By Ad astra
Those who think logically, who base their opinions on facts, figures and reason, are astonished at the decisions that some people make, decisions that seem to run contrary to evidence and logic. And it doesn’t matter if they are interested, intelligent, and in possession of the facts. Where the application of rational thought would be expected, out of left field they reach decisions that surprise because they are irrational. How often are voters irrational?
This piece is based on a thoughtful article from an unlikely source, Scott Adams, creator of the ‘Dilbert’ cartoon series. Writing in The Canberra Times in an article titled: Donald Trump will win in a landslide, says Dilbert creator Scott Adams, which was taken from an article in The Washington Post, Michael Cavna explains how Adams arrived at this surprising conclusion.
It might seem odd to Australians that the bizarre, oft-ridiculed Trump could be cited as one who could teach us anything useful about political thinking. But read what one analyst believes is his deliberate strategy, and make up your own mind about the political validity of his approach.
Scott Adams believes that Trump has turned the US presidential campaign around. “On the stump, the real estate mogul is not running on the knowledge of his numbers or the dissection of the data. He is running on our emotions…and sly appeals to our own human irrationality.”
Adams does not support Trump, nor does he think he would be a good president. He is simply saying that there is ‘careful art’ behind Trump’s rhetoric and campaigning techniques and that he will win because he’s “a master persuader”. He tags him as a “master linguistic strategist”, and argues that “Psychology is the only necessary skill for running for president; Trump knows psychology”.
What Adams contends is consistent with what George Lakoff, linguist and cognitive scientist with long experience in American politics, has to say about political discourse. Lakoff stresses the importance of framing the debate, especially during campaigning, which of course is what Trump is doing so effectively, if one can judge from the results he has accrued to date. We have written about framing extensively in Framing the political debate – the key to winning , More on framing the political debate – the key to winning and Still more on framing the political debate – the key to winning. Lakoff insists that a crucial element in framing is to appeal to the emotions if one is to win the hearts and minds of voters.
Adams asserts that for Trump to win hearts and minds some basic principles apply:
Trump knows people are basically irrational
“If you see voters as rational you’ll be a terrible politician…people are not wired to be rational. Our brains simply evolved to keep us alive. Brains did not evolve to give us truth. Brains merely give us movies in our minds that keep us sane and motivated. But none of it is rational or true, except maybe sometimes by coincidence.”
Next Adams says:
Knowing that people are irrational, Trump aims to appeal on an emotional level
“The evidence is that Trump completely ignores reality and rational thinking in favour of emotional appeal…Sure, much of what Trump says makes sense to his supporters, but…that is coincidence. Trump says whatever gets him the result he wants. He understands humans as 90 per cent irrational and acts accordingly…people vote based on emotion. Period.”
It follows that:
By running on emotion, facts don’t matter
“While his opponents are losing sleep trying to memorise the names of foreign leaders – in case someone asks – Trump knows that is a waste of time …There are plenty of important facts Trump does not know. But the reason he doesn’t know those facts is – in part – because he knows facts don’t matter. They never have and they never will. So he ignores them.” And stating numbers that might not quite be facts nevertheless can anchor those numbers, and facts, in your mind.”
If facts don’t matter, you can’t really be ‘wrong’
“Trump “doesn’t apologise or correct himself. If you are not trained in persuasion, Trump looks stupid, evil, and maybe crazy…if you understand persuasion, Trump is pitch-perfect most of the time. He ignores unnecessary rational thought and objective data and incessantly hammers on what matters (emotions).”
“Did Trump’s involvement in the birther thing confuse you?…Were you wondering how Trump could believe Obama was not a citizen? The answer is that Trump never believed anything about Obama’s place of birth. The facts were irrelevant, so he ignored them while finding a place in the hearts of conservatives for later. This is later. He plans ahead.”
It follows then that:
With fewer facts in play, it’s easier to bend reality
Adams quotes Steve Jobs who:
“…aimed to create ‘reality distortion fields’ to meet his needs and achieve his ends. Trump employs similar techniques, and apparently can be similarly thin-skinned when his ‘reality’ is challenged. “The Master Persuader will warp reality until he gets what he wants…Trump is ‘halfway done’ already”.
“Among the persuasive techniques that Trump uses to help bend reality…are repetition of phrases; ‘thinking past the sale’ so the initial part of his premise is stated as a given; and knowing the appeal of the simplest answer, which relates to the concept of Occam’s razor” [which states: “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”]
In other words: “Keep it simple, stupid’! We experienced such persuasive techniques throughout Abbott’s campaign strategy in opposition and at election time. I don’t need to remind you of his three-word slogans; they are permanently imprinted in our brain.
Finally Adams contended:
To bend reality, Trump is a master of identity politics – and identity is the strongest persuader
“Do you think it is a coincidence that Trump called Megyn Kelly [Fox News journalist and TV Broadcaster] a bimbo and then she got a non-bimbo haircut that is … well, Trumpian?…It doesn’t look like a coincidence to this trained persuader.
“One way to achieve this is by deploying ‘linguistic kill shots’ that land true, and alter perception through two ways:
The best Trump linguistic kill shots…have the following qualities:
1. Fresh words that are not generally used in politics;
2. Relates to the physicality of the subject (so you are always reminded).”
“Identity is always the strongest level of persuasion. The only way to beat it is with dirty tricks or a stronger identity play … and Trump is well on his way to owning the identities of American, Alpha Males, and Women Who Like Alpha Males. Clinton is well on her way to owning the identities of angry women, beta males, immigrants, and disenfranchised minorities.
“If this were poker, which hand looks stronger to you for a national election?”
In his highly-regarded piece May your god go with you, 2353NM describes vividly the influence of one interest group, the Australian Christian Lobby on many LNP politicians. They pander to the ACL ‘identity’, which purports to represent the views of Christians when it actually represents only those who share its narrow views. LNP politicians have allowed the ACL to influence their views on marriage equality and the Safe Schools program. They illustrate the down side of identity politics.
In a few words, Trump is seen as:
Appealing to the emotions;
Using emotions to discount the facts;
Ignoring facts ‘because they don’t matter’;
Bending reality to suit his purpose;
Using identity politics that focuses on key interest groups.
We had our own Trump here; he went under the name of Tony Abbott.
As the election campaign gathers momentum, let’s see who uses these well-tried techniques most effectively.
Malcolm Turnbull’s rhetoric embodies some of them.
His assertion that abolishing the ABCC is vital for our economy because its absence is dragging our economy down, is not based on verifiable facts. The facts say otherwise. Consciously or otherwise, he is indicating that ‘facts don’t matter’. What in his mind does matter is laying the blame for the state of our economy on those dreadful unions; an emotional appeal to those who are ready to blame them, and keen to impose a strong policeman to control their ‘counterproductive behaviour’.
Turnbull’s insistence that Labor’s suggested changes to negative gearing would plunge the home building industry into disarray is not in accord with the facts. Turnbull is using an emotional appeal to those already using or anticipating using this strategy, evoking emotion to discount the facts. Bill Shorten needs to counter not with contrary facts, but with an emotional appeal to younger people (and their parents) desperately trying to get into the housing market, to get their first home against the competition of avaricious investors going for their fifth, or tenth dwelling!
Turnbull is using identity politics when he panders to the interest group, the Australian Christian Lobby, (as well as the hard right conservatives in his party) by ordering an investigation into the Safe Schools program and ‘modifying’ it to remove ‘contentious elements’. Likewise he panders to the ACL when he adopts Abbott’s delaying tactics of a post-election plebiscite on marriage equality.
All the time in the background the global ‘Prime Minister at Large’, the omnipresent Tony Abbott, is using all of Trump’s techniques, as he has always done. He ignores the facts; appeals to the emotions; uses emotions to discount the facts; bends reality to suit his purpose; and is heavily into identity politics. These techniques won him government, but sadly for us all, they didn’t help him govern.
As we move inexorably into the election campaign, let’s analyse the strategies of the main players, and ask:
– Are they appealing to reason, or treating us as irrational?
– Or are they appealing to our emotions?
– Do they ignore or discount the acknowledged facts as if they don’t matter?
– Do they bend the facts to suit their purpose?
– Do they use identity politics by pandering to the narrow interest groups whose support they need?
This article was originally published on TPS Extra.
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