By Michael Cavna
SCOTT ADAMS remembers just how the game turned. He was young and improving at chess, but the masterful kid across the board would outmaneuver Adams till the game seemed a runaway. Now, this kid didn’t want to just beat Adams; he wanted to embarrass him. “So after he’d picked away three-fourths of my pieces and I was discouraged,” Adams recounts, “he would offer to turn the board around and play with my pieces.” And then effectively “win” again.
On those occasions, Scott Adams, the creator of “Dilbert,” got insight into the type of personality that loves not only the challenge of game strategy, but also the thrill of overwhelming the competition. It is the sport of meticulously plotted domination.
And that is part of why Adams believes Donald Trump will win the presidency. In a landslide.
[‘The Simpsons’ predicted a Trump presidency 16 years ago. The writer illuminates the reasons]
Adams, in other words, believes that Trump himself has turned the campaign game around. On the stump, the real-estate mogul is not running on the knowledge of his numbers or the dissection of the data. He is running on our emotions, Adams says, and sly appeals to our own human irrationality. Since last August, in fact, when many were calling Trump’s entry a clown candidacy, the “Dilbert” cartoonist was already declaring The Donald a master in the powers of persuasion who would undoubtedly rise in the polls. And last week, Adams began blogging about how Trump can rhetorically dismantle Clinton’s candidacy next.
Adams, mind you, is not endorsing Trump or supporting his politics. (“I don’t think my political views align with anybody,” he tells The Post’s Comic Riffs, “not even another human being.”) And he is not saying that Trump would be the best president. What the Bay Area-based cartoonist recognizes, he says, is the careful art behind Trump’s rhetorical techniques. And The Donald, he says, is playing his competitors like a fiddle — before beating them like a drum.
Most simply put: Adams believes Trump will win because he’s “a master persuader.”
The Manhattan mogul is so deft at the powers of persuasion, Adams believes, that the candidate could have run as a Democrat and, by picking different hot-button issues, still won this presidency. In other words: Trump is such a master linguistic strategist that he could have turned the political chessboard around and still embarrassed the field.
Adams does not claim to be a trained political analyst. His stated credentials in this arena, says Adams — who holds an MBA from UC Berkeley — largely involve being a certified hypnotist and, as a writer and business author, an eternal student in the techniques of persuasive rhetoric. (His self-help memoir is titled “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life.”)
“The most important thing when you study hypnosis is that you learn that humans are irrational,” Adams tells Comic Riffs. “Until you understand that, hypnosis is hard to do. … For me, it was this great awakening to understand that humans are deeply irrational, and it’s probably the greatest influence on me in terms of my writing.”
“This was a trick I learned from Bil Keane,” the late creator of “Family Circus,” Adams tells Comic Riffs. “He basically taught me to stop writing for myself, which I realized I had been doing — writing a comic that I wanted to read.”
So Adams pivoted to write more about the workplace, and the budding “Dilbert” in the early ’90s became “about this huge part of people’s lives that was invisible to the rest of the world and about suffering in a hundred different ways.”
“By simply mentioning that world,” Adams says, the comic connected with readers “on an emotional level.”
And isn’t that essentially, in turn, what Trump is doing? He is acknowledging the suffering of some, Adams says, and then appealing emotionally to that.
And he bolsters that approach, Adams says, by “exploiting the business model” like an entrepreneur. In this model, which “the news industry doesn’t have the ability to change … the media doesn’t really have the option of ignoring the most interesting story,” says Adams, contending that Trump “can always be the most interesting story if he has nothing to fear and nothing to lose.”
Having nothing to lose essentially then increases his chance of winning, because it opens up his field of rhetorical play. “Psychology is the only necessary skill for running for president,” writes Adams, adding: “Trump knows psychology.”
Within that context, here is what Candidate Trump is doing to win campaign hearts and minds, according to Scott Adams:
1. Trump knows people are basically irrational.
“If you see voters as rational you’ll be a terrible politician,” Adams writes on his blog. “People are not wired to be rational. Our brains simply evolved to keep us alive. Brains did not evolve to give us truth. Brains merely give us movies in our minds that keeps us sane and motivated. But none of it is rational or true, except maybe sometimes by coincidence.”
2. Knowing that people are irrational, Trump aims to appeal on an emotional level.
“The evidence is that Trump completely ignores reality and rational thinking in favor of emotional appeal,” Adams writes. “Sure, much of what Trump says makes sense to his supporters, but I assure you that is coincidence. Trump says whatever gets him the result he wants. He understands humans as 90-percent irrational and acts accordingly.”
Adams adds: “People vote based on emotion. Period.”
3. By running on emotion, facts don’t matter.
“While his opponents are losing sleep trying to memorize the names of foreign leaders – in case someone asks – Trump knows that is a waste of time … ,” Adams writes. “There are plenty of important facts Trump does not know. But the reason he doesn’t know those facts is – in part – because he knows facts don’t matter. They never have and they never will. So he ignores them.
“Right in front of you.”
And stating numbers that might not quite be facts nevertheless can anchor those numbers, and facts, in your mind.
4. If facts don’t matter, you can’t really be “wrong.”
Trump “doesn’t apologize or correct himself. If you are not trained in persuasion, Trump looks stupid, evil, and maybe crazy,” Adams writes. “If you understand persuasion, Trump is pitch-perfect most of the time. He ignores unnecessary rational thought and objective data and incessantly hammers on what matters (emotio“Did Trump’s involvement in the birther thing confuse you?” Adams goes on to ask. “Were you wondering how Trump could believe Obama was not a citizen? The answer is that Trump never believed anything about Obama’s place of birth. The facts were irrelevant, so he ignored them while finding a place in the hearts of conservatives. For later.
“This is later. He plans ahead.”
5. With fewer facts in play, it’s easier to bend reality.
Steve Jobs famously aimed to create “reality distortion fields” to meet his needs and achieve his ends. Trump employs similar techniques, and apparently can be similarly thin-skinned when his “reality” is challenged. “The Master Persuader will warp reality until he gets what he wants,” writes Adams, noting that Trump is “halfway done” already.
(Among the persuasive techniques that Trump uses to help bend reality, Adams says, are repetition of phrases; “thinking past the sale” so the initial part of his premise is stated as a given; and knowing the appeal of the simplest answer, which relates to the concept of Occam’s razor.)
6. To bend reality, Trump is a master of identity politics — and identity is the strongest persuader.
One way to achieve this is by deploying “linguistic kill shots” that land true, and alter perception through two ways.“Do you think it is a coincidence that Trump called Megyn Kelly a bimbo and then she got a non-bimbo haircut that is … well, Trumpian?” Adams writes. “It doesn’t look like a coincidence to this trained persuader.”
“The best Trump linguistic kill shots,” Adams writes,”have the following qualities: 1. Fresh word that is not generally used in politics; 2. Relates to the physicality of the subject (so you are always reminded).”
Writes Adams: “Identity is always the strongest level of persuasion. The only way to beat it is with dirty tricks or a stronger identity play. … [And] Trump is well on his way to owning the identities of American, Alpha Males, and Women Who Like Alpha Males. Clinton is well on her way to owning the identities of angry women, beta males, immigrants, and disenfranchised minorities.
“If this were poker, which hand looks stronger to you for a national election?”