Scott Adams is the author of the comic strip “Dilbert.” A year ago Adams gave Trump a 98% chance of winning the presidency when experts were at 2%. His prediction was based on the persuasion filter, Adams considers Trump to be a “master persuader” based on Adams’ longtime interest in the art of persuasion and hypnosis.
I voted for Hillary and was as surprised as most people that Trump won. I’m pretty sure Adams didn’t vote for Trump either. But he has an interesting take on why Trump won and what will be different about Trump after he assumes the presidency. Here’s my edited version of a recent Scott Adams blogpost:
We live under a consistent illusion that facts and logic guide our decisions. They don’t.
I mean that in the limited sense of decision-making. If you make the wrong decision, the facts can kill you. That’s not in debate. I’m talking about the process of arriving at a decision.
The exception is when there’s no emotional dimension to a decision. For example, if a mechanic says it’ll cost you $1,000 to fix your car, and you can see no other option that makes sense, the facts and logic guided your decision to approve the repairs. But emotion-free decisions are unusual. You rarely see emotion-free decisions when it comes to politics, relationships, or even your career.
A Master Persuader – and anyone trained in hypnosis or persuasion in general – knows that humans don’t use facts and reason to make important decisions. Most persuaders prefer sticking to the facts when possible, but that is mostly to avoid looking like idiots. They know that sticking to facts will not persuade.
Trump just takes things one step further. He doesn’t pretend the facts matter when they don’t. He does the things that matter and ignores the things that don’t.
He just has a better idea than the public and the media about what matters. For example…
The public thinks facts matter for decisions. They don’t.
The public thinks being “presidential” matters for getting elected. It didn’t.
The public thinks Trump should have studied the issues more deeply. And he will, as needed. But he didn’t need detailed policy knowledge to get elected (evidently).
The experts said Trump needed more ground game. He didn’t.
I hope you see the pattern already. Trump ignores the things that don’t matter – even to the point of looking the fool – and pays deep attention to what DOES matter.
When Trump was running for election, facts and reasons and policy details didn’t matter to the outcome. He knew that. I knew that. Every trained persuader knew it. But the general public did not, and that’s the realization that is beginning to dawn on the world.
Once in office, facts and reason do matter more. Trump is moving from the job of talking about issues to the job of doing something about them. In his new role, he will pay attention to details and facts and reason as much as humanly possible, with the help of advisors. You already see this transformation happening as Trump moderates his positions on waterboarding, prosecuting Clinton, and even climate change.
If you have not studied persuasion it makes perfect sense to be in a panic about a Trump presidency. You see a pattern of irrational-looking behavior from Trump during the election and you assume the trend will continue into the presidency. But if you understand the tools of persuasion you see a Master Persuader ignoring what doesn’t matter and paying close attention to what does, for the benefit of the country. That is literally the safest situation I can imagine.
As president, facts do matter. Reason matters. Logic matters. But persuasion does too – and it is still hugely important to the job of being president. Don’t expect Trump to embrace any facts that are not important to “making America great again.” But I do think you can expect facts to influence Trump when they do matter.
If you are worried how a President Trump will address climate change, here’s what to expect. You can expect him to dissect the topic in terms of the facts that matter and the ones that don’t. You can expect him to eventually agree with scientists who say human activity is contributing to climate change. But when it comes to the prediction models, and America’s ability to fix the problem at a reasonable cost, expect him to be more skeptical than the general public.
That isn’t crazy. Complicated models that try to predict the future rarely succeed.
I don’t believe human brains evolved to understand reality at an objective level. The best we can do is pick filters that do a good job of predicting what’s ahead. The Persuasion Filter predicted Trump’s win when most other models did not. Now I use the same filter to predict that Trump will turn from totally ignoring facts (because facts don’t matter to elections) to embracing the facts that do matter to the country.