Political posts like these are almost pointless to write. The whole world moves so fast and has so many points of view that these sorts of posts just seem destined to be stranded out there in a place in time. Take this last week of Donald Trump, for instance. He has done and said so many utterly bonkers things in a period of about three days that it’s practically impossible to track and analyze them all, even among those who are paid to do so. Instead they’ve been aggregated into a bunch of “is Donald Trump losing his mind?”-type stories. To which I have to answer no – he’s acting exactly the way he’s been for the past year. You can call him unpredictable, but there’s absolutely one thing we know: the man cannot take criticism. A meltdown after the DNC was all too-easy to call. What I did not see coming is the fact that it would affect his poll numbers, if only because nothing ever seems to.
Scott Adams also had a bad week. He claimed that the DNC’s pro-woman message lowered his testosterone levels and emasculated him, leading him to predict that the Democrats would experience the unheard-of “negative convention bounce” (he could not have been more wrong about this, by the way). He made the unbelievably dumb claim that he could master any political topic in an hour. Then he made an entirely tasteless joke about Khizr Khan’s wife. Worst of all, he blocked me from Twitter. All this caused “Scott Adams” become a trending topic, and not in a good way.
Now in my last post about this topic I claimed that the reason why Adams is backing Trump has to do with the fact that he sees so much of himself in the guy. After watching the two of them responding to the events of the last week I have come to realize the connection cuts a lot deeper than I originally thought. Not only did they both get slammed for making insensitive comments towards Ghazala Khan, they also both threw tantrums over being called out, making it worse in the process. These guys can admit when they’re flat wrong, but anything that challenges their core beliefs must be explained away. The system is rigged, the media is biased, other people failed him, or maybe everyone just wasn’t smart enough to understand what they were saying. Nothing that can be proven or disproven, but if you’re good enough with words (as these two are), you may be able to fool those who aren’t thinking too hard.
Granted, this isn’t so unusual when our deeply held beliefs get challenged – but interesting things start to happen when those beliefs hinge on some tenuous or nonexistent logic. In the case of Scott Adams, it’s this idea that Trump’s entire campaign has all been very deliberate, that the nonsensical things he says and does actually make perfect sense because he’s looking so many moves ahead. Every apparent misstep is all part of a grander plan; an attempt to subtly manipulate people into loving Trump and seeing his enemies as weak. This idea is very important to him because it is essentially what he has based his entire reputation on by this point; I suspect there is some sort of book deal in the works should Trump win. What this means is that he’s had to explain why every negative Trump story is actually something good – sure, attacking the Khans looked bad, but it reminded you of Islam’s treatment of women didn’t it? Maybe booting a baby from a rally seemed heartless on the surface, but hey, it’s a bonding moment…who likes crying babies? Calling Hillary “the devil”…whoa! Persuasion kill shot! Yeah, in the 2-D world it sounds insane, but face it, you’re picturing her with horns right now, aren’t ya?
A couple weeks ago this didn’t seem so nuts. July was very kind to Trump, nearly pulling even in the polls despite starting the month with a massive deficit. Instead of trying to examine the reasons why, Adams instead built this narrative that Trump was a goddamn wizard. Of course he’s right about one thing – confirmation bias is strong. Trump gained in the polls because his main narratives both played out in major ways: one, the system is rigged for Hillary, and two, the world is a very scary place thanks to *cough cough* minorities. But confirmation bias can make you look very silly when it goes the other direction; even though Trump has absolutely cratered in the polls, Adams still insists that he is doing everything right. Trump has gone from the most disliked presidential candidate in history to by far the most disliked presidential candidate in history, polling somewhere in the mid-30’s. Nearly any other halfway decent Republican candidate would be rolling right now, given that Hillary is also historically unpopular, and is gunning for a third straight term for the party. And yet, none of this is the fault of Trump.
One of the most striking moments during the RNC was when the whole Melania/Michelle plagiarism controversy was happening, and during an interview Paul Manafort made the claim that the accusation was just conjured up by Clinton’s camp since she felt threatened by another strong woman. It was absurd, because it was about as clear an instance of plagiarism as you will ever see on TV – nobody else on the planet could’ve thought this was Hillary pulling a desperate attack out of her ass. As you might imagine, Adams is using this same strategy. He claims that Clinton is not winning because Trump is messing up, but rather because her team’s persuasion game is strong. They’ve painted him with labels like “dark”, “crazy”, and “racist”, attacks so powerful that even Trump cannot dodge them (in Adams’ world, elementary-school level name-calling is one of the most devastating things you can do). I love this for just how out of touch it is – Clinton, unlike Trump, is actually smart about elections, and has stayed mostly silent while Trump has shot himself in the foot over and over again. People don’t think he’s “dark” because Hillary Clinton says so, they think that because they watch him on the fucking TV. To people like Scott Adams, this makes no sense, because his notions of Trump – “not racist”, “actually really smart”, “probably very nice” – they do not jive with what everyone else is seeing. To this end, Adams writes overwrought essays, claiming why that thing you thought was bigoted was actually just very pro-America. They require incredible amounts of tortured logic and blatant misunderstandings of what a word like “racism” actually means – to hear Adams tell it, “racism” can mean anything to anyone, which you would think would stop a smarty-pants like him from arguing about it all the time.
So once you take away the excuses, we’re left with two possibilities: either relying solely on persuasion techniques does not work when it comes to winning general elections, or Donald Trump is simply not very good at them. Adams won’t let go of either of those possibilities, so he takes the nonsensical third option: the media is biased for reporting on things that he actually said. If you ask me, I’d put it this way; persuasion is very real, but electing a president is a much different decision than buying a fucking soda. Trump’s persuasion is only working on the same set of scared, bigoted white people over and over again; to everyone else it’s just lousy branding.
But there’s one person who’s bought in wholesale, and it’s Scott Adams. There’s a reason his poll numbers have plummeted as his mistakes pile up – a lot of voters have a breaking point. Trump has made it a point to alienate anyone who isn’t fully aboard the train, particularly those just trying to play along party lines. You can bullshit your way through a class, but if you bullshit your way through a degree eventually life will catch up with you. Now this is not to say Hillary is guaranteed this thing – it’s pretty fucking dangerous to assume so. But it won’t happen unless Trump changes gears, and doing that most likely is going to require him to let go of one of his core beliefs. Can he do it? Can Scott?