Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Two Trumps

Here are two interesting attempts to ease Donald Trump into some kind of explanatory narrative.

Firstly we have Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams who sees Trump as a master persuader.

Economies are driven by psychology. If you expect things to go well tomorrow, you invest today, which causes things to go well tomorrow, as long as others are doing the same. The best kind of president for managing the psychology of citizens – and therefore the economy – is a trained persuader. You can call that persuader a con man, a snake oil salesman, a carnival barker, or full of shit. It’s all persuasion. And Trump simply does it better than I have ever seen anyone do it.

Secondly we have James Williams who sees Trump as an undeserving master of clickbait attention seeking.

Trump is very straightforwardly an embodiment of the dynamics of clickbait: he is the logical product (though not endpoint) in the political domain of a media environment designed to invite, and indeed incentivize, relentless competition for our attention. In fact, Trump benefits not only from the attention and outrage of his supporters, but also that of his opponents. So you already are, in a sense, ‘voting’ for Trump every time you click that link to see what zany antics he’s gotten himself into in today’s episode. (Yes, I am aware of the ironic implications of the previous sentence for this article as a whole — more on that shortly.)

Of the two I find Scott Adams more convincing, but that’s mainly because I tend to find him moderately convincing anyway. At least he seems to think through his ideas and tries to remove personal biases.

Yet if the election turns out to be close then presumably both Trump and Clinton are master persuaders and both are master clickbait populists. There is no significant predictive power to either position. One goes with them or one doesn’t. It is merely a matter of taste yet the feeling persists that it shouldn’t be.

However - try this from Adams. To my mind this is genuine insight - not a common feature of the Trump Clinton battle.

Pacing and Leading: Trump always takes the extreme position on matters of safety and security for the country, even if those positions are unconstitutional, impractical, evil, or something that the military would refuse to do. Normal people see this as a dangerous situation. Trained persuaders like me see this as something called pacing and leading. Trump “paces” the public – meaning he matches them in their emotional state, and then some. He does that with his extreme responses on immigration, fighting ISIS, stop-and-frisk, etc. Once Trump has established himself as the biggest bad-ass on the topic, he is free to “lead,” which we see him do by softening his deportation stand, limiting his stop-and-frisk comment to Chicago, reversing his first answer on penalties for abortion, and so on. If you are not trained in persuasion, Trump look scary. If you understand pacing and leading, you might see him as the safest candidate who has ever gotten this close to the presidency. That’s how I see him.


Sam Vega said...

Yes, I agree with Adams, and have always found him convincing on Trump. Were Trump to win, he would not implement the crazy ideas he uses to attract attention. He is, I think, the first serious candidate to completely divorce the business of political campaigning from the business of government.

As for your point about both candidates being experts in pacing and leading, I think I would put Trump ahead. Clinton is the conservative candidate. Trump is coming from outside, and has had to work harder at gauging the mood of the electorate, and fitting his ideas around that mood.

Anonymous said...

Dilbert - always very perceptive. But 'pacing and leading' leads to rabble rousing. The trouble starts when 'only joking - these are the tax rises' becomes the reality. Hoist by his own petard?

Demetrius said...

The world of today is quite different from that of only a short time ago. Trump recognises this, whether he is using it wisely is another question. Having said that there is nothing new in populist rabble rousers taking advantage of chaos, confusion and the effects of rapid economic change among the masses.

A K Haart said...

Sam and Roger - divorcing campaigning and government may be his way of doing business. If elected it could backfire in that expectations persist. Maybe one term is enough for him.

Demetrius - in some ways a populist rabble-rouser is a refreshing change.

James Higham said...

The alternative is too appalling to contemplate.

A K Haart said...

James - I agree, the decline may become unstoppable.

Flyinthesky said...

The situation as I see it:
Trump represents opportunity, Clinton, continuance.

Trump will have a flexible agenda that can be tailored to prevailing circumstances whereas Clinton's will be more a fixed agenda This is principally due to it not being her agenda but that of her paymasters.

Self made multi billionaire patriot or a self interested corporate shill. it's a no brainer to me.

A K Haart said...

Fly - a dishonest and possibly sick self-interested corporate shill at that.