When I first tell people I am obsessed with Donald Trump most of them struggle to stop their eyes popping out of their head. Maybe it’s the general political leanings of the creative circles I move in, but I can almost read their minds from the facial expressions:
“How the hell can you support a racist/sexist/misogynist/whateverist!?”
Trying to explain that I don’t support any politicians, or that I didn’t even use the word support at this point is often pointless. Politicians are not football teams. Supporting football teams is fine, but politicians work for us. It’s their job to support the people. I hope they do a good job for us. If they don’t, we need to fire them when election time rolls round.
Before I explain why Trump fascinates me to the point of performing a speaking show about him, let’s try an experiment.
Most presidential candidates have a big law they’re trying to push during campaigning. Ask anyone what Obama’s was and most will be able to remember ‘Obamacare.’
What was Hillary Clinton’s?
About 80% of you won’t be able to remember it.
Now have a think back again – what was Donald Trump’s?
About 80% of you will be able to say three words without any hesitation – “Build a Wall.” Some will say immigration or some other variant. How come we can remember Trump’s big policy so easily and not Clinton’s?
When performing my speaking show I asked the audience “what was Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan?” Not a single person could remember. When asked for Trump’s slogan, the answer was immediate: “Make American Great Again.”
Back in September 2015, over a year before the election, I started telling any of my friends who would listen that Donald Trump would be the next president of the USA. Since he’s now the President that may not seem like such a big deal, but almost everyone back then thought this was crazy. It wasn’t a two-horse race at that point. Trump had to beat 16 other candidates including the bookies’ favourite Jeb Bush. In fact, everyone was so sure it would be either Bush or Clinton there were articles in the press about the ‘dynastic qualities’ of the presidency. Trump was a sideshow who would crash and burn at the first primary election; a clown with no chance in hell of leading the Republican Party, never mind the country. I even put money on him back when the odds were sky high. Despite a few moments of doubt along the way, I never cashed the bet out as Trump always quickly corrected course.
Despite his supposed crazy behaviour, there was a consistent pattern emerging:
- Trump says something ridiculous.
- The media and pundits declare it’s definitely over for Trump this time.
- Trump’s poll numbers increase even further.
The naysaying continued right up until the day of the election. I was visiting the USA at the time and saw reports on TV that it was “mathematically impossible” for Trump to win – literally hours before one of the biggest political upsets in history.
So how did I know Trump would win so early?
Stumbling across the Blog of Scott Adams sent me into an obsessive quest to learn everything I could about the art of persuasion. Adams identified early on that Trump had persuasive capabilities similar to that of a trained hypnotist. Being a magician already intrigued by the power of suggestion I found this fascinating, and vowed to learn everything I could about Trump’s methods.
Sounds like tinfoil-hat talk you say? Lets look at a few examples:
First of all, bear in mind that Trump comes from the business world. He made his name being a master negotiator and deal-maker, so it’s reasonable to assume that he has an good understanding of persuasion and human nature. He’s written (or at least dictated) about his techniques in many books over the years. When you’ve read them his antics don’t seem that surprising at all. He’s actually given us the blueprint for his method.
Think back to the experiment above and the wall. Using visual language is just one of many ways Trump imprints his ideas into our brains. He could have repeated throughout the election, “I’ll be toughest on illegal immigration,” or “stop illegal border crossings.” Instead he goes for the big visual image of “build a wall.” He he often talks about how it will looks and describes it as powerful, big, beautiful, with a big door in the middle etc. By painting the picture in our minds, he ensures it stays there to chip away at us over time.
Similarly, when it comes to fighting corruption he goes straight for the visual phrase of “drain the swamp.” Next time you watch him speak keep an eye out for him using other visual language.
What about Trump’s constant bickering with interviewers? Surely the antics of a thin-skinned narcissist?
Looking through the persuasion lens we see a different story. We see an extremely sharp negotiator ‘controlling the frame’ of the conversation.
Imagine a typical political being called a whiner by a news host. Most of them would immediately be on the defensive – listing many ways they’re not a whiner and how they’re actually running a very positive campaign.
Not Trump. Watch the video below before reading on and notice how he handles being called a whiner.
In the space of a few seconds takes the insult, embraces it and turns it into a positive. Adams calls this technique ‘linguistic judo’ and this is just one basic example. In Judo and many other martial arts, you use the force of an opponent’s attack against them rather than trying to match it equally. Trump pulls this kind of manoeuvre all the time.
His skills take the word machiavellian to an extreme level. Many in the media scoffed at his claim that he’d make Mexico pay for the wall. Meanwhile, he played the press like a fiddle into giving him $5 billion of free publicity.
These skills are just the tip of the iceberg. I delve into them with video examples and thought experiments in my live speaking show.
Why do I find all this so interesting? Outside of the obvious ways in which I could use and recognise these skills in my own life there’s a more profound reason. Watching the world react to Trump has probably been the most enlightening insight into human nature I’ve ever experienced. I’m aware that makes me sound like a complete hippy and the majority of you will think I’ve lost the plot, but by explaining it live and more in-depth I hope to share this insight with others.
Over the next four years I’ll continue to comment on Trump’s strategies. If there’s anything in particular you want to me to cover, get in touch on Twitter.