Scott Adams first identified Donald Trump’s greatest strength. What do you think that might be?
It’s not his money or his business experience. Those are strengths, sure, but they’re not THE strength.
Scott Adams believes Trump’s campaign was a movie script. Here’s what Adams wrote way, way back when Trump’s candidacy was still just a PR stunt because he had zero chance of winning even a single primary:
A movie script is almost always arranged in what the professionals call a three-act form. In this model, the protagonist always has some sort of life-changing event (such as suddenly becoming the frontrunner for president) in act one.
In act two, we see the protagonist living out the results of that change. In the Trump movie, we see a smiling candidate amassing popularity and defying the experts. Just like act two in any good movie. This is the calm before the storm.
At the end of the second act, nearly all movies follow the model where some unsolvable problem rears its head. The audience must feel that the protagonist can’t escape this problem. We know the movie is fiction, but we still feel the emotions of the actors. We love the feeling of the third act because it reminds us of our own unsolvable problems. The main difference is that the movie hero finds a way to solve the unsolvable. That solution is what makes it a movie. The audience needs to feel the third act tension followed by an unexpected solution in order to get the chemical rush of movie enjoyment.
If you follow Scott Adams, you already know that Trump intentionally sets traps for himself. He creates “unsolvable problems” that everyone knows will be his downfall. From his immigration statements to his war with Megyn Kelly to jailing women who have illegal abortions to pussygate, Trump turns every small win into a future disaster with the things he says.
And, yet, here we are. Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States. Nothing can change that. Trump is president, and Israel is about to name the new Western Wall train station after him.
So I buy some of Scott Adams’s story. Trump does provide viewers a great action-adventure storyline. Every win sows the seeds for the next unsolvable problem. People feel compelled to tune in to the next episode to see how The Donald escapes this mess. Like the old Batman series. Or Silicon Valley. Or . . . here’s where I think Scott Adams is wrong.
Movies usually resolve themselves pretty neatly. Except for Star Wars, which ended with Darth Vader escaping to set up his next attack on Luke, Han, and the Princess. But most movies don’t explicitly sow the seeds of future problems in the resolution of the current story. That’s more like television.
Great TV heroes need a nearly as-great villain. Or, in the case of Batman, many near-equal villains. Trump has many near-equal villains: Robert Mueller, James Comey, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, etc. There’s also the really scary villains like Iran and Kim Jung Un. When those villains start to drift away, Trump has an uncanny knack for pulling them back in. Ratings depend on a series of insurmountable problems. We want to see how our hero escapes each one of them. And we demand that every plot line has its resolution.
In other words, Donald Trump has turned world history into a television series. And we’re already at the end of season three.
Season One: The series begins as Trump descends the huge escalator in Trump Tower and declares his candidacy by saying Mexico isn’t sending us their best people, but their rapists and drug dealers. Pundits and experts write his candidacy off as a publicity stunt. But our hero seems to be serious. Trump defies conventional wisdom by eschewing a ground game and focusing on huge rallies with tens of thousands of people. And despite all of his supposed missteps and inflammatory rhetoric, Season One ends with Trump miles ahead of his closest competitor for the GOP nomination, but the entire conservative intelligentsia turns against Trump, setting an insurmountable problem for Season Two.
Season Two: Season Two of Trump begins with the run-up to the first Republican caucuses and primaries. At this point, Republicans are either fully behind Trump or fully against him. The leading conservative magazine devotes an entire issue to hating Trump. And Trump loses the first event to Ted Cruz in Iowa. But Trump rallies, sweeping a number of primaries leading up the decisive Super Tuesday blowout. He even holds a bizarre press conference that’s really an infomercial for many of the Trump businesses. It’s the strangest thing anyone has ever seen in American politics. At least in the TV era.
The first half of Season Two ends as Trump wins the nomination and continues his unconventional ways. He fires two campaign managers. He gives a blistering “America First” acceptance speech. He does everything wrong but Trump stills comes out on top.
In the climax to Season Two, Trump upsets the favored (by 98%) candidate to become the president-elect. His enemies, left and right, band together to form a Resistance movement. And the Russian Collusion narrative sets up our hero for the ultimate downfall in Season Three. Ask any anti-Trumper or NeverTrumper on December 29, 2016, and they’ll tell you Trump won’t survive the first 100 days in the Oval Office. Everyone expects the Deep State to take Trump down. Stay tuned for Season Three.
Season Three: Trump’s third season opens with a controversial inauguration. Trump disputes press estimates of the crowd size at his inauguration. Then Trump fires the FBI director, his attorney general recuses himself from the Russian investigation, and an underling appoints a sinister special counsel named Robert Mueller. Mueller is the smoking guy from X Files brought to life. Mueller is like The Penguin or Mr. Freeze. (Comey is The Riddler.) The anti-Trump press declares his presidency a failure after two attempts to overturn Obamacare fail in Congress.
But Trump looks amazingly deft at foreign policy. He wins favor with China’s leader. Israel loves him. His support base grows more resilient. His opponents lose popular support when they turn to mass violence over the summer.
Season Three ends with our hero’s biggest win since the election. Trump drives home the largest tax reform since Reagan and biggest single tax cut in US history. But the Russian narrative continues unabated, setting up Season Four. Pundits and experts say Republicans will lose the House and Senate to Democrats in the upcoming off-year elections.
Season Four: Here are just some of the open plot lines going into season four:
- Will Robert Mueller find evidence of Russian collusion?
- Will the Justice Department’s inspector-general indict Robert Mueller, James Comey, Andy McCabe, Peter Strzock, or Bruce Ohr?
- Will Trump’s wall get Congressional okay?
- Will North Korea nuke San Francisco triggering World War III?
- Will Iran go to war with Saudi Arabia triggering World War III?
- Will Trump get his big, beautiful infrastructure bill through Congress?
- Will Democrats take control of the House and Senate and immediately begin impeachment proceedings?
- Or will Trump find a way to get out of these jams before Season Four ends?
We don’t know how season four of Trump: The President will unfold. But we have to watch it. It’s the greatest show on earth.
Also published on Medium.