This Twitter critic thinks it’s okay for the New York Times to lie (“Wiretapped Data Used In Inquiry of Trump Aides”), as long as they only lie in their headlines. If the body of the story contradicts the lie, then my Twitter critic says all’s well. A lot of people probably agree with him. People know that headlines are written to pull people in. To pull people in, sometimes you have to stretch the truth. Sometimes you have to stretch the truth until it snaps like a snow pea.
People can easily remember snappy headlines because they’re repeatable. And people repeat what they remember. Especially if it’s sensational and snappy.
When the New York Times wrote its sensational, snappy “wiretapped data” headline, it hoped to plant a snappy thought in millions of minds. A thought that people would find themselves repeating to others throughout the day. Which day? Inauguration Day.
So maybe the story under that snappy headline cast doubt on the headline’s assertion. I don’t know. I didn’t read it. I didn’t read the article because I don’t want to give the New York Times a click count. Screw them. Besides, that headline told me everything I needed to know: Obama wiretapped Trump’s people.
Like the vast majority of people, I read the headline and remembered it. There’s an 80 percent chance you read only that headline, too. Most of us are not like my Twitter critic.
Since most people read only the headline, most people believe that Trump’s aides were questioned based on information obtained through secret wiretaps. Which is exactly what Trump said in his Twitter storm last Saturday. He said that Obama wiretapped his people. His source was the New York Times.
Maybe that New York Times headline was a lie. Maybe not. If it was a lie, then the whole Russian conspiracy theory was a lie. Can you fault President Trump for believing the newspaper of record?
But if that headline was accurate, if Obama really did wiretap Trump’s people, then Obama re-enacted Watergate and should be in jail.
And it all happened because the media used psychological tricks to convince people that the government wiretapped Trump’s people.
There’s no third avenue here since no one is required to read the whole story. No one.
The Concorde was a supersonic passenger plane. It shuttled people between New York and Paris very quickly.
When commercial Concorde flights began in 1976, the novelty and excitement of flying at twice the speed of sound led people to line up to take the flights. But after 27 years and several safety mishaps, the Concorde’s popularity waned. Flights were often less than half full, so British Airways, the operator, was losing money. Bigly.
In 2002, the company that operated the service announced the Concorde’s last flight would be in 2003.
Every flight sold out immediately. The impending death of the Concorde made the flight more popular than ever. Why?
There’s no rational explanation for this surge in popularity. If you didn’t need to get to Paris in an hour before the announcement, you didn’t need to after the announcement.
So why did the failing jet service become popular?
It’s called the scarcity heuristic. People value things that are rare, hard to get, or about to expire. My persuasion hero, Robert Cialdini, names scarcity as one of just six principles of persuasion. According to Behavioral Economics:
When an object or resource is less readily available (e.g, due to limited quantity or time), we tend to perceive it as more valuable (Cialdini, 2008). Scarcity appeals are often used in marketing to induce purchases. An experiment (Lee & Seidle, 2012) that used wristwatch advertisements as stimuli exposed participants to one of two different product descriptions “Exclusive limited edition. Hurry, limited stocks” or “New edition. Many items in stock”. They then had to indicate how much they would be willing to pay for the product. The average consumer was willing to pay an additional 50% if the watch was advertised as scarce.
We’re seeing the scarcity heuristic benefit Obamacare’s popularity right now. Fox News reports that support for Obamacare is surging just as Republicans prepare to kill it:
According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll, there is an even split betweenregistered voters who support the law and those who oppose it. Currently, 45 percent approve of the legislation compared to a poll back in January—before President Trump took office—that showed 41 percent of voters approved of the bill.
This surge in popularity frightens a lot of our weak Republican members of Congress. It shouldn’t.
The only reason for the surge is scarcity. Were President Trump and Paul Ryan to announce that they’re leaving Obamacare alone, support for the program would wane because people don’t value what’s abundant.
Urge your lawmakers to ignore the scarcity-driven polls and kill Obamacare because it’s the right thing to do.
We’re getting close, folks. So close you can feel it. Close your eyes and feel the soft, warm breath on the back of your neck. (Now open your eyes and continue reading. You’re such a good reader.)
As you watch the polls shift rapidly toward Trump, you might wonder what’s happening. What’s happening is completely natural, but it’s not normal. Elections don’t usually go this way. And two psychological phenomena are working to deliver the Trump landslide I predicted long ago.
Hillary’s Self-Doubt Phenomenon
The 2016 election is more like sports than any other election in my lifetime. In fact, it’s a lot like the 1964 National League pennant race. Think of Trump as the St. Louis Cardinals and Hillary as the Philadelphia Phillies. (Where was the DNC convention this year?)
In sports, losing and winning both produce psychological changes. I’m not talking about the hot hand fallacy. I’m talking about subconscious expectations, the same things that cause people to sabotage themselves. The voice in the back of your head that says, “you’re not good enough” and “here we go again.”
You can see this happening to Hillary every day. She wrote off 27 percent of Americans as “irredeemable” and “deplorable.” She hid her major health problems. She lied. She said “bombing” then said Trump shouldn’t say “bombing.”
Just as she lost the primary in 2008, she’s losing the election in 2016. Her mind is whispering “you can’t win” and “here you go again,” and she’s listening.
That’s the first step. The second though is more intriguing, and you’ll now begin to see it develop before your eyes like a post-hypnotic suggestion.
Trump’s Tipping Point of Support
In many circles, it’s been unpopular to admit support for Trump. In the spring, I literally watched a man go from bashing Trump to praising him the moment the two people he was talking to admitted “we’re both for Trump.” Let’s call him Mike.
Mike’s eyes popped open and he said, “Oh, so we’re safe here.” It was as if a runaway slave realized he’d wandered into a meeting of local underground railroad conductors. While the polls were showing Trump down, guys like Mike kept their true opinions about Trump to themselves. They felt alone and “different.”
Now that the Mikes of the world know that many, many people just like them support Trump, they’re free to say “I support Trump.” It’s happening everywhere.
And the more people who hear someone say “I support Trump,” the more people support Trump. It’s called a “preference cascade,” and it’s picking up steam.
Deeper Than Preference Falsification
The formal name of the Bradley Effect is preference falsification. Named for the black former mayor of Los Angeles, the Bradly Effect means people tell pollsters they plan to vote for the politically correct candidate, but they actually vote for the other guy. Falsification skews polls.
While that’s happening in the presidential race, it’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about actual human behavior. I’m talking about people who’ve secretly supported Trump and are now flooding out of the closet and the effect they have on undecided voters or soft supporters.
It’s Social Proof
This flood of people admitting they support Trump influences the people around them. It’s called social proof. It means that, when in doubt, most people do what they see people around them doing.
Say you softly support Hillary because your family and friends might beat you up if you supported Trump. You don’t really like Hillary, but you feel safer saying you do. And you plan to vote for Hillary because . . . you don’t want to be a liar.
Then one day, a woman you work pulls into the parking lot with a Trump sticker on her car. “If Madelaine can say she supports Trump, maybe I should take another look,” you think.
Pretty soon, you put a Trump sticker on your car. And you work up the courage to come out to your family and friends. When you’re all sitting around talking about the election, you might find yourself saying, “I’m for Trump.” Chances are you won’t be alone. Someone else in your conversation circle will admit “I’m for Trump, too.”
That’s how preference cascades work. They are influenced by polls and they influence polls. But they’re really about the way we influence each other.
It’ll take some time for this work out, but expect to see a tipping point in the polls very soon. The tipping will come when the RCP average of states shows Trump is expected to win 270 electoral votes—enough to capture the election. At that point, people will move so fast to the Trump column it will make your head spin.
The RCP magic could happen in a week or two after the first debate on September 26. It takes time for the RCP average to work out the old polling data from weeks or months ago. But it’s going to happen, and when it does something amazing will happen.
France’s population had changed considerably since 1614. The non-aristocratic members of the Third Estate now represented 98 percent of the people but could still be outvoted by the other two bodies. In the lead-up to the May 5 meeting, the Third Estate began to mobilize support for equal representation and the abolishment of the noble veto–in other words, they wanted voting by head and not by status. While all of the orders shared a common desire for fiscal and judicial reform as well as a more representative form of government, the nobles in particular were loath to give up the privileges they enjoyed under the traditional system. —History.com
This is about special years where the old rules don’t matter.
Most of the time, the Republican establishment’s views line up well with grassroots conservatives. Both teams oppose federal regulation and meddling in business. Both teams favor lower taxes. Both teams hold favorable views of business, especially of entrepreneurs. On social issues, the sides sometimes clash, but those are minor squabbles. And the establishment always win. Except when everything bursts like a piñata at a birthday party.
Behind the scenes, the establishment thwarts innovation and uses regulation and enforcement to destroy disruptive competitors. But people don’t see this happening, so they don’t worry about it. And if the people believe today is pretty good and tomorrow will be even better, what’s a little shadiness hurt? Until things rupture like a birthday piñata.
Once in a while, though, the stars align crooked. When things seem to be going badly, the people demand change. When the people see their interests—jobs, income, savings, safety, education, kids—at risk, they become risk seekers. When today seems bad and tomorrow looks worse, we become far more willing to gamble and to take matters into our own hands. Trust in institutions plummets like candy from a piñata on your birthday.
When facing a certain loss, people become risk-seeking. Try it yourself. Say you take your car in for routine maintenance, and your trusty mechanic tells you your transmission has a problem. He says, “I can fix it now for $1,000. If it fails completely, you’ll need a new transmission at about $4,000.”
You ask, “what are the chances it will fail completely if I don’t get it fixed now?”
“About 85 percent over the next four years according to the diagnostics report.”
So here’s your situation: Would you prefer to lose $1,000 for sure, or take an 85 percent chance of losing $4,000 and 15 percent chance of losing $0?
Most people will take their chances. It’s an irrational decision, but it’s what most people do. When facing a certain loss, people seek risk.
When people think their state and their country are on the right track, they become risk averse. We can test this the same way.
You find an old coin in a drawer and take it to a coin dealer. He tells you he’ll pay $1,000 today for the coin, but there’s an 85 percent chance that the coin will be worth $4,000 in four years. Of course, there’s a 15 percent chance that the coin could be worth nothing four years from now.
If enough people take this poll, most people will gamble when facing loss and will take the sure thing when facing a certain gain.
Now, let’s look at Right Track/Wrong Polling. You probably know that about 71 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. You can probably guess that Missourians feel our state is also on the wrong track. People feel we’re on the wrong track because they face diminishing wages, fewer job prospects, zero raises, diminishing savings, increasing crime, and constant terrorism threats.
In other words, the vast majority of Americans are facing a certain loss if things keep going the way they are. In the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president, things were going well and people expected things to get better. Then, we were facing a certain gain.
In 1997 we learned the President had sex with an intern in the Oval Office, his wife blamed a vast right-wing conspiracy, and Bill Clinton lied repeatedly under oath about the affair. Yet the American people opposed his impeachment. Sure, they told pollsters they opposed impeachment because sex is a private matter, not a national concern. But any psychologist will tell you the real reason was risk aversion. If tomorrow’s likely to be better today, why would you take the chance of making it worse?
In the 1990s, people were risk averse. We avoided disruptions that could derail our right-track future. Now, though, we’re risk-seeking. We’re willing to take a chance with massive changes because doing nothing will make our lives worse day by day. We all know that.
Great Expectations = Great Disappointments
My favorite historians and my favorite psychologists agree on this: people believe the future will be a linear progression of the recent past. When we feel better off today than we did six months ago, we believe we’ll feel even better six months from now. But if we feel worse off today than six months ago, we assume we’ll be in worse shape six months later.
Most of the time this strategy works. The problem is that eventually that trend line breaks. And we have no idea when that will happen or why. A financial collapse, a terrorist attack, a criminal indictment of the Democratic candidate for president. Anything can snap a winning streak. Anything at all.
Look at that Gallup chart above. When Drudge first introduced us to Monica Lewinsky, satisfaction with America’s direction was in the high 40s. It had been rising steadily since 1992. From that perspective, the risk of deposing a president seemed ridiculous–like turning down a sure $1,000 for the chance of turning it into $4,000 in four years.
Beginning with 9/11/2001, though, the regression line turns south. And stays there. And this time is different.
As you can see, the line usually goes up gradually, drops sharply, then begins its upward ascent quickly after a shock. But that didn’t happen after 9/11. The trend line jumped a bit after Obama’s election, but the overall regression curve has been negative for 15 years.
Everybody now expects tomorrow to be worse than today. Projecting out, we all know that if nothing changes, America will lie in ruins in 20 years. People now in their 50s will be homeless or dead. People in their 20s will be living in government squalor or holding down four jobs just to survive. The American Dream will look like a nightmare scene from an Upton Sinclair novel.
When the institutions are rigged and the future looks bleak, who you gonna call? Generation X.
Here’s the best description of Gen X written when we were young in 1993. From 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail:
As a group, they aren’t what older people wish they were, but rather what they themselves know they need to be: street-smart survivalists clued into the game of life the way it really gets played, searching for simple things that work in a cumbersome society that offers little to them.
As a generation, we had our fun young and became hardened realists during that steep decline in expectations. We knew the world was looking for a chance to fuck us, and it did.
Unlike all other generational archetypes, though, the Nomads of Generation X won’t fold up and cry. We don’t need no stinking safe spaces. While Millennials think of themselves as snowflakes, we think of ourselves as cinders. Both fall from the sky in winter, but a little sunlight melts the snow. Us carbon cinders will be here forever. Heat only makes us harder. Generation X is a base element. If we get in your eye or shoe, we hurt. If we get in your head, you’re dead.
As I said before, 2016 is the Gen X election. Gen X was the first generation in American history that expected to be worse off than its parents. And we are, so don’t say we never get anything right. For all our playful fatalism, we see through the bullshit of the establishment. We know why the Farm Bureau broke tradition to support a Democrat for governor: the Republican establishment told them to. We know a bottom when we see one.
When you mix a bleak forecast with Gen X attitude, you get a wild combustive. You get 2016.
Greitens and Trump
There are a lot of similarities between the messages of Eric Greitens and Donald Trump. Be careful with this. While I support both men, Eric Greitens is a remarkably polite man by Midwestern standards while Donald Trump skates on the edge of politeness by Brooklyn standards. (And those two standards are very different. Believe me.) Their styles have nothing in common.
But their messages are remarkably similar. And their message is: it’s time for someone outside the political class.
Face it: the political class made the mess we’re in. While the political class thinks it can fix it, it can’t. We all know that. And two of Greitens’s opponents recognize the people’s distrust of establishment politicians. From STLToday.com:
“Sometimes, you just are on the wrong end of a phenomenon,” said Catherine Hanaway. She made history more than a decade ago as Missouri’s first female House speaker and was attempting to repeat the feat at the gubernatorial level. “We got hit with the tidal wave of the ‘outsider.’”
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder concurred. “[Greitens’] entire campaign was based on being an outsider, at a time when that appears to be compelling nationally and in Missouri,” said Kinder, who had hoped to cap his unbroken 25 years in state government by seizing its top prize.
One thing I’ve noticed since getting deeply involved in politics is that many of the politicians don’t know how they’re manipulated. Neither do their supporters. Neither do the voters.
Rest assured that we’re all manipulated a lot. For example, if I asked you to think of a children’s birthday tradition right now, what would pop into your head?
If you’re from the Midwest and you read my blog, there’s about a 5% chance that piñatas are part of su familia birthday tradition. But I’ll bet way more than 5% of you clicked on piñata. Because I anchored piñata way up top. I wasn’t even subtle about it.
You probably knew that when you saw the options. But you clicked piñata anyway. And you’re probably justifying your choice now, telling yourself you’re into diversity or you really like piñatas. But if you clicked the piñata on this post, it was because I anchored you at the top.
We’re all victims of our brains.
So are politicians. It’s not their fault that they become tools of the lobbyists. It’s human nature.
And the voters let it happen for many years. Until, finally, the results we’re getting aren’t worth the comfort of sitting back and letting someone else handle things.
At these moments, we take control. We leave the comfort of our living rooms, fire the political class, and usher in a new political class.
2016 is a great year to be alive. The political order that took power after WWII is dead. The people who earned their power in 1945 were dead long ago. Usurpers took their place and tried to play the same game. But these usurpers failed. They didn’t have the mettle. They never earned their chops.
So we’re shaking the Etch-a-Sketch. We’re taking things back to zero and turning the knobs ourselves for a while. We’re taking a chance on Trump and Greitens because, at this point in time, it’s actually riskier to not gamble on something very different.
In 2016, we’re all Gen Xers. We’re all “street-smart survivalists clued into the game of life the way it really gets played.” In 2016, the outsiders have the inside track.
Why did Trump beat Ted Cruz? Probably the biggest reason is that Trump talks purpose while Cruz talks policy and principles.
When people hear Trump, they hear a purpose that aligns with their purpose. I know I do. And it’s similar to the purpose Arthur C. Brooks explained in his great book, The Conservative Heart.
Ted Cruz never seemed to have a purpose, just policies and principles. Cruz spoke of abstract principles and left it to the people to figure out if those principles would make their lives better or worse.
To paraphrase Steve Jobs, it’s not the voters’ jobs to figure out how your principles improve their lives. In fact, if you focus on your purpose, you never have to mention your principles.
Here’s a great example of Trump’s simple purpose. At a recent rally in Portland, Maine, protesters with whistles interrupt Trump’s speech. Here’s how he handled the interruption:
Perfect. Pay attention to Trump’s words, because they will hook just about any sane adult:
And what are we looking for? We want strong military, we want jobs, we want good education and healthcare, right? We’re looking for the same things sort of. You want to have a good life, you want safety.
What everyone hears when Trump speaks is just that: jobs, safety, education, healthcare that works. When those things are in place, there’s a chance for living the good life.
That’s all people want.
This is really important to understand, folks. Purpose trumps policy. Actually, purpose determines policy. Principles guide policy, but neither policy nor principles can influence purpose. Purpose is much higher.
By purpose, I mean your end goal. Mine is this: to build a society where every person experiences the dignity of meaningful work, including jobs that give satisfaction and fulfillment, fostered by a government that protects its people and institutions from attack and leaves them alone to live their best lives, successfully or not. That is my purpose, and very few people oppose it. Who would say “no” to dignified work and freedom?
And here’s where the principle comes in.
History shows that constitutionally limited government, free markets, and fiscal responsibility are the best means to those ends, which is why I support those means. But that’s the ONLY reason I support those means. I try to keep the means subordinate to the end, even if I sometimes mix them up.
Trump doesn’t talk about his principles and doesn’t spend too much time on policy. His focus on is on his purpose, and his purpose is remarkably similar to mine and to Arthur C. Brooks’.
Let’s pretend you’re in a room with 10 people about your age and background. You’ve been talking for a while, and you’ve gotten to know the others. Then the task begins. It’s straightforward.
On a large TV, you see a line drawing of a face. The instructor calls out people by name and asks if the face is a happy face, a sad face, or neutral face.
The first image looks like this:
The instructor calls on a very attractive woman you’d been talking to most of the night, Amy. Amy doesn’t hesitate. “Sad,” she says.
Your opinion of Angela drops. A lot.
Then the instructor calls on Dave who you knew from your kids’ baseball team even before tonight. “He looks sad to me,” Dave says.
Wow. These two should get together, you think. And not have kids.
Next, is Barry, a business school marketing professor. “Yeah, that’s sad,” Barry says. You make a note not to send your kids to his crappy school.
Then, she calls on a woman sitting behind you. You don’t know her, but she looks like an elementary school teacher from the 1950s. You put all your faith into this woman to get it right.
“Oh, sad, yes,” she says.
You realize that you are likely the only person in the room who interprets the image as a happy. You wonder if, maybe, they’re seeing something you’re not? Were they primed with an even happier face that you didn’t see, one that makes this one sad by comparison?
Now the instructor calls your name. You notice every eye in the room trained on you as if you were the approaching bus they’ve been waiting for.
Do you say, “that’s the happiest damn face I’ve ever seen, and you people are all nuts,” insulting all the other people, or do you go along with your idiot mates and agree that the face is sad?
Standing Alone Hurts
In the scenario above, your classmates were confederates of the instructor. They were actors playing people who thought that image represented sadness. The goal of the test was to see how you would respond when it came to your turn.
Most people have no idea how difficult it is to be the only person who disagrees. In psychological studies, intelligent students who know better will agree to the wrong answer if four other students before them gave the wrong answer first. “It appears that when we are unsure of how to perform a task or how to behave, we may take comfort in agreeing with a large number of other people (Lumbert, Samantha P., 2005).”We’d rather be wrong than be seen as wrong. And fMRI studies of the brain show that the pain of being the outcast is similar to severe physical pain. It’s why we give in to peer pressure.
Trump Stands Alone
At the first Republican debate in August, all the players were real. There were no confederates.
Bret Baier of Fox News asked the 15 candidates to raise their hands if they would NOT promise to support the Republican candidate for President. If you are trying to win over Republicans, there is only one right answer: you keep your hands at your sides.
On August 6, 2015, 14 candidates had a knee-jerk reaction to a softball question: raise your hand if you might not support the eventual Republican nominee. Each of those men (and they were all men that night) did quick math. They all believed they would win and if they didn’t, someone like them would win. Because that’s what we always think–if not me, someone like me. So they kept their hands down.
One man thought different. That man realized he might not win and the person who does win might be very different from him. Too different. In fact, being a strategic thinker, this man realized that if he did not win, the winner was likely to be very different from him. And despite the pain of being the outcast, Donald Trump raised his hand. Alone.
Later, after he had time to thnk about it, Trump signed the pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee, so help him, God. So did all the others. But Trump was the only one who took the time to contemplate the commitment. He didn’t make a rash, impulsive decision, did he? He made his decision like a man who’s made a lot of big decisions. And like a leader who’s comfortable with being seen as wrong. And he suffered the pain of being the outcast for weeks.
In hindsight, it’s easy to see why Mr. Trump contemplated his commitment. Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Jeb! Bush, and Marco Rubio impulsively signed the pledge without considering the consequences, and now they wish they hadn’t. Now they’d all like to be like Trump.
Leaders Must Stand Alone
When it comes to being presidential, the sin Cruz, Kasich, Bush, and Rubio committed was not the sin of breaking their word to the Republican Party, it was the sin of rushing into a commitment without thinking about the consequences. (For the lawyers among them, that sin was mortal.) It was the sin of avoiding immediate discomfort. Each of those four men later chose to break his word, which is also painful, but less painful than breaking his identity claim.
That sin of Cruz, Kasich, Bush, and Rubio is in the past. It can’t be undone. Endorsing Mr. Trump now will not erase the rash the fact that they made rash decisions in August.
When is comes to executive skills, Trump beat them all. Hands down.
P.S. In a related psychological study, researchers tested groups in several age groups. They found that older adults were more likely to answer accurately even if doing so violated the norms of their group (Lumbert, 2005). Maybe Donald Trump was the only candidate old enough to give the right answer instead of the easy answer. In other words, the others might become better leaders and better decision makers over time. See this for more on these fascinating studies.
Source: Lumbert, Samantha P., 2005, Conformity and Group Mentality: Why We Comply, Rochester Institute of Technology