Part 3—Just check our own love of cartoons: Yesterday, at a very chic luncheon, we were reliably told that Dilbert creator Scott Adams had appeared with our old pal Bill Maher on last Friday's Real Time.
It must be great to have HBO! You can watch the bulk of that interview here.
Adams was painfully persuasive when he discussed the skills of Candidate Trump. Adams predicted, months ago, that Trump will win this November's election. The Dilbert creator regards Trump as "a master persuader."
When the Washington Post's Michael Cavna summarized Adams' view of this matter, he listed six of the Dilbert creator's beliefs. The first two points were these:
CAVNA (3/21/16): 1. Trump knows people are basically irrational.According to Cavna, Adams says we humans "are basically irrational." His other points about Trump's skill as a persuader follow along from there.
“If you see voters as rational you’ll be a terrible politician,” Adams writes on his blog. “People are not wired to be rational. Our brains simply evolved to keep us alive. Brains did not evolve to give us truth. Brains merely give us movies in our minds that keeps us sane and motivated. But none of it is rational or true, except maybe sometimes by coincidence.”
2. Knowing that people are irrational, Trump aims to appeal on an emotional level.
“The evidence is that Trump completely ignores reality and rational thinking in favor of emotional appeal,” Adams writes. “Sure, much of what Trump says makes sense to his supporters, but I assure you that is coincidence. Trump says whatever gets him the result he wants. He understands humans as 90-percent irrational and acts accordingly.”
Adams adds: “People vote based on emotion. Period.”
Adams says that we humans "are basically irrational!" Do you remember when we first raised this unfortunate point? It was January 2000, in an award-winning, three-part series. Watching Adams talk about Trump, we'd have to say we thought we saw chickens coming to roost.
Is it true? Are we the humans, and we the voters, "basically irrational?" If so, Trump would be the perfect preacher for our secular church.
As we noted yesterday, Trump's silly name-calling—"Crooked Hillary!"—is straight outta the world of Superman comic books. It's also straight outta the world of professional wrestling, a world within which Donald J. Trump has functioned quite well for years.
(Trump's a made man in gonzo-world. He's a member of the WWE Hall of Fame.)
In Cavna's report and in that tape from Real Time, you meet convincing claims about the power of Trump's persuasion. We say that for these reasons:
When Trump rails about "Crooked Hillary," he's working at the lowest level of our human intelligence. But as Adams explained to Maher, this is the level at which persuasion may be most effective.
Post-Enlightenment culture has always tried to eliminate such dumb-assed conduct from the public square. Slowly, though, in the past fifty years, commercialization of media has rolled back the prohibitions which kept our discourse less stupid.
Uh-oh! First they let Imus have a national show, then they opened the door to Howard Stern. Before very long, they accepted Rush. Olbermann came after that.
In the broader realm, the dumbing down of our society's intellectual content has been widely observed. The History Channel no longer does history. Bravo no longer does culture.
PBS makes its money from doo-wop revivals. Rachel Maddow mugs and clowns, treating us like the irrational players—the potential marks—we all potentially are.
Manifestly, most of our "reality TV" comes from the realm of the dumb. Unfortunately, though, we people seem to enjoy dumb shows—and this past year, along came Trump, who has also done quite well in this low-mental energy realm.
Traditionally, the two major parties would never have let a person like Trump to play as a candidate on the national stage. But as we've seen this year, "democratization" of the political process has now taken that power away.
Along has come Trump, the first major candidate to base his persuasion on the use of two-word schoolyard taunts. It's the dumbest level of persuasion—and as Adams predicts, in the hands of a skillful player, it could actually work this fall.
As a general matter, it's considered insulting to say that we the people are "basically irrational."
Long ago, Aristotle is said to have said that "man [sic] is the rational animal." Because we (irrationally) love to heap praise on ourselves, our broad self-portraits have long been built around that flattering appraisal.
Unfortunately, that flattering appraisal is highly misleading. If we want to rescue our failing culture, we need to move past our reflexive avoidance of this obvious fact.
Almost surely, it's too late to save this year's campaign from the sub-rational depths of the two-word taunt and insult. If we want to start rebuilding our culture, we need to start recognizing the ways we are inclined to be "basically irrational."
For us liberals, this means we have to understand the way our own tribe is "basically irrational." Consider 1) a recent interview with a Trump voter and 2) a range of irate liberal reactions to a recent post by Kevin Drum.
We liberals! For decades, we've built our tribal discourse around the same sorts of two-word denigrations now mainstreamed by Candidate Trump.
Candidate Trump is running against "Crooked Hillary." For decades, we liberals have built our internal discourse around the concept of the "Dumb / Racist Conservative."
There actually are a lot of conservatives who may tilt toward the dumb, especially when they're exposed to skillful, relentless persuasion. But good lord! What about our pitiful tribe, with our own two-word perceptions?
How "irrational" is our tribe? Let's start with that interview with that lone Trump voter.
The interview was conducted by the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf. He spoke with a 22-year-old Trump voter from the Bay Area. The voter offered a nuanced set of explanations for his support of Trump.
The voter expressed a range of views, many of which are "progressive." He seemed to say that he favors Trump because of so-called "political correctness."
We liberals know this can't be true, except as a mask for this voter's racism. But that's how denigration-based we modern liberals are.
How simple-minded are our own liberal frameworks? Consider those comments to Drum concerning his recent post.
Drum offered a thousand pre-apologies for the possible appearance of sexism in the post in question. His post appeared beneath this headline:
"Hillary Clinton Has a Shouting Problem"
Is it true? Does Candidate Clinton possibly "have a shouting problem?"
We'd say she possibly does. And by the way, just for the record, during the clownish coverage of Campaign 2000, Candidate Gore was widely savaged for his alleged shouting problem. We say this to note that this complaint can also be aimed at men.
(Click here, scroll down to "A tale of two speeches." We liberals don't recall that this occurred because we're too scripted and too unobservant to get outside the two-word frameworks within which we live our own mental lives.)
Let's return to that question. Does Candidate Clinton possibly have some type of "shouting problem?" In his post, Drum pre-apologized a hundred ways for the possible appearance that this question might possibly seem to perhaps be sexist.
This had little affect on Drum's readers. In comments, you'll see one liberal after another complaining about his obvious sexism, full stop. Again and again, this seems to be the only play we liberals know how to run.
As we read those comments to Drum's post, we thought about the complaints by that 22-year-old Trump voter. Today, we also think of Adams' analysis, in which we humans live our actual mental lives in the realm of the two-word insult.
We liberals are inclined that way too. Being human, we find it quite hard to see that.
We recommend that tape from Real Time. We think Adams' observations help explain the downward spiral of our political/journalistic culture.
Until now, a candidate like Candidate Trump wouldn't have been allowed to proceed by major party leaders. Voters wouldn't have been exposed to such acts of cartoonized persuasion.
Increasingly, though, the gatekeepers are gone. Increasingly, we're being exposed to the comic book, pro wrestling world of the cartoonized two-word putdown.
We liberals live by those cartoonized putdowns too. More and more, voters may be rejecting us for this "basically irrational" conduct.
If they are, they have a point. What will we do about it?
Tomorrow: Dilbert does Manchuria