The Great Persuader?

Victor Chininin Buele

One of the most important books that I read during the aftermath of the last presidential election was Scott Adams’ Win Bigly. Scott Adams makes the argument that Donald Trump is a master persuader. And he, trained hypnotist that he is, walks us through a plausible explanation for Donald Trump’s hold on people that resulted in his rise to the office of the President of the United States. Adams argues that everything serves a purpose: the third-grade playground “nickname” insults given to his competition, the lies (truthful hyperbole from The Art of the Deal). Some quotes to let the man himself speak:

If you have ever tried to talk someone out of their political beliefs by providing facts, you know it doesn’t work. That’s because people think they have their own facts. Better facts. And if they know they don’t have better facts, they change the subject. People are not easily switched from one political opinion to another. And facts are weak persuasion. So Trump ignores facts whenever they are inconvenient. I know you don’t want to think this works in terms of persuasion. But it does.

People are more influenced by the direction of things than the current state of things.

Facts don’t matter. What matters is how you feel. And when you watch Trump and Pence fight and scratch to keep jobs in this country, it changes how you will feel about them for their entire term. This is a big win for Trump/ Pence disguised as a small win.

If you want the audience to embrace your content, leave out any detail that is both unimportant and would give people a reason to think, That’s not me. Design into your content enough blank spaces so people can fill them in with whatever makes them happiest.

What mattered was that people saw Trump agree with them on an emotional dimension—that immigration was a big problem that needs fixing. Once he agreed with voters on an emotional level, he was free to tweak the details of his policies, and people followed him.

Whenever there is mass confusion and complexity, people automatically gravitate to the strongest, most confident voice. We humans don’t like uncertainty, so we are attracted to those who offer clarity and simple answers, even if the answers are wrong or incomplete.

Trump used his mastery of the news cycle to create the impression that he was the most important person running for president, even if you hated him.

If you are trying to get a decision from someone who is on the fence but leaning in your direction, try a “fake because” to give them “permission” to agree with you. The reason you offer doesn’t need to be a good one. Any “fake because” will work when people are looking for a reason to move your way.

Another important book I read was Amanda Carpenter’s Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us. She shows a pattern of behavior that we can use to trace back through many of the big media events mediated by the President’s Twitter account and see the gaslighting at work. She herself was gaslighted by the campaign while live on CNN as one of Ted Cruz’s supposed extramarital affairs.

The benefit of embracing the lie ultimately outweighs the sacrifice required to cling to the truth. Sometimes, more often than we’d like to admit, lies are easier to believe than the truth. Especially in politics.

He learned that people actually love it when he lies. He loves it because he gets stories about his prowess—whether it be sexual, business, or political—in the press. The media loves it because it keeps people reading the papers, watching their shows, and clicking their links. And his enemies love it because they keep thinking that this time will really, finally, truly be the time Trump does himself in with his jaw-dropping yarns. We’re all suckers.

Questioning everything is exhausting.

You may hate his lies, but Trump sells them with unshakable confidence. He forces us to pay attention. Trump even keeps those who don’t believe, as he has said, “in suspense.” We are a captive audience, living in constant anticipation of his next move.

You see, when Trump is gaslighting, he rarely tells an outright lie. When pressed, he avoids specifics but keeps everyone chattering away with speculation on the topic.

This is the pattern Carpenter observes:

STAKE A CLAIM: Trump finds a political issue or action that competitors are unwilling to adopt and that will ensure a media frenzy. Such as: “President Obama is not a U.S. citizen.”
ADVANCE AND DENY: Trump casts the issue into the public realm without taking direct responsibility. He does this by raising questions about or discussing what other people are saying, reporting, or thinking. Tabloids, YouTube videos, tweets from unknown origins, and unverifiable Internet news stories are often used as sources.
CREATE SUSPENSE: He says evidence is forthcoming that will soon get to the truth of the matter. Trump can remain in this mode for weeks, months, or even years.
DISCREDIT THE OPPONENT: If critics gain traction, Trump attacks their motives and personal character.
WIN: Trump declares victory, no matter the circumstances. This step usually takes a long time to reveal itself, and Trump will often engage it when he is ready to drop the matter.

Can either one of them actually prove they are right? No. They can’t. This is an important point. And neither can I. And in some sort of super sick and weird way, that is precisely the point.

That’s the allure of this situation. People are super convinced that Trump is a liar and the worst scum of the earth or the most hard-working, accomplished president. Disgusting or hero. Satan or Messiah. Either he is complete trash or the King set in place by the Lord God Almighty. That’s the polarization we go through. And the thing is that somehow, as I’ve said before, if you squint your eyes and tilt your head 72 degrees counterclockwise… Confirmation bias abounds.

But either way, we follow his agenda. He controls us. We talk about what he wants us to be talking about. I find it absolutely fascinating, like a sociological experiment at a massive scale, that Democrats cannot make any headway with their agenda but are constantly responding to Trump’s tweets. Tantrums. Whatever you call them. And the Republicans have given over their platform entirely over to the President at the price of some judges, a couple of justices, and who knows what else. Trump wins. The media loves it because it fuels our interest in them through this. And don’t think I mean just CNN or Fox. There are all sorts of other opportunists there ready to capitalize in our ever-thirsty desire to engage with the crazy! It is obvious that the massive amount of content produced by trolls and bots is shaping discourse—I doubt people had a ready copy of Bill Clinton’s picture while he was holding a Bible back in the day. Some of the phrasing in what I see in people’s feeds, I know did not originate with them. It came from elsewhere.

We are facing a battle of manipulation. And we are at the center of it. And we love it! But nobody is actually talking about what we need to do to truly move forward. And that is because we are all still too enamored with our flesh.

I don’t think Trump is a master persuader, I believe he is.

What? Precisely that. It’s a walking contradiction wrapped in an enigma. I don’t think he is smart enough or wise enough to the degree Adams gives to him. I don’t think that there is a master plan, or even a plan. But because I know how big of a sinner I am (iOS keeps autocorrecting that to winner), I know he is a master persuader because these things work. I know this stuff works on us because we, like Trump, care about ourselves the most. I find it is entirely plausible to assert that he doesn’t care about you, your faith, your religious freedom, aborted children, the second amendment, your convictions, Covid-19, Dr. Fauci, international relations, the national debt, the future of the Supreme Court, police abuses, racial tensions, polarization. He does not. He cares about himself, and that is why he takes an interest in whatever will allow him to remain seated behind the Resolute Desk, much like you or I do. He is a master persuader because the feeding of his ego demands it. And face it, facts don’t come close to changing anyone’s mind. The most frustrating job in America is to be a fact checker for Trump’s speeches. Probably the second most frustrating job is to be the one transcribing the speeches. Have you seen the poor fact checkers on TV? They are desperate to change your mind by showing you evidence.

It doesn’t work. We are facing a master provocateur, and that has unfortunately come at a time when our sin leaves us lacking critical strength not just in the area of discernment but in the area of foresight.

While we are distracted, a massive number of forces are in conflict. What is the point of taking your time to read this? There is more at play than BLM, the Coronavirus, the November election.

Cancel culture is choking us to death. We do not live as if redemption existed. We cannot possibly see how redemption is possible for someone like Trump or any of his favorite enemies of the day.

But there is redemption, and we need it. We must recognize first and daily our continued need for redemption and salvation. And that will be the only way out of cancel culture. Why share segments from the Scott Adams and Amanda Carpenter books? Because seeing is helpful. Because seeing how much we don’t see if helpful. But most importantly:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:15-17 ESV)

You, too, dear traveler, can be redeemed, forgiven, and saved. And so can even Donald Trump. Our problem is the same. The solution is the same—the real Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s