Go Bigly All the Way to the White House

There are so many poor souls still reeling from the outcome of the November 2016 presidential election.  How, oh, how could that deplorable man have won?  It's a big mystery.

Enter the book-length page-turner and mystery-solver, Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don't Matter (Portfolio/Penguin, 2017) by "Dilbert" cartoonist Scott Adams.  Win Bigly sheds light on the dark mystery of that fateful election night – that night that visited tears and Trump Derangement Syndrome on a multitude.

First things first.  In case even the title sends some into uncontrollable trepidation, Win Bigly is not designed to "change your mind about politics or about Trump.  All [Scott Adams] hopes to do is teach you some things about persuasion by wrapping it in an entertaining first-person story."

Adams tells his story in five parts:  "Why Facts are Overrated," "How to See Reality in a More Useful Way," "How President Trump Does What Others Can't," "How to Use Persuasion in Business and Politics," and "Why Joining a Tribe Makes You Powerful and Blind."  He includes several practical appendices that further divulge the secrets of effective persuasion.

Adams argues a "Persuasion Filter" for an evolutionary "moist robot" worldview, where humans can be "easily influenced by emotional and irrational factors."  He goes on to advise that "[i]f you learn the mechanisms of this influence, you have found the user interface for human beings."  Adams further notes that "[w]hen our feelings turn on, our sense of reason shuts off. ... [O]ur decisions are often made without appeal to the rational parts of our brains.  We literally make our decisions first and then create elaborate rationalizations for them after the fact."

"Cognitive dissonance" is a term used for how people rationalize their decisions.  It's related to "confirmation bias," where all evidence is seen to confirm established beliefs.  Both conditions were in robust operation during the past presidential election. 

To true believers and supporters of each candidate, their candidate could do no wrong.  These were the voters whom neither candidate needed to target with his campaign.  And, typically, voters on both sides of the aisle are about evenly split for presidential contestants.  So there is a small percentage of voters who need to be swayed for an election victory.  Trump was best at such suasion. 

In a recent radio interview on The Eric Metaxas Show, Adams explained his experience as a trained hypnotist.  In fact, he revealed that his "Dilbert" cartoon is designed with hypnosis principles (more on that in the interview and book).  Adams also asserted the role hypnotism, besides the art of persuasion, played in the election.  It is certainly not that Trump hypnotized people into voting for him, but rather that hypnosis methods and persuasion techniques are closely aligned.  Whether they know it or not, good persuaders are frequently using methods garrisoned by professional hypnotists.

Seeing Trump as the best persuader in his lifetime, Adams confidently predicted a Trump win back in 2015, and his book takes you all the way through the election cycle.  Adams saw Trump employing a full set of persuasion tools and techniques:  branding, negotiating, labeling with linguistic "kill shots" such as "crooked Hillary" and "low-energy Jeb," and the like.  He saw how Trump was connecting with audiences early on and how Trump's "talent stack" – including public speaking skills and a good sense of humor along with the tools and techniques just mentioned – contained a winning combination.

Radio host Metaxas observed that when Trump said some outrageous things that many ordinary Americans took lightly or found funny, cultural elites didn't get the joke and analyzed every utterance with utter seriousness.  Adams explained this as the two-movies-on-the-same-screen effect.  That's where two audience members sitting next to each other watching the same movie can see a totally different film.

Adams believes Trump's extraordinary persuasion skills combine natural (he survives massive criticism) and trained (he started out early in the church pastored by Norman Vincent Peale) conditioning.  In the end, both conditions helped usher him into the Oval Office.

Perhaps there are as many different reasons for the Trump victory as there are voters in America.  My own reason does not match any Adams lists in Win Bigly.  I tag Trump's win substantially to the Little Sisters of the Poor.  Why?  When the Obama administration forced the sisters to defend their pro-life belief in court, all the way up to the Supreme Court, my guess is that the humble defendants prayed hard to God for relief.  And as the saying goes, "The Lord works in mysterious ways." 

Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist and the author of In Global Warming We Trust: Too Big to Fail (Stairway Press, 2016).

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