I am a fan of Scott Adams. I think his Dilbert comic strip combines the right amount of workplace truth and humor. In addition, I am a regular reader of his blog. My boss, Jon Pittman, even gave me a Dilbert calendar for my desk. Though we're not supposed to get our political advice from cartoonists, I find that many of Adams' opinions have potential. For example, he once suggested this:
With regard to taxation policy...
The federal government should tax the upper class to cover the cost of unemployment and nothing else. This would give them an incentive to create business opportunities and hire those out of work.
The federal government should tax the middle and lower class to cover the cost of everything else. This would stop them from requesting numerous or elaborate government services that they want to exclusively tax the wealthy to pay for.
I am not a politician, but that sounds reasonable to me — or some variant of that. It's certainly something original that we've never tried.
So I approached Adams' new book, Win Bigly with a modicum of optimism. The book is a study of the art and science of persuasion in a world where facts don't matter. Adams was one of the few who predicted Donald Trump's presidential victory. Though Adams disagrees with Trump's policies, he based his prediction on his years of study of persuasion and how he observed Trump behaving like what he terms, "a Master Persuader."
Though President Trump often appears to be a buffoon who is unfit for office, according to Adams, what he does and says is by design. The thesis of his book is that the President's words and actions so closely follow a textbook case for persuasion that it can't be "by accident."
After completing my reading, I summarized the arguments presented in his book as:
With regard to Donald Trump, Adams' premise is that he got elected because:
- Growing up, Donald Trump's family had a relationship with Pastor Norman Vincent Peale, author of the best-selling book, The Power of Positive Thinking, that has influenced millions. Trump learned from that.
- Understanding human nature, Donald Trump makes provocative statements (appealing to the categories of fear) that are memorable because of their hyperbole. His far-out positions are starting points so that he can negotiate back to a middle ("normal") position and get something in return.
- Donald Trump's positions often contain inaccuracies. Errors invite criticism. Criticism garners attention. The more attention that something gets, the more important it becomes, independent of the facts.
- Donald Trump's positions are visual ("the wall") and simple because the direction is more important than the details. He uses the tools of persuasion to get what he wants. For example, "Make America Great Again" is powerful and active but does not say how. Contrast this with "I'm with Her" that is passive and about the candidate instead of the country.
With regard to Adams' style, I was familiar with much of the content because I am a regular reader of his blog. The blog aside, I found that the book repeated its content quite a bit in the book itself.
There are a few possible reasons for this:
If people hear something often enough, they are more likely to believe that it is true.
"Time is on the side of the persuader. If you give me enough time, and I repeat the same message often enough, I can saw 5% of any crowd to believe anything. And 5% is usually enough to win the presidency in the United States because most elections are close affairs due to party loyalties."
Scott Adams, Win Bigly, page 149.
Perhaps his points are repeated to drive these points home?
Another possibility is that he wanted each chapter to stand on its own. As such, topics that had already been explained are re-explained in subsequent chapters. Though I read the book from cover to cover, I suggest that one could read the chapters in almost any order. Perhaps Adams has a plan to publish each chapter separately on his blog? He's already done the "The Making of a Hypnotist" chapter. Adams is a trained hypnotist. Hypnotism is just a form of persuasion.
So that might explain the repetition, but another element of his style is that the writing has lots of meta-information. There are many "more about this later," "I will cover this in a later chapter," or "This will all make sense later." type sentences. Perhaps there is a chicken-egg problem with presenting his arguments, but in my humble opinion, the best writing requires little to none of this.
I voted for Gary Johnson for President. I enjoyed reading Win Bigly as a study of persuasion. It was fascinating to see the art/science backed up by examples of what President Trump did to win the election via the Electoral College. If he's not a buffoon but is instead a Master Persuader, perhaps there is hope for the country yet?
As a scientist, I can accept that facts may not matter when it comes to politics, but for everything else, facts matter. I hope Adams is right, but to the untrained observer, it looks like President Trump is just plain wrong on the facts.
The study of persuasion is alive in the lab.