author, blogger and "trained hypnotist."

Huh? What?

That's right. In a recent piece in Slate, "They Totally Knew: The People Who Foresaw the Rise of Donald Trump," Mr. Adams is quoted as saying (all emphasis mine):

 “I have a background as a trained hypnotist and I’ve been studying persuasion and influence in all its forms—everything from advertising and marketing to you name it—for decades. I’ve gone deeper than most people in the art of influence..." 

Now, I know what you're thinking: That's fascinating. But why should I care?

Because the quote concludes by saying:

...and when I started watching [Donald] Trump I realized early that what looked like the random behavior of a clown to people who were untrained, was almost pitch perfect persuasion.”

If you'll recall, I quoted Adams in a post on Friday:

If you imagine politics as a stick fight, all other stick fights have been won by a person with a stick. But here was Trump who said, ‘I read the rules and there’s nothing against bringing a flamethrower.’

I haven't read the comics in years and so was barely familiar with Adams, but I thought that was really interesting -- and scary. Scary because:

Adams thinks Trump will win the general election in a “landslide.” 

So imagine my surprise when Adams appeared as a guest on Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday night, a show I never, ever miss.

And you know what? I went from scared to terrified.

Not really. (I still believe in an America that will reject a demagogue like Mr. Trump.) But you should visit Adams's blog anyway. And keep in mind:

I’ll remind readers that I have disavowed all of the candidates. My political views don’t line up with any of them. My interest is in Trump’s persuasion skills.

One of my personal favorites was a post, "About Those Trump Policy Details":

It might mean that Trump is a skilled persuader who understands that people don’t make decisions based on policy details, logic, reason, common sense, or any other illusion of rationality. People are emotional creatures who rationalize their actions after the fact. Science knows that free will is an illusion. Trump knows it too. I say that about Trump with confidence because you can’t be a Master Persuader until you understand that people are fundamentally irrational.

This one hit home in particular because my wife and I had just gone out to dinner on Friday night with a couple from Milwaukee in their seventies. Since the man was once a history professor at Stanford and USC I couldn't help asking him about the current race and Trump in particular. I wasn't so surprised to hear that he was a mainstream Republican who originally backed Jeb Bush and then moved on to Marco Rubio before finally voting for John Kasich in the Wisconsin primary.

When he asked for my views I started by saying that the first question one should ask is, Is this person qualified to be president? And, by any objective measurement, Trump is clearly unqualified for the office. (I even referenced Mitt Romney so they wouldn't think I was some sort of bomb-throwing radical.) After all, Trump has never served in either elective or appointive office, has no military experience and his business career is completely opaque so long as he won't release his tax returns. (Is Trump worth what he says he's worth? What does he pay in taxes? Does he pay anything? Does he give to charity? Does he -- as some have alleged -- have ties to organized crime? We'll never know.)

At that, the woman we were out with demanded, Is Hillary qualified to be president? Yes, I replied, she was a United States senator before she was secretary of state. (The level of Hillary hatred out there is truly astounding -- and irrational.) And then she went on the usual Fox News tirade about "Benghazi," Mrs. Clinton's private email server and even a new one I hadn't heard about the number of assistants Michelle Obama has. (How come my mother never mentioned that? You're slipping, Ma!)

I was on my best behavior (you can ask my wife!) and didn't argue with her at all.

(I desperately wanted to point out, however, that several Congressional committees led by Republicans have been investigating "Benghazi" for several years at a cost of millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours and not one thing -- zero! -- has been produced to implicate Clinton in any wrongdoing. Sigh.)

But the point is that Adams is right: people are fundamentally irrational. (Even me?) How could anyone think Donald Trump is qualified to be president? But, more disturbingly, Adams may be right when he says that Trump could win in a “landslide.”

As I concluded my own post on Friday:

For now, the math favors Mrs. Clinton. But that flamethrower of Mr. Trump's worries me.

And it's keeping me up at night.

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