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.

Judging Donald Trump

Victor Chininin Buele

I love you, dear reader, too much to just sit by and watch.

President Trump allegedly said a very nasty thing about human beings from Africa and Haiti, perhaps others. My family has connections to work kingdom work there, and needless to say, we love the people of the African continent and the people of Haiti very much.

I have been noticing a trend in social media.
1. President allegedly says or does something obviously wrong, immoral, racist, or at the very least, questionable and demeaning of the office of the President of the United States.
2. Public outrage follows.
3. Those who didn’t vote for him and some who did (because I care about labels and caricatures, and I don’t want to say “liberals”) would turn on “the others” and require a retraction of some sort or a comment. An acknowledgment of “I told you so” is required.

There is another trend I addressed in here after the famous Access Hollywood tapes episode.
1. I do x. I like x. I feel x. I <whatever> X
2. x is anything that was a common moral standard in the overall culture but no longer is
3. Person a looked at me funny, or disagreed with me, or perhaps indeed sinned against me, I turn around and say, “Jesus said, ‘Judge not!”

So I want to spend a moment not typing again that word which the President allegedly used, but because I love you, I want to help you see what is happening.

You are starting to understand that Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t judge,” in Matthew 7. Don’t waste it.

We all know the cycle. And this is, in the interest of clarity, not a defense of Donald Trump.

I am an immigrant. And a Christian. My Lord was an immigrant. If the President said this, it is obviously morally wrong and heartbreaking. The cycle is the same–our friends at CNN look like they are about to have a heart attack in the air, Trump writes a non-denying denial on Twitter, talking heads talk some more, and by the end of the day something even more outrageous happens. Back to square one.

You were created in the image of God. God is a judge. So are we.
God has shown to reveal Himself to us, in part, as His Law. This Law teaches the way things should go, but it also proves itself ultimately impossible to fulfill on our own. That’s why the charges of the stereotypical hypocrite Christian and the pedophile priest stick. Because we are sinners. Rotten sinners.
We are all lawyers. We put in these very complicated cases to defend our actions even when no one is asking for an explanation. We also out in these very complicated cases to justify the goodness of our actions even as we feel ultimately dissatisfied with the explanations. Five bullet points to prove I’m right. A straw man argument on the other side I can easily defeat.

So, you and I have been judging Donald Trump.

Let’s let that take its full weight.

Matthew 7
1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.
2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)

This text is about YOU. You are not to judge until you judge yourself rightly. You judge, and with the same judgment stick you will be measured.

I proved just yesterday to be no better than Donald Trump. Before I can look at the speck in his eye, I must do all I can to remove the gigantic log in my own eye. If that poor lady at the airport counter had a public display of my sinful rage for being inconvenienced…

Have you removed the log in your eye?

Until you do, don’t judge.
Go remove it.
Then, please, judge. We need you to judge. I saw this sign that said our freedom was in peril, and we must do all we can to protect it. I couldn’t agree more. I want you to have eternal joy, and for that I write.

But you can’t remove it on your own, and for that you need Jesus. The real thing. Not the made up one that you sketch from the GOP’s current platform or from that bad experience you had with a someone who called himself a Christian.

You may notice I have used the word allegedly. There is a chance that Trump didn’t say it. A slim one I think, but a chance nonetheless.

Why do we spend all this time judging Donald Trump about an allegation but not spend the time killing the filth in our own hearts first? We will then, rightly reconciled with God and neighbor, to be of much greater impact to the kingdom and the world.

There is somebody, somewhere you feel the same way about as what this comment is portrayed to say. Repent of it. Turn to Jesus and live.

Therefore, all my responses to whatever Trump says or does will always be the same:
You have judged.
Have you judged rightly?
Is all well with your soul?
OK! Now, brother or sister, let’s act and pray about the president’s actions.

Trust me, something changes when you finally see this rightly: you are just as Donald Trump is. He is just a caricature of our national sins. And Jesus is better than somebody who drops in to agree with you.

Donald Trump and the Salvation of the World

Victor Chininin Buele

This is not a pro-Trump article. I’m not a fan. This is not a “Trump is our Savior” article either.

I cannot properly describe 2017. It has been an emotional rollercoaster. To put it mildly.

But I can describe my excitement at seeing the world move forward in a number of very important and massive ways. A simple perusal of a year-end magazine retelling the headlines could, in your eyes, prove this excitement quite wrong. But bear with me.

Relative arguments are not so relative after all. For years, we have been indoctrinated and indoctrinating the world on the “fact” that there is no truth. Well, except the truth that there is no truth, if you follow that rabbit hole down its crazy path. For years, we have been saying that there is no normative standard of what is right and wrong. And then, Donald Trump comes into the picture and shows us all to have never been relativists at all. I have heard no one say credibly, “Donald Trump is right for them.” “Donald Trump’s actions are acceptable to him.” “Donald Trump’s ideas are true to them.” All arguments have been absolute.  The headlines speak loud and clear.

This is an apple, not a banana.  CNN has spent a significant amount of air time assuring us that facts matter. Thank you. Sincerely. I’ve been trying to do that for years. Facts matter. They have an ad that shows us an apple on the screen and tells us the ways people will try to persuade us that it is in reality a banana. (They even say banana in a very Trumpesque voice). Yet they’ll turn and righty honor as the Hero of the Year a wonderful person who works with those with Down syndrome.  The first line in CNN’s story? “‘My children are not broken,’ Amy Wright insists.” This is straight from the CNN site even as they in parallel radically voice opposition to legislation protecting the unborn with Down syndrome. Thanks to Donald Trump, people are now all of a sudden concerned about fact checking, even though they can’t quite always see their own redefinitions of facts.

We worship sex. It took an incredible amount of filth for people to start taking sexual abuse seriously. When a society makes sex its idol and defines the core of a human being’s identity the way sexuality is practiced, the metaphysical power of the sexual union is vilified and when that is lost, as it has in 21st century America, the beauty, wonder, and blessing of sex is tragically lost.  Thank you, Mr. President, for clearly highlighting to the world that the powerful have always abused the weak. So-called locker room talk included. Jesus said that all lewd locker room talk is adultery and worse even if it didn’t become physical abuse. I may be paraphrasing.

We seem to care about life after all.  We are now seeing the practical effects of Roe v. Wade. For decades now we have cheapened human life, and we have sold congressional seats, senate seats, even the presidency, to normalize, magnify, and exalt our national act of human sacrifice to the god of sex. If we are saying every day that a little girl is not a human being at all, why are we surprised when a grown woman is treated as a disposable artifact of personal use by the rich and powerful? We daily condone and affirm the less famous Matt Lauers who drop off their former objects of pleasure with a few hundred bucks to “get it taken care of.”

The love of money is the root of all evil.  We have seen a lot–cabinet secretaries abusing their power by using taxpayer money for what looked like extravagant trips, millions of taxpayer dollars used to secure the Winter White House and pay rent at Trump Tower for the Secret Service.  But if you are honest, aren’t you thankful that it’s at least clear now that money is indeed the root of all evil? The love of money is the appropriate label for things like not being transparent when it comes to taxes, the stretching of US law to maximize profit, the giving of what appears to many to be tax breaks only to the rich while eventually betraying the poor. It’s greed. The thing you hate in Trump is greed. And you hate it because you see its seedlings inside your own heart. Secretly perhaps you long to hear Trump say to you, “You all just got a lot richer.”

Humility wins every time.  Aren’t you a little Donald Trump as well?  Perhaps more cleaned up and respectable in the eyes of others. But don’t you see in you the same things you hate in him?  After all, in part that’s what got him elected. Don’t you love to “one up” people at parties? Don’t you embellish stories? Don’t you #humblebrag your life every time it’s possible? Don’t you loudly boast of your accomplishments to others? I’m convinced that the reason Trump’s ego and pride hit you so hard in the gut is because you know deep inside that you long for the humility of Jesus. And this is as far from that as you have ever imagined.

Bid Thou Our Sad Divisions Cease. For years, I have been on the receiving and the giving end of inequality. I became a US citizen just this year after a long story that included 15 days as an official undocumented immigrant thanks to the laziness of a lawyer and a very overwhelmed government system. I have been humiliated in interviews where I was assumed guilty of immigration fraud even though I have followed the law at every step of the way. I have also seen a generation of white Americans struggle with my mere presence and apparent success in this land. It hasn’t been pretty. But because of that ridiculous idea of the big, big wall, we at least are talking about it now. We weren’t before. For years, politicians hid the immigration challenges because it was politically and economically advantageous to ignore the problem. The dreamers didn’t become an issue during the Obama administration. This was brewing for a while. And we refused to listen. We are guilty, too.

We can’t keep riding on borrowed capital forever.  Of course I am not a proponent of the “America is a Christian nation” theology, but a significant bit of our public law and practice did originate with natural law and Christian theology (what has been called Judeo-Christian values) — in the embodiment of the joy of Christians by the power of the Holy Spirit into cultural artifacts, widespread blessing, lasting institutions, and orderly structures.  The appointment of insanity into such institutions and the ways that these systems have been tricked and abused has been another way in which President Trump has shown to us that the day of reckoning is going to come soon.  These cultural artifacts and governmental structures can’t really exist without the joy of Christ actually being present behind them.  If you don’t believe it, just wait until the victories that you think you have won are turned on you one day.  The oppressed always have a great temptation to become the oppressors of tomorrow.

So, we have much to be thankful for in this age of disarray.  Economically it may result in a massive success, “so much winning,” or it can be the biggest disaster yet, compounding our already dire and declining economy and society with crazy decisions and legislation. If the CBO estimates are right (which they often aren’t), we are in for quite a ride in 2018.  It could be worse than the estimates assume. It could be better.

Sure, the man Donald Trump is quite something.

But aren’t you as well?

The main question is, will you turn? Will you turn away from your sin and trust in Christ? Will you be in him? Will you receive the one who humbled himself to enter this earth to save you?

Surrender.  The best is yet to come.