Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) has been arguing/predicting on his blog that Trump will win the presidency because of his superior persuasion techniques. I agree; I’ve found Adams’s Master Persuader Hypothesis fairly convincing the whole time he’s been talking about it.
But there are still some points about Adams’s persuasion stuff that don’t add up for me:
- Why wasn’t Trump already president? If Trump is such a Master Persuader, why didn’t he perform better those other times he ran or thought about running for President? If a lot of his success this past year depended on the experience he gained from his reality show, or on the political climate being just right this time around, then that makes the M.P.H. look weaker.
- What counts as persuasion? With Scott Adams Goggles on, it’s easy to convince yourself that all success is the result of persuasion even when it might not be. Confirmation bias is a powerful thing. But if Adams’s definition of persuasion includes masses of people chattering on the internet about what a racist Trump is (as he now seems to be saying), then Adams’s original concept of persuasion as a kind of verbal martial art known only to a few elites looks a lot less viable–not to mention less important/interesting.
- Why should we believe what Adams tells us about persuasion? It also seems like everything Adams writes is an ironic or reflexive attempt to use the very persuasion techniques he’s describing, and as he constantly reminds you, persuasion is all about emotion and not at all about facts or rationality. Adams says persuasion doesn’t work on about 20% of people–but is that true, or is it just a persuasion tactic in which you make up a data point (in this case, a plausibly-low-sounding number) to quell the doubters (“Ah, I must be in that 20%. OK, continue…”), like in the movies when the burglars throw a steak over the fence to quiet the guard dogs? What if that actual number is more like 50%? Or 75%? How effective is persuasion vs. plain old sophistry? What about vs. plain old lying? What about vs. plain old Telling It Like It Is?
- Scott Adams thinks Kanye West is a Master Persuader. Nuff said.