If you spent Election Night last November in utter disbelief and concluded that Donald Trump was a clown who stumbled into a lucky win, you missed “one of the most important perceptual shifts” in human history.
So says Scott Adams, “Dilbert” creator-turned political pundit. With his latest book, “Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter,” Adams maintains that Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have been so shocking if you’d known what signs to look for. The unconventional candidate, he says, deployed “weapons-grade” persuasion skills and bombast — while triggering massive cognitive dissonance — to pave his way to the White House.
Adams, a trained hypnotist and a “lifelong student of persuasion,” was one of the earliest public figures to predict Trump’s victory. On Aug. 13, 2015, he declared in his blog that the Republican candidate had a 98 percent chance of winning. Just a week earlier, highly acclaimed political forecaster Nate Silver put Trump’s chances at 2 percent.
Now sitting at his desk in his spacious Pleasanton home, Adams admits that watching the predictions play out was “pretty freaky.”
“I had never done anything like that in public, and it was a complete career pivot,” he recalls. “I had entered all new territory and completely dominated it. I was one of the very few people who got it right. And even among the small universe of those who got it right, most were wishful thinkers, whereas I was showing the mechanism under the hood.”
“Win Bigly” is Adams’ victory lap of sorts, and he certainly indulges in a bit of gloating. But the book also goes beyond politics to examine tools of persuasion that can work in business settings and elsewhere. People, he writes, are generally more influenced by “visual persuasion, emotion, repetition, and simplicity than they are by details and facts.”
Though Adams insists that he wasn’t blind to Trump’s many campaign missteps, he was mostly transfixed by the Republican’s ability to craft his message. For example, he points to how Trump’s campaign promise to build a “wall” along the Mexican border purposefully ignored construction details and cost estimates.
As a result, the media and pundits constantly argued about it, fact-checked it and criticized it. But along the way, Adams says, Trump got people to focus on the wall and many voters came to see him as the strongest voice on immigration policies. Master persuaders, he writes, “move your energy to the topics that help them, independent of facts and reason.”
Adams says, “Part of being a good persuader is to pick your topics. When Trump came out in favor of strong immigration control, that painted him in some eyes as a racist. But Republicans thought, ‘Geez, I’m glad someone finally said that.’ … He succeeded doing everything that everybody thought couldn’t work.”
Ironically, Adams styles himself as an “ultraliberal” — one who isn’t beholden to any party. Still, he has spent much of the past year mostly admiring Trump via blog posts and tweets. Last month, he issued a “report card” that gave the president a grade of “A” in areas such as fighting terrorism, the economy and jobs, but an “F” for race relations.
“I believe he’s not a racist, but at the moment he’s done more wrong than right (in this area),” Adams acknowledges. “One hopes he can fix that.”
“Win Bigly,” however, mainly focuses on the presidential campaign, during which Adams came to believe that Trump ranks as the most powerful persuader he has ever observed — atop a list that includes Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, author Peggy Noonan and … Madonna?
“When you see someone perform far beyond what you imagine their talents should get them, there’s usually another layer going on,” he says of the pop singer. “She’s reinvented herself so many times. She seems unstoppable.”
Over the past year or so, Adams has done some reinvention of his own — going from a largely beloved artist-writer behind an iconic comic strip to a political pundit who has been vilified as a “Trump apologist” by some on the left. And the career pivot has made him “toxic.” Adams claims that his once-lucrative public speaking career dried up, and after fielding several “Dilbert” licensing proposals per week over the past couple of decades, the offers are down to “zero.”
“For years, I’ve been trying to make a ‘Dilbert’ movie, but that would be impossible now,” he says.
On top of that, he estimates that “75 percent” of his friends and acquaintances, mostly Trump-haters, have shunned him.
“At one point, I actually thought Facebook was broken because I wasn’t seeing any posts from my friends anymore,” he says. “And I’m not even joking about that.”
Still, Adams has kept his spirits up and insists that he has no regrets. He believes he’s fighting a good fight.
“I’m at a weird stage in my life where I have (expletive)-you money,” he says. “So I can do things that other people simply can’t do because of their economic reality. … In my opinion, understanding Trump as a technique is insanely important. You can see that a lot of people don’t understand it as technique, and they are frightened to death.”
And while Adams certainly acknowledges the widespread fear, he is convinced that a president of Trump’s ilk was what the the nation needed — and that the American public will be able to rein him in, if needed.
“The country needed to be broken before it was fixed. The government had just been ossified,” he says. “And I thought, at the very least, he was going to break it. So I did favor somebody as a destroyer — a destroyer of all the ways we used to think. And what’s different about the way I approach this is that I have very high confidence in Americans as a group to break stuff and fix it. It’s what we do best.”
Contact Chuck Barney at email@example.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney and Facebook.com/bayareanewsgroup.chuckbarney.
‘Dilbert’ creator Scott Adams talks new book and why he backs Donald Trump