TLDR; At Face value Scott Adams gives a plausible pro-Trump narrative. Upon further inspection it’s clear he’s simply reinterpreting his every blunder as some actual 3D chess victory, either by omitting pertinent facts or simply giving a post hoc analysis whereby he claims that some positive outcome (whether real or imagined) was Trump’s real intention. Along the way he attributes these “victories” as examples of the techniques he covers in his latest book. He is riding the Trump train (or rather, anti-establishment backlash) probably to offset what is likely a loss in his Dilbert revenue due to the waning newspaper industry.
Dilbert creator Scott Card has been the most convincing Trump supporter I’ve encountered. He gave a very plausible defense for Trump when he was on Sam Harris’ podcast last year. To summarize: Trump’s statements and actions shouldn’t be interpreted directly nor at face value. Rather, there’s a method to the madness via some background process or some eventual 3D chess outcome. And nevermind that he lies. There’s an underlying sentiment behind his statements that are true, even if the statement itself won’t pass a fact check.
The most salient example was perhaps Trump’s “attempt” to keep the Carrier jobs from going to Mexico. Trump gave them a tax cut and claimed victory. However, Carrier nonetheless sent those jobs to Mexico. Adams insists that this isn’t the point. The point is that the markets saw that Trump was taking quick action, and that this provided much-needed confidence. Nevermind the fact that Trump gave Carrier tax cuts and failed to deliver, that wasn’t the point. See how that works? I kept an open mind. But now it’s clear that this is nothing more than post hoc revisionism (and Adams uses this technique over and over to explain away the disaster that it Trump).
Still, at the time, his arguments seemed plausible. So I kept an open mind, trying to see the method behind Trump’s madness in all that he said and did. However, try as I might, I couldn’t see much beyond madness. For example, one could argue that the threats of tariffs were merely a bargaining chip meant to soften up China and allow the US to capture more value in future trade deals. This would make sense if these threats were being made behind closed doors, as they are in the private sector. However, they are being made publicly and this appears to already have had some effects.
Upon watching his defense of the Trump-Putin summit and listening to his podcast with Sam Harris more carefully, it seems obvious that Adams is simply cashing in, Dave Rubin style. He is not being intellectually honest, he is using his persuasion tactics and interpreting all of Trump’s actions as part of some larger strategy. No matter the outcome of Trump actions, Adams will simply look for some positive (or potential positive) and pretend that this was the point all along, and he will downplay the actual damage. Rinse and repeat.
Trump’s Disastrous Putin Summit
I watched Trump’s conference before watching any reactions, as I didn’t want to be swayed by anyone’s predigested views. In fact I watched it twice. I came away with pretty much the same impression that was shared by pretty much every outlet and commentator not stuck inside the Trump bubble. Trump, in front of the world, implied doubt of his own intelligence department’s findings and showed deference to Vladimir Putin’s denial. This seems poised to further hinder American credibility. Even if a leader has his doubts, airing those doubts and ebbing towards the other side in public is not a very leader-like thing to do and undermines his own team. His body language was also awkward and, well beta (as Trump trolls would say).
This is more less the stance taken not just by those you would expect (CNN) but many intelligence officials, non-partisan commentators, Republican politicians, and even some Fox News anchors. Only committed Trumpists have come to his defense (and with a myriad of straw man arguments). This was the perfect litmus test to see if there was really a “there there” to Scott Adams’ interpretation of Trump, or if this was simply a convoluted combination of circular logic and special pleading. Adams’ mental gymnastics on this issue makes it clear to anyone paying attention that it’s the latter.
It appears that no matter what Trump says or does, Adams will interpret this in a manner that’s favorable to Trump. For example, when Trump downplays the findings of various intelligence agencies and provides a mild defense of Putin’s denials, Adams argues that this was stated with a “wink wink.” The problem is that Trump repeated this sentiment several times. Furthermore, why not assume Trump is thinking “wink wink” when he states that he has respect for America’s intelligence agencies? This is nothing more than circular logic and post hoc reasoning. Adams simply insert this “wink wink” where he finds it convenient for his purposes. Whatever Trump says, Adams will interpret in a favorable manner by conveniently arguing that it was said in all seriousness OR in jest (depending on which version makes Trump look better).
How might this subjective interpretation be applied to stupid things past presidents (or candidates) have said?
“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” — Barack Obama
Adamsonian Interpretation: What better way to describe the power and comfort of the Bible than to point how disaffected people are able to find comfort in it? Obama is merely implementing a “system.” The people who are crucifying (pun intended) Obama over this, clearly have Obama Derangement Syndrome.
“I hear there’s rumors on the Internets that we’re going to have a draft.” — George W Bush
Adamsonian Interpretation: Bush is emphasizing 1- How obvious it is that we aren’t going to have a draft and 2- How unreliable websites can be as a source of information (this is especially powerful given all the anti-Bush content we see online). He is also doing this using language older voters will identify with, thereby shoring up his base. This is genius!
“Who is going to find out? These women are trash. Nobody’s going to believe them.” — Hillary Clinton
Adamsonian Interpretation: This is the sort of thing you say when you DON’T believe what you’re saying. In other words “wink wink!” These women are trash “wink wink.” What do you expect Hillary to do? Divide the country by acknowledging the problem? The truth isn’t important when it comes to politics. People need a confident leader, not an apologetic one. Hillary is simply “shaking the box.”
Parroted by countless Trump apologists is the idea that we are forced to choose between Trump’s disrespect for the intelligence agencies and overall appeasement vs nuclear war with Russia. This is obviously a false choice. Trump could have simply said “I will await the findings of the investigations before commenting on this.” This would have allowed him to avoid hinting at any doubt towards American intelligence agencies while still allowing Putin to save face in the matter. He could have even hit a Republican grand slam by slipping in Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify” quip. THIS (or something similar) would have been the “clever negotiator” response. Rather, Trump babbled on in a highly incoherent manner, insulted our intelligence agencies and kept reminding us that “there was no collusion.”
Scott Adams: Cashing in?
So regardless of what Trump says or does, expect Scott Adams to subjectively interpret it in a manner favorable to Trump, even if there’s no good reason to do so. My guess is that
1- Adams is simply happy to have received tax cuts instead of tax increases (and when you’re rich like Adams, you don’t have to worry about these tax cuts bankrupting Medicare)
2- He is riding the Trump bandwagon in order to sell more books (he claims Trump is a master persuader and in his videos, he describes all of Trump’s words and actions are part of the system his books describe).
1- Adams is simply happy to have received tax cuts instead of tax increases
On his blog:
“The bottom line is that under Clinton’s plan, estate taxes would be higher for anyone with estates over $5 million(ish). I call this a confiscation tax because income taxes have already been paid on this money. In my case, a dollar I earn today will be taxed at about 50% by various government entities, collectively. With Clinton’s plan, my remaining 50 cents will be taxed again at 50% when I die. So the government would take 75% of my earnings from now on.”
In this defense of Trump, Adams also downplayed the role of being informed on various topics.
“There are many things I don’t know. For example, I don’t know the best way to defeat ISIS. Neither do you. I don’t know the best way to negotiate trade policies. Neither do you. I don’t know the best tax policy to lift all boats. Neither do you. My opinion on abortion is that men should follow the lead of women on that topic because doing so produces the most credible laws. So on most political topics, I don’t know enough to make a decision. Neither do you, but you probably think you do. ”
Notice the false choice there? You can’t “KNOW” so it must be a coin toss. Hundred of years of economic data is apparently useless and can’t be used to extrapolate the effects of tax cuts or increases, trade deals, interest rates, recessions, etc. This is an extremely disingenuous argument. But this is Adams’ “trick.” He dismisses the swaths of disconfirming data and focuses on where he thinks he can make a case for Trump.
2- He is riding the Trump bandwagon in order to sell more books
The 2nd time I listened to the Harris-Adams podcast I was 1- able to absorb more (I was less distracted this time around) and 2- Had the benefit of hindsight.
It became obvious to me that Adams does verbally, what magicians do with their hands. As soon as Harris presses a point, Adams surreptitiously moves the conversation and shifts the goal post without Harris even noticing (easy to do to the average Joe, but Harris isn’t the average Joe). When Harris presses him on Trump’s climate denial and how the science is settled, Adams tries to change the subject to the ineffectiveness of the Paris Accords. Harris brings the conversation back to climate change. Soon. Adams changes the subject to the economics of investing in clean energy. Harris doesn’t even notice.
More importantly, here is an example where Adams attributes “3D Chess” to Trump’s madness and uses a false choice to make the argument. Furthermore, subsequent events would show that this wasn’t 3D chess. When pressed on Trump’s climate denial, Scott Adams then states:
Now if you assume that he in unreinforced and in the process of (unintelligible) ….Then I would say he is doing the smartest thing I have ever seen a President do…
….If it turns out that the consensus of scientists are spot on and everything you’re saying we should have listened (unintelligible), this red team/blue team thing is gonna surface that, and it’s going to allow the administration, including President Trump to side with science once it has been completely communicated and vetted in a way the public and the administration CAN understand. Because the alternative to that is for him top to pretend he understands what the science is saying.
Notice the false choice there at the end? This red team/blue team exercise is the only way Trump (or for that matter, the public) can learn about climate change. There are apparently no books, websites or science popularizers that will happily educate the President or the public. Furthermore, it appears this red team/blue team idea was axed. So much for the brilliant plan.
Scott Adams has carved a niche for himself as a Trump supporter and defender and is simply explaining all of Trump’s actions and statements, in a very post hoc manner, as “examples” of the system of techniques Adams happens to sell. I have no doubt that Adams’ techniques are real and that he really is a master of them. I’m even willing to believe that Trump has some understanding of persuasion tactics. But in no way does Trump’s actions, statements and motivations match up with Adams’ interpretations. Adams is simply using his verbal skills to do some mind numbing mental gymnastics and continue selling books (and I’m guessing, seminars and the like).
According to Forbes:
“Donald Trump’s latest campaign to stamp out the immigrant wave that has “infested” (his word) America has alienated even some of his staunchest supporters. Not Scott Adams. Always the entrepreneur, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip has lately positioned himself as the defender and interpreter of all things Trump.
So far it’s been a winning bet. Adams’s book Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter has achieved bestseller status and his blog has racked up a whole lot of eyeballs. Like a hermit crab that can sense when to skitter along the ocean floor from one host shell to another, Adams has found the perfect mechanism to protect his career in the face of a newspaper industry that is collapsing around him.
In fact, just yesterday Adams uncovered a new opportunity to spread the word about his revamped brand. In response to the children-in-cages news cycle, he recorded an episode of his video blog where he defended the President’s policy as the only defense against an uptick in human trafficking.
Does Scott Adams really believe what he’s saying? Who knows? But really, it’s beside the point. It is clear that Adams sees the ability to persuade as ultimate mark of strong leadership, regardless of what cause that persuasion serves. It’s no wonder he sees Trump as his salvation and meal ticket.”
Trump Derangement Syndrome
One thing: “Trump Derangement Syndrome” no doubt exists. While there is plenty of legitimate criticism of Trump, so much air time and online content is wasted on whining about his mean Tweets or assuming his caustic nature is “proof” of his racism. But to be clear, in the same manner that many who suffer from “TDS” assume his comments are always meant in their least charitable interpretation (ie. He is racist, or a dictator), Adams’ interpretations do the same, but in the opposite direction. No matter what Trump says or does, Adams will simply find some potential upside and claim this was the intent.
Now that I’m convinced that Adams isn’t making these statements in good faith and that he is simply cashing in, it will be interesting to see how he addresses future catastrophes.
For example, once you realize Adams is weaving a narrative using glaring omissions you can see he’s essentially situated himself as a news source for the Trump bubble. For example, shortly after the Trump-Putin conference, Scott Adams does this “victory lap” claiming the event already yielded positive results, by getting Russia to do something positive for Israel.
“President Trump got Russia to agree with Israel to keep Iran 100 km from Israel’s border, which is a huge win for our close ally Israel. It’s a huge benefit to keeping peace in that part of the world and it’s exactly what the President of the United States would want Russia to do. Something very productive which actually moves against their old ally, Iran…now Russia is doing something we like and Israel likes, and Iran probably doesn’t like it so much.”
So from this, you get the narrative that the summit as a success, as it yielded positive results for Israel, even at the behest of Russia’s ally, Iran. There’s just one problem (and it goes without saying, that Adams omits this caveat): Israel rejected the offer :
Israel is sticking to its demand that Iran not be allowed any military foothold in Syria, the official stressed. Israel is furthermore demanding that all long-range missiles be removed from the war-torn country and that any factories producing precision-guided missiles there be shut, the official said.
Additionally, Jerusalem has asked Moscow to guarantee that all air-defense systems that protect the aforementioned arms be taken out of Syria. Lastly, Israel requested the closing of border crossings between Syria and Lebanon and between Syria and Iraq, to prevent Iranian weapons being smuggled into Syria.
Why? Because the problem is that the Iranian military has already poured into Syria,and have already begun sending rockets into the Golan Heights (and Israel has retaliated). Israel believes that Iran intends to turn Syria into another Lebanon, and wants them out of Syria altogether. So the token 100 km is a non-started given, as Israeli officials state, Iran has strike capabilities beyond that range.
Furthermore, Russia has been pressuring Iran to withdraw well before the summit (so Adams is again using this post hoc fallacy in order to interpret events in a manner favorable to his Trump narrative). From Foreign Policy:
“Iranian forces currently operate out of 11 bases around the country, as well as nine military bases for Iranian-backed Shiite militias in southern Aleppo, Homs, and Deir Ezzor provinces as well as about 15 Hezbollah bases and observation points mostly along the Lebanese border and in Aleppo, according to Nawar Oliver, a military researcher at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank in Istanbul.
Military analysts said Iran is already under Russian pressure to relocate troops and militias now in Syria’s south to Deir Ezzor, west of the Euphrates River. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned this week that Israel would strike against any attempt by Iran to “establish itself militarily” in Syria, “not just opposite the Golan Heights, but any place in Syria.” Former Israeli United Nations envoy Dore Gold insisted Netanyahu was not being hyperbolic, but meant the entire country. “From a clear military standpoint, Israel wants Iran out of Syria,” said Gold, now director of the Jerusalem Center, a think tank. “That means Syria within its boundaries.”
But Iran’s involvement in Syria goes beyond a conventional military presence, and it has already begun to plant there the seeds of its unique financial and ideological institutions. Along with about a dozen other Iran-linked organizations, the Iran-backed Jihad al-Binaa, the Islamic charitable foundation that financed and organized the reconstruction of southern Beirut after the 2006 summer war, is already working on large projects to rebuild schools, roads, and other infrastructure in Aleppo and other towns, as well as providing aid for the families of slain Iran-backed Syrian militiamen.”
So, knowing all of this, take a listen to Adams’ interpretation of events. Also, later on, you’ll notice how he cleverly positions himself as being objective by pretending to defend the FBI by claiming they merely omitted facts, but didn’t “lie” in regards to a dossier. Ostensibly he keeps having to reiterate the point that they “didn’t lie” to people in his super chat, supposedly haranguing him over it. This is how he’s made it appear to have a nuanced position in regards to Trump. He pretends to be unbiased, by defending against straw man arguments.