There has been quite a bit of fallout from Trump’s recent remarks referring to Haiti and African countries as ‘s****holes’. (Note 3 Trump’s ‘shithole’ comment is his new rock bottom – CNNPolitics) Recently Scott Adams was on CNN today, 13 Jan 2018, explaining that Trump is unlikely to be a racist because years ago on a TV show he said he would choose Oprah as VP if he ever ran for President. This is a silent and deadly distortion of reality that must be challenged. Scott Adams has subliminally suggested that any racist must dislike every Black person. Frankly such a racist has never existed!!!
It is hard to identify any racist politician who has never had any positive engagement with a person of colour. The standard view of Western racism is about populations not individuals. Nazi Germany had troops and supporters from Tibet! There was a beautiful incident on BBC when the interviewer was confronting a senior member of France’s National Front and accused him of being racist to which the person responded that he was married to a Black woman! The interviewer was completely flabbergasted and silenced. It is a self serving liberal myth that a racist dislikes all people of colour. They need this definition because it allows them to declare themselves non racist by simply pointing to one exception in their lives and asking no further questions. So the absurdity of Scott Adams claim can be shown further by simply asking if he assumes that Trump cannot be a racist because he appointed Ben Carson to his cabinet? Also skilled politicians use race and identity for other purposes not necessarily believing in them. But racism is not merely an ‘attitude of mind’ but also and primarily relates to actions. It is hardly a defence from racism for a Nazi who implemented the holocaust to say he never believed in anti-semitic theory, had many Jewish friends before the war, but felt it was politically convenient to exterminate the Jews.
Mussolini once said: “I don’t believe a bit in the stupid anti-Semitic theory. I am carrying out my policy entirely for political reasons.” (Note 1) He is even reported as saying: “Race! It is a feeling, not a reality: ninety-five percent, at least, is a feeling. Nothing will ever make me believe that biologically pure races can be shown to exist today. Amusingly enough, not one of those who have proclaimed the “nobility” of the Teutonic race was himself a Teuton. Gobineau was a Frenchman, Chamberlain, an Englishman; Woltmann, a Jew; Lapouge, another Frenchman.” (Note 2)
We must call out Scott Adams and insist that his subliminal definition of racism is merely an APOLOGY for racism, and a defence of the indefensible.
What we have been suggesting is that Scott Adams is not merely describing the techniques of persuasion BUT ACTUALLY USING them in front of you.
Let us look at his recent persicope/video (Note 4) on Black Lives Matter. He begins by setting up a trope that we are talking about ‘teams’ and we are all on this team called America (question: who are the opposing team?). This is a redefinition of ‘we’, a redefinition of community. His next step is to define the opportunity as a ‘deal’ and so part of Trump’s agenda (this is a sale to Trump). He presents himself as arguing for BLM rather than actually pursuing a Republican agenda but this is another trope to win the Black vote by starting off by saying ‘I am on your team’ to Black voters.
Two major failures of this approach are that it does not address some controversial issues: What are the main factors NOT included in the issue? What issues are legitimately in the ‘deal process’?
Scott Adams approach requires us to believe that the issue is basically ‘misunderstanding’ and if we got around a table we can sort this out. Sometimes an issue one is faced with is one of negativity – the issue of hatred. There are those who feel better if the other party is loosing greatly even if they loose a little .e.g the German treatment of Jews in 1930’s and generally the oppressive treatment of minorities is not necessarily a net benefit to the persecuting community. The prejudice against Blacks is not an economic benefit to US however there have always been non-economic and not necessarily ‘rational’ factors at play. That is why Scott Adams starts off by pleading with whites to focus on their own individual selfish interest. This might at first seem odd but it is his attempt to take people’s minds off non-economic issues (they want to take over our country , they are secretly planning to destroy our country – this last was heavily played by Nazis with respect to Jews).
Finally, he omits the underlying unspoken issue: we impose oppression on another community in order to justify the bad treatment of members of our own community i.e. no matter how bad you think we are treating you it is much better than we are treating the other community. Often the risk to a politician is the perception – if my policies improve the lives of community X members of community Y may vote against me and my competitor will call me an X-lover at election time.
Now that we understand Scott Adam MO we can decode his suggestions to Michael Smerconish in his CNN interview. Here he said that we can decide whether Trump is a racist by asking him if he would accept that if under the merit based immigration system more people came from the ‘s…hole countries’. If he says yes he is not a racist. But in fact what Scott is doing is offering Trump a get out clause, nudging him to announce that he does not wish to discriminate and if under a merit based system more people come from Africa so be it. However while this would go some way to get Trump off being called a racist it has a significant downside in that the message to his base would be ‘I am not against Black people’ which woud be quite opposite to his point in the first place. Scott Adams is a victim of wishful thinking hoping to offer Trump a way to safety without asking first if Trump actually cares.
However the ‘smoking gun’ with Scott Adams is his treatment of this ‘s…hole issue’ in his video review (Note 5). Here Scott Adams runs through so many hoops to prove Trump was being rational that he abandons all rationality and sense of reality – but it is a carefully structured departure from reality. He starts by saying he accepts the words were inappropriate – this is to establish credibility with the audience ( compare Shakespear’s ‘I come to bury Caesar not to praise him…’). Then he argues that Trump sought to create a bond by ‘sharing a secret’ to say that it was a negotiating technique – but this has two sides. If it is a secret it is now a shared secret and thereby makes those who are sharing it complicit! If the comments were anti-semitic most people would assume that it would not be acceptable to be a silent accomplice. So what has happened is that Scott Adams has changed the issue to be one about negotiating … but the argument falls apart as follows: if it is a secret he is sharing to bring about a bond then it must be true, if it is true then to keep quiet is to be an accomplice. But Scott Adams turns the comments from being racist to be about swearing … changing the issue from racist comment to unfortunate swearing. So Trump attempts to get people on his side by privately revealing he is a racist but expects you not to mention it – but Scott Adams says Trump is not a racist it was a negotiating technique? If it is a secret it is true, if it was not a secret because it was not true then it was incredibly irrational.(One thinks ‘with friends like this..’) So Scott Adams turns the issue from the underlying issue to one of his swearing or inappropriate language which no one would care about. In the end Scott Adams turns the whole story upside down to make the Democrat Senator the issue and cause of the trouble. If it was as Scott Adams wants us to believe i.e. the comments were accidental, then Trump aides should not have called up his base the check how it ran with his base. What is going on here is Scott Adams is shifting the focus of attention away from one issue towards another and shifting the unstated assumptions without bringing attention to the fact that he is shifting assumptions by using words such as ‘it is possible’. He suddenly states that what Trump was trying to say may have been a short hand for another statement while there is in fact no evidence for what Scott Adams is saying but the way he states it using words such as ‘it would not surprise me if ..’ is a technique of persuasion but a fraudulent technique. Lying is a technique of persuasion but most of us find it unacceptable. Finally, Scott Adams concludes irrationally by saying Trump’s moves were technically correct but in this way Scott Adams confuses a business deal with politics and diplomacy. A business deal comes to an end politics do not. Once Trump has let it be known that his word cannot be taken as read then the next time he is negotiating other parties will adjust their tactics accordingly. This is clearly a one time hit – you can only break your word once and cause surprise, the next time your word is not of value. It is blowing ‘the next time’, dissipating the credibility asset of a President’s word, that Scott Adams in his desperate attempt to apologise for what Trump has done has ignored. Finally, the absurd shift to suggest that the Democrat Senator ‘broke trust’ is fantastical. There was no evidence that Trump considered the situation one of trust (Trump had just broken his word so what trust could have been in evidence) and secondly a trust situation is two sided – what trust was Trump offering the Senator ? None at all. Scott Adams has invented this situation of trust to find a way to blame the Democrat Senator for ‘leaking’ – Has Scott Adams forgotten the issue of ‘whistle blowing’? This allows people to speak out even if it was a formal situation of trust which this was not. If the Senator kept quiet he would be complicit. Unless Scott Adams can say that it would be OK for the president to make anti-semitic remarks and the Senator should keep the ‘secret’ then there is no sincerity or credibility to his line of argument.
On further reflection I have come to believe that there is probably a confidential media manual for the far right /Republicans on how to use these techniques as I have found them used regularly almost rote fashion by far right journalists from WSJ (note 6) to TedX (note 7). Nancy Maclean’s book Democracy in Chains’ sheds some light on the networks and training programmes that Koch supported groups have been providing to media luminaries behind the scenes.
image courtesy PBS
- https://twitter.com/scottadamssays , ‘Scott Adams explains some of the persuasion technique missed by the the shithole media.’
- Nancy MacLean ‘Democracy in chains’ , Scribe 2017