Dilbert Trump

A friend of mine asked me earlier this week whether I thought Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States. We had a lengthy discussion on the matter, and then the next day an old Washington Post piece showed up in my Facebook feed that covered much of the same ground. I was amused to find out that “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams and I have many of the same observations about the billionaire. We agree on Trump’s general strategy, but differ in terms of how successful his tactics will be in the general election.

In short, Adams believes Trump will be the next president of the United States. I … don’t know.

The Washington Post reported March 21:

The Manhattan mogul is so deft at the powers of persuasion, Adams believes, that the candidate could have run as a Democrat and, by picking different hot-button issues, still won this presidency. In other words: Trump is such a master linguistic strategist that he could have turned the political chessboard around and still embarrassed the field. …

1. Trump knows people are basically irrational.

“If you see voters as rational you’ll be a terrible politician,” Adams writes on his blog. “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 keeps us sane and motivated. But none of it is rational or true, except maybe sometimes by coincidence.”

2. 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 favor of emotional appeal,” Adams writes. “Sure, much of what Trump says makes sense to his supporters, but I assure you that is coincidence. Trump says whatever gets him the result he wants. He understands humans as 90-percent irrational and acts accordingly.”

Adams adds: “People vote based on emotion. Period.”

3. By running on emotion, facts don’t matter.

“While his opponents are losing sleep trying to memorize the names of foreign leaders – in case someone asks – Trump knows that is a waste of time … ,” Adams writes. “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.

“Right in front of you.”

And stating numbers that might not quite be facts nevertheless can anchor those numbers, and facts, in your mind.

4. If facts don’t matter, you can’t really be “wrong.”

Trump “doesn’t apologize or correct himself. If you are not trained in persuasion, Trump looks stupid, evil, and maybe crazy,” Adams writes. “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).”

I highly suggest reading the entire piece. Adams’ analysis will be invaluable in the months ahead.

Back in February I concurred with The Federalist’s James Poulos, who likened Trump to the Marvel character “Deadpool.” I said, “It appears, unfortunately, as though the Republican Party will not listen to Poulos’ advice, but instead will continue to ‘agonize’ over Trump.”

Now, Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. That means that we are only left to wonder if Hillary Clinton or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will be able to successfully counter Trump’s strategy — unless there is an X Factor.

I believe the X Factor that Adams did not discuss is the percentage of people who Trump inadvertently filled with irreversible negative emotions while wooing Republican primary voters.

Translation: The billionaire might not be able to make more people irrationally support him than those who now irrationally hate him.

To this day I still believe Marco Rubio would have been the only Republican candidate who would have beat Hillary Clinton in a “normal” election (e.g., no one accuses an opponent’s family member of being linked to the JFK assassination). Mr. Trump, however, is not a normal candidate.

As of now I am not prepared to make any predictions, but I will put on an intellectual poncho. There is no doubt that things will soon get dirtier than the front row of a Blue Man Group performance.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

11 comments

  1. But none of it is rational or true, except maybe sometimes by coincidence.

    I wonder if his brain told him that…

    He understands humans as 90-percent irrational and acts accordingly.”

    Adams adds: “People vote based on emotion. Period.

    As I like to point out, we’ve had at least 1, maybe 2 generations now raised in an entire culture milieu that emphasized emotion over thought. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT? (Lewis warned us about this in the Abolition of Man) That’s what is increasingly bugging me about cognitive science (or at least the pop reporting of it – maybe the actual papers are better). They look at the mind and determine everything about it based upon a snap shot in history. It would be like if we were building health principles right now and deduced that man’s optimum body was to be dumpy (because most people in the west are so fat and lazy).

    To paraphrase a quote from the only book you ever need to read about the modern day (again, Abolition of Man – you can finish it in an afternoon), “we mock honor only to find cowards in our midst, and so believe that man cannot be honorable.”

    Here’s a link to wet appetites.

    1. Hah! Exact quote from the book:

      “By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.”

      Lewis predicted Trump before Adams. Suck it Scott! (j/k, I do love Dilbert)

    2. “Lewis predicted Trump before Adams. Suck it Scott! (j/k, I do love Dilbert)”

      I should take a screenshot of my copy of The Abolition of Man and send it to you. I just opened it up and that line about propagandists is one of the passages that I highlighted! 🙂 Although, I also highlighted the lines before it:

      “For everyone one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.”

      I have always liked ‘Dilbert,’ but I do have issues with Scott Adams’ conclusions at times. Isn’t he an agnostic? That may explain why much of what he writes seems filled with a sense of hopelessness about life in general…

    3. Well now I’m disappointed you ain’t quoting it more! 😀 But yeah, I could highlight the whole book. 😉 (though my copy has apparently gone missing)

      Yeah I’m 90% sure Adams is agnostic, as he’s taken the piss out of atheists a few times. In the case of his agnosticism, one should remember the line, “one cannot go on seeing through things…”

      He reminds me sometimes of John Derbyshire who doesn’t think religion is true, but understands that it is very useful and we won’t have a functional society without it. They kind of remind me of the Dwarves from the Last Battle, they’ll be in the middle of heaven, and convince themselves thoroughly it’s all a lie.

    4. Very good. Man has surely been abolished. Even with the great literary philosophers to warn us about all of the pitfalls of the human soul that we can fall into, we have never fallen more completely.

      Centuries of human observance, accumulated, studied and remarked upon by intelligent, well-read men was always far more reliable than the attempt to poke the human animal in a cage hoping to get the correct response.

  2. I’ve noticed something missing from the pro-Trump contingent’s arguments that he’ll win in November: Democrat/MSM response. Really, whenever I hear one of them talk, they sound like Democrats won’t launch a single negative ad. I just listened to one of the talk radio hosts insisting that Trump can just move on and not have to answer questions about changed stances or the like. I couldn’t stop laughing at the naivety of that. It’s true that Trump got a pass (not to mention billions in free air time) during the primaries due to a combination of Fox and talk radio selling out and the liberal friendly media wanting a Democrat to win. Trump also benefited from the various other candidates being more focused on each other than him. That ain’t gonna happen in the general. The non-Fox media is gonna cut off his free ride and Fox/talk radio alienated a lot of viewers/listeners during the primaries. And really, I’d like to know why people on the Trump Train genuinely believe that Democrats won’t get down and dirty. I mean, remember that commercial that accused Romney of giving a woman cancer? And Romney had a much squeakier clean record professionally and personally than Trump. They’re gonna have a field day with him, as well as any candidate they can connect to him.

    Now, Trump could still win, but he’s got a lot of problems: worse unfavorables than Hillary, disastrous polls (to the point of putting reliable red states in play), alienating supporters of other candidates, and problematic policies. On that last one, I don’t mean “different than the norm for a GOP candidate”; I mean “he can’t even explain them, often contradicts himself, and pretends he didn’t.” Again, you’d have to be pretty naive to think that the Left won’t jump on that. I mean, I saw some of a call-in interview on Cuomo’s show and Trump got all whiny because he had trouble with policy questions. If he can’t get that under control, he’s in serious trouble.

  3. I like your blog but I disagree with you on Trump. Trump is not the ideal candidate but he is the candidate we need at this time. Who else is there? Bush? He gave an award to Hillary a few years ago, the Bush/Clinton connection is way too strong and Bush would have lost easily to Clinton. Rubio? He was a pro-amnesty candidate who would have been overwhelmed by Clinton and the Media. Cruz? He is pro-TPP candidate and with a ton of skeletons that would have been pulled out of the closet. Any other major Republican? Look at what the Senate did this week – they passed an appropriations bill that spent even more money than Obama asked for and they have never stood up to Obama. Paul Ryan? He is not a conservative he just wants to the government to support his “ideas” massive immigration and free trade. Ryan is another progressive calling himself a republican.
    You need to get out of the beltway. DC is the most depressing city in the world. We took our child there to do the tourist thing 2 years ago. My wife and I didn’t say much about the city, but on the drive home I asked my wife what she thought. She said it was a very depressing place. You see all of the great history and learn about the ideals our nation was founded on, but then all you see if corruption and waste. We have turned our backs on our ideals and for what?
    You can call me whatever you want but I hope Trump goes to DC and smashes the place up, until that happens we can all just watch our country turn into a third world country. I have been to enough of those places to know that is not what I want for my child. People are naïve not to realize we are only a hop skip and jump away from becoming the next Venezuela.

    1. “I like your blog but I disagree with you on Trump.”

      It would be weird if we agreed on everything or if I only enjoyed talking to people who were on the same page as me. Regardless, thanks for reading!

      “Ryan is another progressive calling himself a republican.”

      But Trump isn’t? He literally donated to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign just a few years ago. He has donated to Democrats all his life. He is a crony capitalist. He is against free trade and for imposing tariffs. I don’t think there is one liberal position he hasn’t held within the past 10 years years. As Scott Adams observed, he could have just as easily run as a Democrat.

      Your comment is the perfect example of a Trump supporter. You literally just rattled off Rubio, Cruz, Ryan and Bush and said that because they weren’t some 100% ideological pure Republican unicorn that you would vote for a guy who identified as a Democrat most of his adult life … and who said he looks forward to making “great deals” with Democrats if he is elected.

      “You need to get out of the beltway. … You can call me whatever you want but I hope Trump goes to DC and smashes the place up, until that happens we can all just watch our country turn into a third world country.”

      You’ll have to forgive me if I laugh at what you did there. You insult me (i.e., I’m allegedly some clueless Beltway insider who needs to leave D.C.) and then follow it up one moment later by insinuating that I would personally insult you. Classic.

      First of all, I spent multiple years in “the Beltway” living in either roach-filled apartments or inside a room slightly bigger than a cardboard box. When I first moved out to D.C., I literally had to make a “mattress” out of my own clothes on hardwood floor. I’m not out of touch at all.

      Secondly, I don’t live anywhere close to D.C. these days, although I do work remotely for a D.C.-based newspaper. Regardless, I suggest you talk about facts instead of throwing out red herrings that hinge on false assumptions about my zip code.

      You don’t want a principled conservative who tries to work with Democrats (yes, adults have to work with people they disagree with) — by your own admission you want someone who will “smash” the place. The man who literally invited the Clintons to his wedding … who brags about what “great deals” he is going to make … will not smash anything. He will exacerbate the problem.

      I want a conservative candidate who can help change the culture so that real change can organically happen. You want a candidate who will burn the place down.

      I understand that it’s impossible to get a perfect piece of legislation when Congress is filled with 535 men and women of different political persuasions. You want, again, a Republican unicorn that doesn’t exist and will throw someone like Rubio to the curb over a single issue — while simultaneously touting Trump as an American savior. (I suppose you missed that debate where Trump said he was perfectly fine with Rubio’s immigration plan.)

      If Trump becomes the next president, then all I ask is that you circle back to the comments section to admit you were wrong when he turns out to be a “deal maker” from your worst nightmares.

  4. Doug,

    First off all my comments may come up short, your blog is one of the only blogs I have commented on, so I am sorry if my words don’t fully convey their meaning.

    Second, the comment about the beltway was not meant as an insult. I must admit I am surprised you immediately thought it was an insult. It was not meant to be, just saying that the beltway perspective is a different perspective. I was born in Midwest, lived in Maryland, Florida, Texas, Cali, and Alabama. I have traveled around the world on my dime and Uncle Sam’s and was just saying the beltway is a world of its own and in many ways detached from reality.

    I know Trump is not the ideal republican and if you believe that I am holding all of the republican candidates to an unrealistic standard, which I am not, then we aren’t you supporting Trump? He is the republican nominee and are you holding him to an unreasonable standard?

    When I was younger I made the mistake of looking at our political leaders as some kind of saviors, but I have learned that government is just another competing interest. I also agree with Mark Steyn that politics is downstream of culture. The only thing I do now is try to live an honorable life, take care of my family and try to do the right thing.

    Trump is not a savior and will probably be a disappointment but all politicians are and I just hope that he is good enough to make some changes. We can not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    Another quick note any of the other republican candidates could have co-oped Trump’s stance on the issues and none of them did. It would have been a different campaign if Bush said that the illegal immigration issue is an issue about national sovereignty and law, but instead he said it was an act of love.

    These comments were not meant as an insult and just a discussion point. I have enjoyed your blog over the past few years. I agree with your Cap Civil War movie review, it was an outstanding comic book movie and the MCU is a success because they focus on the truths of the characters. I can’t read any of the new Marvel or DC stuff, it is all just politically correct drivel, leftism and nihilism (those two could be the same thing).
    Thank you for allowing me to comment on your blog and I will keep reading it and enjoying it.

    And it is a deal, I will admit on your blog if Trump turns out to be a failure and buy you a six pack and I will take a six pack of Yuengling if Trump is a success. Cheers.

    1. “I am sorry if my words don’t fully convey their meaning.”

      No need to apologize. As long as I know that a reader is trying his best to convey his point of view (and not troll), then I’m happy — even if we disagree.

      “Second, the comment about the beltway was not meant as an insult. I must admit I am surprised you immediately thought it was an insult.”

      If you tell a man “you need to move” to understand [insert x political/philosophical debate], on some level it is an insult. It may be inadvertently done, but the implication is that the person you’re talking to is divorced from reality due to their geographical location. You even admit this:

      “The beltway is a world of its own and in many ways detached from reality.”

      The Beltway is not detached from reality — certain individuals who live there are detached from reality. I don’t hang around in those social circles. When I had a job that required me to do so for certain functions, it was exhausting. In many ways I hated it. That’s why I quit. That is one of the reasons why I now live hundreds of miles away.

      “I know Trump is not the ideal republican and if you believe that I am holding all of the republican candidates to an unrealistic standard, which I am not, then we aren’t you supporting Trump? He is the republican nominee and are you holding him to an unreasonable standard?”

      There is a difference between an elected Republican who believes in the principles of limited government, free markets, a strong national defense, traditional family values, etc. — and Donald Trump.

      Paul Ryan, for instance, comes from a “purple” district in Wisconsin. He must balance his own principles with the principles of the district that elected him and the needs of the nation. Given that there are 535 members of Congress, a Democrat president, and certain electoral/cultural realities, it’s safe to say Rep. Ryan has a very tough job.

      Donald Trump is not conservative. If Hillary Clinton ran as a Republican and somehow won the nomination, would you support her because she had an “R” next to her name? It’s a serious question. If you answer “no,” then you acknowledge that at some point the Republican Party no longer stands for its bedrock beliefs if it backs certain individuals.

      I was no fan of Jeb Bush’s campaign, but the man was a.) a decent governor of a major state, and b.) never donated to Hillary Clinton or her Democrat friends. As I said before, Donald Trump has basically held every single Democrat position over the years. He likened himself to a chameleon. Do you really trust a long-time Democrat donor who likens himself to a chameleon?

      “I will be changing very rapidly. I’m very capable of changing to anything I want to change to.” — Donald Trump

      If the Republican Party backs a man who boasts that he can “change very rapidly to anything,” then it essentially stands for nothing.

      “We can not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

      Once the Republican Party becomes the party of “great deals” and “changing very rapidly to anything” instead of limited government, free markets, etc., then it’s over. There is essentially no difference between Democrats and Republicans. As a side note: A man who seriously links his political opponent’s family to the JFK assassination because it appeared in a tabloid magazine should not have access to U.S. nuclear codes.

      “Thank you for allowing me to comment on your blog and I will keep reading it and enjoying it.”

      No problem. I’m always glad to hear what readers think, even if I do not agree with them.

      “It is a deal, I will admit on your blog if Trump turns out to be a failure and buy you a six pack and I will take a six pack of Yuengling if Trump is a success. Cheers.”

      I will gladly buy you a six-pack of Yuengling if Trump does what you expect of him.

  5. Oh yeah the call me whatever you want part was meant in regards to political labels and the such, not an insult issue and didn’t mean it that way.

    I am not and I know you are not into insulting people on this internet thing. I mean yes people say some dumb things, but they don’t need to be insulted for it. Thanks again for the open comments and allowing me to post my opinion to your blog.

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