Scott Adams is not a typical political pundit. He has no background in politics. He never lived in Washington, D.C. Except for book promotion time, he rarely gives a fiddle about being on cable or network television.
Adams’s politics does not fit neatly into right or left, or any of the other terms we use to shoehorn people: moderate, civil libertarian, populist, etc. He prefers to spell his own ideas out not in a newspaper or magazine but on the blog attached to his comic strip Dilbert and on regular selfie videos posted on Periscope.
From that description, you might not think of Adams as being very influential, but you would be wrong. In the 2016 elections, this cartoonist was one of the few people to forecast Donald Trump’s victory from quite a way out. In his new book Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter, Adams explains how and why he made that call.
He made that prediction because he noticed something important about Donald Trump early on: He is extraordinarily good at persuading people. Not people who are stubbornly determined to be unpersuadable, mind you. Those people make up probably a majority of our political and media class, thus the constant feuding between them and our now-president president on Twitter.
But for normal, struggling, not terribly political Americans who were willing to hear the man out, his persuasive powers were ideal for the job of getting elected commander-in-chief.
Adams says he was convinced that Trump was not just a great showman but in fact a “master persuader” from a moment in the first Republican debate. Moderator Megyn Kelly began to frame her potential campaign killer question thus: “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals.’” Trump interrupted her to say, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.”
People laughed. Kelly finished her question and Trump gave a sort of answer but by that point it was irrelevant. Rather than spend time denying or explaining or apologizing, Trump had instead found an escape hatch. To many of us, that might seem like a glib stroke of luck, but not to Adams.
“It was a masterstroke of persuasion, timed perfectly, and executed in front of the world. When I saw it happen, I stood and walked toward the television (literally). I got goose bumps on my arm. This wasn’t normal. This was persuasion like I have never seen it performed in public. And in that moment, I saw the future unfold,” he writes.
His book has quite a bit about the 2016 election, but it’s in the service of a larger task. Adams wants to use Trump as a window into teaching us about persuasion, which is something greater than and very different from Lincoln-Douglas style, scored and structured debate.
In Adams’s telling, real persuasion doesn’t just convince us that point A is marginally more reasonable than point B. Rather, it challenges us, refocuses us, utterly reframes the debate, even changes the way we see reality itself. For instance, it convinced a critical mass of Americans to see Donald Trump in the Oval Office.
Many liberal critics have written Adams off as a crypto-Republican and a shill for Trump. They are likely to take a pass on this book. Their sneers may convince waverers not to pick it up. That would be a yuge mistake on their part — a doubling down on the collective delusion that led many journalists, activists, and politicians to be shocked to tears on election night.
Win Bigly is a valuable guide for those who want to understand not just Trump better, but also ourselves.