Where were you when you realized that Donald Trump would become our next president? Like 9/11, I suspect everyone is going to remember this moment for the rest of our lives. I remember it being about 8:30, two beers deep and with a bottle of bourbon ready to go, with a few friends and I ready to celebrate not only the victory of Hillary Clinton but also the end of the most toxic and exhausting campaign ever run. Suddenly, panic started to set in – it became apparent that HRC was not winning Florida, and that in fact all the swing states she was supposed to win were in danger. We watched as Trump edged her out by 1% here and there, and suddenly the map flipped and it became clear that the story had turned: now it was Hillary who was going to have to sweep the remaining states. When they called my home state of Wisconsin for Trump, I knew it was over – somehow, every poll and every media organization was wrong – even the RNC’s internal polling was telling them they could not win. And yet, here we are.
Eventually, my mind turned to Scott Adams, who now finds himself in a rather prestigious group: those who called the Trump victory all along. Now, given that I wrote not one but two articles about the strange link between Adams and Trump, both of which concluded “this guy is going to have to eat some major crow”, I have to admit now: I was wrong. Scott Adams of course is taking his victory lap right now, and quite frankly he’s earned it. At some point I wondered; was he right about this all along? All the things that I thought were insane – was he just seeing this on a different and more intelligent level than me? Given how wrong I turned out to be, I figure it’s only right that I examine some of these claims a second time:
Trump will win in a landslide.
Scott’s major prediction and the one that kickstarted his whole “pundit” career: Trump was not only going to win but he was going to win in a landslide. It would be absurd not to give him credit for this, given how he was making this prediction despite what every other pundit and media outlet was saying; he’ll drop out during the primaries, he’ll never make it to the end, he can’t win the general…meanwhile, Adams is saying, landslide, landslide, landslide. But it must be noted – Adams didn’t see this coming. This election was about as close as one could be, and in the end, Trump won the election despite losing the popular vote (by some margin): a scenario in which Scott Adams, who never seemed to know what the electoral college even was, hadn’t considered. Ultimately I give all credit to Nate Silver, the guy who Trump-boosters routinely mocked: he was the one aggregator who was convinced that Trump had a chance, and what more he saw the electoral/popular vote scenario as a distinct possibility.
In general, I think everyone who says “in retrospect” a Trump victory makes sense is probably lying to themselves. The Jonathan Pie video that’s circulating (“Of course Trump won! I’ve been calling it for months!”) is especially disingenuous. This was close. To say you saw it coming all along is to say, for example, you just knew the Cubs were coming back from that 3-1 deficit. If not for the FBI or Russia meddling in the election, this could have been totally different. We may be saying, “that was a lot closer than we thought”, but in the end we would not be having this conversation.
Trump is a “master persuader”
This was Scott’s main theory of the election – Trump was going to win because he saw things that others didn’t. He was playing 3-D Chess while the rest of us stared blankly at a 2-D board. He knew the art of persuasion and that’s all that matters. While the media slammed him for making one mistake after another, Trump was hypnotizing us all along, making moves that would make him look bad but would ultimately win him the election. Adams does have the best argument here – he won, didn’t he? But such arguments are dangerous; to use the World Series metaphor again here, it would be like saying Maddon’s overuse of Chapman when he wasn’t needed was all part of a master strategy that ultimately worked. Of course, those watching remember that Chapman entered Game 7 and promptly blew it, which almost certainly was a direct result of his overuse. But it worked, didn’t it?
I don’t buy it. Trump is a great persuader and a natural salesman; but more than that he is a great bullshitter. His one true political skill has been his ability to weasel out of answering a straight question, which the media did not know how to combat. He made plenty of mistakes on the campaign trail that hurt him in the polls, and ultimately, had he played his cards right, this very well could have been a landslide. He enters office as the most unpopular president-elect of all time; he won despite the fact that more people voted for his opponent; the majority of this country still believes he is completely unfit for office (including, apparently, a large number of Americans who voted for him anyway). Scott Adams remains convinced that he will be fine, but we know this is only because he found a way to talk himself into it, citing his unprecedented levels of indecisiveness and waffling as “pacing and leading” (as many people close to Trump know, his opinions often match those of the person he last talked to). As it turns out, Adams doesn’t know what Trump’s going to do better than anyone – he predicted a “pivot” over and over again just like everyone else, but such a thing never happened. I guess we will have to monitor this in the months to come; this week has seem him take back nearly every promise he made on the campaign trail, which is almost certainly going to make him even more unpopular than he already is. It’s already become clear – he is not in control of the situation. As we have now found out, Trump’s team has no idea what the president even does, and has shown no desire to learn. No other president in history is going to face challenges like this.
Facts don’t matter.
Okay, this is one that Scott totally nailed. Trump lied brazenly and shamelessly throughout the campaign; he lied so often and so flippantly that the fact checkers simply could not catch up to him. We’ve all known that feelings generally factor into people’s decisions more than facts, but…facts do matter. Or at least I thought they did. I did not think the evangelicals were going to go for the living embodiment of the seven deadly sins. I did not think that the “financially conservative” crew was going to vote for a man whose tax plan all but guarantees a massive recession. And yet…people…do…not…care.
It’s tempting to blame a lot of this on the media, who never held Trump’s feet to the fire and didn’t make it clear until the very end that he was pretty much always lying. They handled his blatant falsehoods as “stretching the truth”, or worse, one side of an argument. But ultimately the proliferation of social media, and the spreading of articles with no editorial standards whatsoever, absolutely factored into this. I don’t know if this is true but I suspect that people who regularly watch a mainstream news network or subscribed to a newspaper did not favor Trump. Much of the Trump vote came from people whose only “news” sources were the fake, disproven articles that were shared millions of times through social media, which is how you get a culture in which a good portion of the electorate literally believes that Hillary Clinton has had people killed. I am not aware if Trump knew this, but he was certainly a part of this – several times during the three debates he would say something completely out of the blue that would make me think, “wait, that’s from Breitbart, isn’t it?”
Ultimately, this election is a referendum on the media, which quite frankly was broken by the nature of Trump’s campaign. I do believe that many networks and newspapers make a good faith effort to cover both sides equally. Both sides lie, both sides have extremists, both sides have their share of controversy. But in this election, there was a major difference – one of the candidates was so clearly, blatantly worse in all those departments. Trump would say dangerous, bigoted, and false things on a daily basis – Hillary, for the most part, ran a tight campaign, and therefore the only thing they could talk about were her emails. They ran a two-week long expose on the Clinton Foundation, despite the fact that Trump’s was engaging in blatant self-dealing. But to weigh the negative coverage towards Trump would show bias and sow mistrust. I’m not sure if Trump anticipated this problem – perhaps even he was surprised at how much he was able to get away with – but he certainly took advantage of it. By constantly comparing his campaign versus Hillary’s, Trump became normalized. By the end, Trump was surrounded in controversy, there was no one thing that stuck out. But a lot of people sure did believe there was something disqualifying in those emails.
It’s not about race…
One of Adams’ more irritating qualities was to assume that racism and bigotry wasn’t a part of Trump’s appeal. He bent over backwards to argue this idea, and quite frankly this attitude is a lot of what we’re seeing now – white men telling everyone else to stop whining. Given how openly and fully white nationalist groups embraced Trump, and the explosion of hate crimes we’ve seen since Trump’s victory, I’m gonna go ahead and declare this false. The gulf between whites and non-whites in the vote tallies was staggering. I’m not saying that voting for Trump makes you a racist, but it means you tolerate it. Bigotry is not disqualifying to you. If you do not believe that he is a bigot, that’s fine. But he emboldens the KKK and the Nazis, and thus far shows no desire to quell the hatred. You are ignoring the cries of those who are affected by this, whose lives have been negatively affected since his campaign began last year.
Shy Trump voters will swing the election
Adams was pretty adamant that all the polls were wrong (except for those that favored Trump) and to that point he was right. But his idea – that the polls were missing voters who were too shy or embarrassed to admit they were voting Trump, seemed a bit misguided at first – doesn’t the side of the candidate who is losing in the polls claim this every year? The idea of Trump’s supporters were naturally “shy” – what about all the hats and yard signs? Instead, it was Clinton’s support which seemed to have been depressed, which I think Trump had a few things to do with. I’m guessing we’ll know more about this in the coming weeks as the pollsters try to put the pieces together.
ISIS wants Hillary Clinton to win
This was one of the weirder theories Adams was coming up with in the final weeks of the election. Guessing it’s not true.
“Basket of deplorables”
Hillary’s now-infamous comment about Trump supporters is now viewed as one of the turning points of the election. And to Scott’s credit, he spotted this as a mistake. My argument was, if Scott Adams’ theories hold any water, than “basket of deplorables” is a persuasive masterstroke. It got the media to point out the general awfulness of Trump’s supporters, got them to willingly brand themselves as “deplorable”, and gave them a go-to badge of association for those who were undecided. Hell, “deplorable” is even an unusual word, the sort that Adams would praise Trump for using. It forced Pence to either take the side of David Duke or Hillary Clinton. If Adams were unbiased, one can easily imagine him writing several articles about the genius of this comment alone. Who wants to be aligned with “the deplorables”?
But Adams was right here – it was a mistake. You don’t attack the electorate, and you don’t get your opponent’s side all fired up. I do think that in the end, a lot of voters identified with Trump. They say racist things on occasion, they grade and rate women, they may have mocked someone with a disability at some time. Maybe it’s just “guy talk”, but they’ve done it. These are not things that they are proud of, and they don’t support Trump for doing them, but in the end they feel like they are good, tolerant people. To see the left slam Trump over and over again for this may have felt like an attack on them…”leave him alone, you know that doesn’t represent him”. Maybe they would have done better to point out the consequences of his words – having the leader of the Republican party say this leads to so many undesirable things. But she went after the voters.
Scott frequently referred to Trump’s campaign as having a movie-like structure to it. In particular, he was on the lookout for the “third act”; where our hero, after being considered down and out, discovered a way to turn everything on its head and triumph over his adversaries. Adams waffled on this several times, first referring to the one-on-one with Megyn Kelly as the “third act”, then taking that back and essentially declaring “whatever good happens for Trump, that’s the third act”. In this case, it’s…James Comey interfering in the election, tossing Trump *just enough* swing state votes for a victory? Hmmm. Not a Hollywood ending, is it?
But, I do think I know where Scott Adams is coming from here, because I’ve read his books. I’ve read The Dilbert Future and I know that in the abstract, Adams does not see reality the same way the rest of us do. Through a process called “affirmations”, Adams believes that he can distort reality and turn the improbable into a certainty, though some combination of true belief and literally writing down what you want a bunch of times. While his focus in the last year has been “politics is not what it seems”, it’s all part of his main belief, which is that reality is malleable. We may all be living on different timelines in which we live out all our dreams because we caught all the breaks; or at least we could, if we knew how to steer ourselves that way. Therefore, it’s perfectly justifiable to take advantage of people if they allow you to; after all, none of that is “real”. Those close to Trump have vouched for that – he really does act as though he’s the star in his own movie. Watch the way he acts when pressed on his incredibly nasty campaign – what does it matter, he won! It truly is all a game to him.
Donald Trump is definitely an example of a man who got the “best” timeline; he has lived a life of pure hedonism and egotism. His focus is never to do what’s right, but rather to do what inspires jealousy in others. He does not want to reckon with his enemies; he wants to see them crushed and embarrassed. He does not face the same sorts of consequences as you and I; he wants the credit without doing the work. He most likely does not want to be president; he always talked as though he wanted to be a dictator, someone who waves his hand and makes it so. Already we’re hearing stories of how utterly unprepared Trump is for this and the astonishing gulf of what he doesn’t know. But I never denied that he wanted to win this. Winning is everything. In the end, it doesn’t matter how he did it, and it doesn’t matter what he does from here – Donald Trump won, and Hillary Clinton lost. Donald is our 45th president, and Hillary may never be heard from again. Scott Adams may have gotten the bulk of his predictions wrong, but in the end he got it right. And what else matters?