I’m seeing a lot of “list” journalism now that is designed to paint President Trump in a negative light. The power of the list is that the more items on the list, the more persuasive it looks, even if the items are weak. Here’s a good example.
If you want to create a persuasive political attack list, be sure to include the following elements in various combinations.
- Situations that could turn out bad but probably won’t
- Imperfect situations that aren’t terribly important
- A rumor that would be bad if it were true, but probably isn’t true
- Words such as “stunning” and “death match” to convey badness without reasons
- A misinterpretation of what your target said or meant
- Intentional omission of relevant context including any positives
- Expert opinions that the candidate who won the presidency with no political experience and had one of the best first years of any president (for conservatives) doesn’t know how to do things
- Opinions based on mind-reading, such as “He only cares about one thing!”
The power of the list is that while each item is unimportant, false, overblown, or an obvious misinterpretation of intent, the sheer quantity of items makes it persuasive nonetheless. A list of five criticisms is better than three, and ten is better than five. It doesn’t much matter how solid any of the items are when viewed in isolation. Readers will remember the size of the list more than the items on it.
You see this method used with the Russian collusion narrative. Any one item on the list would mean little or nothing. It only looks persuasive because of quantity plus confirmation bias. Critics will chirp “With so much smoke, there must be fire!” But of course the critics and political enemies created the smoke, not the targeted politician.
I am often criticized for praising effective persuasion and leaving out the ethical dimension. I’ll do it again right here because I trust you to apply your own moral filter. I’m only here to tell you what works and what doesn’t. And this attack-list method totally works. President Trump isn’t the only persuader in the game. His opponents, collectively but not individually, have a great game too. Is their persuasion ethical and moral? I trust you to make that judgement without my assist.
I know most of you bristle at the thought that “the ends justify the means.” So don’t think of it that way. Think of it as benefits exceeding costs. And by that I mean I would lie to a terrorist to save your child’s life. I hope you would do the same for me.
We live in an imperfect world. It doesn’t help to pretend otherwise.
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