Introduction (Where I Prime You for the Rest)
'm a trained hypnotist.
And I'm going to tell you about the spookiest year of my life. It happened between June 2015 and November 2016. Okay, that's a little more than a year.
Everything you are about to read in this book is true, as far as I know. I don't expect you to believe all of it. (Who could?) But I promise it is true, to the best of my knowledge.
I've waited decades to deliver the message in this book. I waited because the world wasn't ready, but also because the messenger-yours truly-didn't have the skill to deliver it right. The story was too hard to tell. But it was important, and it needed to be told.
And so I waited.
And I learned.
And I practiced.
And I waited some more.
Then it happened.
On June 16, 2015, Donald J. Trump rode a golden elevator in Trump Tower to the lobby, where he announced his candidacy for president of the United States. Like most observers at the time, I didn't fully understand what I was seeing. It wasn't until the first Republican primary debate that I realized what was happening right before our eyes. Trump was no ordinary politician. He was no ordinary businessperson either. In fact, he wasn't ordinary in any sense of the word.
Trump is what I call a Master Persuader. That means he has weapons-grade persuasion skills. Based on my background in that field, I recognized his talents early. And after watching him in action during the election, I have to say that Trump is the most persuasive human I have ever observed.
President Trump carried those persuasion skills into the White House, where his supporters say he has gotten a lot done, and his critics say he hasn't. Supporters pointed to a decrease in illegal immigration, a strong stock market (at this writing), high consumer confidence, progress fighting ISIS, a solid Supreme Court nominee, and a stronger-than-expected foreign policy game. Critics saw "chaos" in the administration, slow progress on health-care reform, and maybe some kind of nefarious connections with Russia.
President Trump's critics (and mine) asked me how I could call the president a Master Persuader when his public approval levels were in the cellar. The quick answer is that low approval didn't stop him from winning the presidency. And according to his supporters, it didn't stop him from getting things done on the job. His persuasion skills, combined with the power of the presidency, were all he needed. Keep in mind that disapproving of Trump's style and personality is a social requirement for people who long for a more civil world. Effectiveness is a separate issue from persuasive skill.
But here's the fun part: I also believed that Trump-the Master Persuader-was going to do far more than win the presidency. I expected Trump to rip a hole in the fabric of reality so we could look through it to a deeper truth about the human experience. And he did exactly that.
But not everyone noticed. That's why I made it the theme of this book.
The common worldview, shared by most humans, is that there is one objective reality, and we humans can understand that reality through a rigorous application of facts and reason. This view of the world imagines that some people have already achieved a fact-based type of enlightenment that is compatible with science and logic, and they are trying to help the rest of us see the world the "right" way. As far as I can tell, most people share that interpretation of the world. The only wrinkle with that worldview is that we all think we are the enlightened ones. And we assume the people who disagree with us just need better facts, and perhaps better brains, in order to agree with us. That filter on life makes most of us happy-because we see ourselves as the smart ones-and it does a good job of predicting the future, but only because confirmation bias (our tendency to interpret data as supporting our views) will make the future look any way we want it to look, within reason.
What I saw with Trump's candidacy for president is that the "within reason" part of our understanding about reality was about to change, bigly. I knew that candidate Trump's persuasion skills were about to annihilate the public's ability to understand what they were seeing, because their observations wouldn't fit their mental model of living in a rational world. The public was about to transition from believing-with total certainty-"the clown can't win" to "Hello, President Trump." And in order to make that transition, they would have to rewrite every movie playing in their heads. To put it in simple terms, the only way Trump could win was if everything his critics understood about the true nature of reality was wrong.
Then Trump won.
That's what I mean by "ripping a hole in the fabric of the universe." Think of it as the moment your entire worldview dissolves in front of your eyes, and you have to rebuild it from scratch. As a trained persuader, I found this situation thrilling beyond words. And I was about to get a lot of company, once people realized what they were seeing.
I'll help you find the hole that Trump punched through the universe so you can look through it with me to the other side. Put a seat belt on your brain-you're going to need it.
Before we go further, I need to tell you that Trump's stated policies during the campaign did not align with my political preferences. Nor do my views line up with Clinton's stated policies during the race. I realize this is hard to believe, so I'll need to give you some examples to make the point. This little detour is necessary so you can judge my political bias. It is important context because the message is always connected to the messenger. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you can probably skip this part.
I label myself an ultraliberal, and by that I mean liberals seem too conservative to me. I'll give you some examples:
Generally speaking, conservatives want to ban abortion while liberals want it to remain legal. I go one step further and say that men should sideline themselves from the question and follow the lead of women on the topic of reproductive health. (Men should still be in the conversation about their own money, of course.) Women take on most of the burden of human reproduction, including all of the workplace bias, and that includes even the women who don't plan to have kids. My personal sense of ethics says that the people who take the most responsibility for important societal outcomes should also have the strongest say. My male opinion on women's reproductive health options adds nothing to the quality of the decision. Women have it covered. The most credible laws on abortion are the ones that most women support. And when life-and-death issues are on the table, credibility is essential to the smooth operation of society. My opinion doesn't add credibility to the system. When I'm not useful, I like to stay out of the way.
Generally speaking, conservatives are opposed to legalization of marijuana whereas liberals are more likely to support it. I go one step further and suggest that doctors prescribe recreational drugs for old people to make their final years enjoyable. What do they have to lose? (Yes, I'm serious. I know it's hard to tell.)
When it comes to complicated issues about economics and foreign affairs, my opinion is that I never have enough data to form competent opinions. Neither does anyone else. My opinion of my own limitations doesn't match that of any politician. They pretend they have enough information to make informed decisions.
Generally speaking, conservatives think we live in a country where everyone already has equal opportunity. Liberals generally think the government should do more to guarantee equal opportunity. I go one step further and suggest considering slavery reparations for African Americans in the form of free college and job training, funded by a twenty-five-year tax on the top 1 percent. In the long run, I want free education for all, but you have to start someplace. No matter who goes first, it will seem unfair to everyone else. So why not let African Americans in low-income families go first? Keep in mind that helping the demographic group that is in the deepest hole gives society the biggest economic bang for the buck. And when society is prosperous, most of it flows right back into the pockets of the 1 percent, making their taxes for this purpose almost an investment.
I hope those are enough examples to make my point. I'm not on any political team, and I like it that way.
Policies aside, I was clearly a Trump "supporter" in the sense that I spoke glowingly of his persuasion skills, his humor, and his business talent. I was among the first observers-some say the first-to identify his political maneuvering as solid strategies borrowed from the business world. I was making that point while most pundits were labeling him an unhinged clown. I know a lot about business because I've observed it, and lived it, in a lot of ways. I write about business in the Dilbert comic, and I've published several business humor books. I also spent sixteen years in corporate America, first at a large bank and later at a phone company. I held about a dozen different jobs at those companies and got to see business from the perspective of technologists, marketers, strategists, leaders, followers, and more. I also have a BA in economics and an MBA from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. And I've managed several different types of businesses of my own. The Dilbert business is a substantial enterprise, and I manage that. I also cofounded a start-up called WhenHub, and I help manage that. I make no claim of being a great businessperson, but I can usually tell the difference between good business practices and bad. Political pundits and writers covering Trump during the campaign generally did not have business experience, and I think that put them at a huge disadvantage in understanding the power of his methods. It wasn't all about persuasion. He also used high-end business strategy all the way, and you wouldn't recognize it as such if you had never spent time in that world.
As I grew my number of social media followers by attracting Trump supporters, it was fun to play to the audience. They liked pro-Trump humor and content and I enjoyed delivering it. The funniest observers of the election seemed to be on the political right. I'm attracted to funny.
I did sometimes criticize Trump, and I sometimes praised Clinton when her persuasion game was good. But I made no attempt at balancing the two for the sake of appearances. The mainstream media was doing a good job of covering all of the candidates' flaws and features. My primary interest was the topic of persuasion. And on that dimension, Trump owned the election until the summer of 2016. That's when Clinton's persuasion game went weapons grade and it became a fair fight for the first time.
If you would like to see my list of Trump's mistakes, I've organized them in appendix D. I did that so you won't think I'm blind to his missteps.
This is a good place to tell you where my credentials rank in the field of persuasion. I label my persuasion skills commercial grade, meaning I successfully use persuasion in my work. A few levels above me in talent and credibility are cognitive scientists who study this sort of thing for a living. If a cognitive scientist tells you I got something wrong in this book, trust the scientist, not me.
In my view of the world, the few individuals I call Master Persuaders are a level above cognitive scientists in persuasion power and possess what I call weapons-grade persuasion skills. The qualities that distinguish weapons-grade persuasion from the academic or commercial types are the level of risk taking and the personality that goes with it. Trump the candidate had an appetite for risk, a deep understanding of persuasion, and a personality that the media couldn't ignore. He brought the full package.
Here's the summary of the persuader types. The most powerful are at the top.
Master Persuaders (includes several presidents, Steve Jobs, Peggy Noonan, Tony Robbins, Madonna, etc.)
Commercial-grade persuaders (people such as me)
I'll try to compensate for my lack of a PhD in cognitive science by linking to sources where it makes sense. But much of this book is based on decades of personal practice and observation of what works and what doesn't in the realm of persuasion. I encourage readers to remain skeptical and to check any of my claims on their own. A simple Google search will confirm (or debunk?) almost anything I say in this book about persuasion.
But Scott, Trump Is a Horrible Monster, Isn't He?
Trump's critics were appalled that I could say anything positive about this horrible monster that they expected to sprout horns at any moment. To them, my so-called support of Trump represented a big risk for the country, and it was the most despicable thing I could do. They worried that my writing would help get this racist, sexist, disrespectful, xenophobic hater elected. And they asked me how I could live with myself as Hitler's Little Helper. Wasn't I taking a risk with the future of the entire planet? Was I putting everyone's life in danger just to have some fun and get some attention?
The simple answer is that I didn't see any of their concerns as real. In Trump I saw a highly capable yet flawed man trying to make a positive difference. And I saw all of his opponents' fears as the product of heavy-handed political persuasion. No one becomes Hitler at age seventy. We would have seen lots of warning signs during his decades of public life. And I kept in mind that most Republican candidates for president have been painted with the same Hitler brush, and it hasn't been right yet. In a similar fashion, I knew President Obama was not part of an Islamic terrorist sleeper cell, as some of his critics claimed. I saw candidate Trump as the target of the same sort of partisan hysteria. Like much of the public, I saw a scary extremism in Trump's language and policy preferences during the campaign. But I recognized his hyperbole as weapons-grade persuasion that would change after the election, not a sign that Trump had suddenly turned into Hitler.
Copyright © 2017 by Scott Adams. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.