I’ve been out of the loop for a few days, working on a start-up. (More on that in the coming weeks.) So I haven’t been following the news. Let’s check in on Donald Trump and see if he’s done anything newsworthy lately. Checking…
Okay, you might want to know how I would apply the Master Persuader filter to Trump’s latest call to end U.S. immigration for all Muslims, at least until – in Trump’s words – lawmakers can figure out why some percentage of Muslims hate us so much. Is this a master stroke of persuasion or just batshit racist crazy? I’ll help you sort that out.
For context, you already know Trump’s game plan goes like this:
1. Say something that draws all media attention his way, denying his opponents any chance of getting a toehold. Opponents are forced to respond to Trump as if he is already the leader and his opinions are the only ones that matter.
2. Force the public to focus on issues where Trump polls well.
3. Ask for far more than you expect to get. (Negotiate from the start.)
4. Force people to see the world in terms of strength and weakness because people are drawn to strength in times of uncertainty.
Given that this latest news fits Trump’s strategy and pattern, I conclude that it was an intentional move under the Master Persuader filter.
But will it work?
It appears that Trump is playing the odds, and smartly, whether you like it or not. ISIS, or its supporters, will certainly strike again. And each time that happens you will try to imagine what can be done about it. And you will only know of one option – the Trump option of shutting down all Muslim immigration for now.
You can hate that option or you can love it. But you probably don’t know of any other plan. Your option for doing something (as opposed to nothing) comes down to Trump’s plan. It is the only plan you know, flawed as it is. And when a monster attacks, you escape through the door that exists, not the one you wish existed. Advantage, Trump.
As President Obama would remind us, a change to gun laws would also address domestic terror risks. But I don’t think the public sees gun control as a terror solution. That topic is more associated in our minds with ordinary domestic bloodshed. And according to the Master Persuader filter, reason is not in play anyway.
So Trump owns the topic of terror because he has the only plan, as far as you know. The only other plan you can imagine is the one where the terrorist attacks escalate forever. You can tolerate that situation for now because religious freedom is a basic American right. But Trump is calculating (correctly) that the public will move away from “do nothing” and toward “do something” every time there is another attack. And when the time comes to “do something” you will only know about the Trump plan.
Trump had to know that calling for an end to Muslim immigration (for now) would spark the Hitler comparisons. Anyone would have known that. Under the Master Persuader filter, this was an intentional tradeoff. Trump literally equated the Trump brand with the Holocaust in an effort to keep citizens safe. That’s some hardcore leadership.
Or is something else going on here? Maybe something…evil?
The more popular explanation of Trump’s motivation is that he’s an unhinged lunatic who is manipulating our worst instincts to become the next Hitler. I don’t know Trump’s inner thoughts, so I can’t rule that out.
But we can compare the lunatic-Hitler hypothesis to the Master Persuader filter and see which one does the best job at predicting. And keep in mind that you are only reading this blog because the Master Persuader filter is the only predictor that saw Trump atop the polls at this stage of the race.
The Master Persuader filter predicts that Trump’s call to end Muslim immigration will help him in the polls, not hurt him. The degree of benefit depends on how many terror attacks hit U.S. and ally soil in the coming months.
Allow me to pause here for my usual disclaimer. As I often remind readers, I am not endorsing Trump or anyone else. I am not smart enough to know who would be the best president. They all look qualified to me.
My political preferences don’t align with Trump on several issues. My interest in Trump is his talent for persuasion, which is astonishing. But critics are correct in saying that my blogging might be providing safety for a Hitler-in-waiting. I take that critique seriously, and so I will help you sort out your feelings on this issue.
Trump’s plan to discriminate against immigrants based on religion offends me to the core. I hope it offends you too, on some level. Religious freedom is about as basic an American right as you can get. Unfortunately, we live in a world where we sometimes have to make hard choices based on our assessment of the odds. So let’s look at the odds.
Suppose you knew that 90% of Elbonians were in favor of killing U.S. citizens and they had plans to do so upon entering the country. Would you accept the bad ones to avoid discriminating against the good ones?
If you said you would let all Elbonians into the country and accept the certainty of more terror attacks, congratulations, you are not a racist. But if that risk seems too high, your only option is to go full-Hitler and ban people based on their Elbonian ethnicity. You can try screening each person, but if 90% of Elbonians are up to no good, some will slip through. I pause here to state unequivocally that no group has that many bad actors in it.
But what if only 1% of Elbonians are terrorists? If you let in a million Elbonians, that gives you 10,000 terrorists. Are you good with that risk in return for maintaining the ideal of equal treatment for all?
The odds of a Muslim immigrant being a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer is probably far lower than 1%, assuming we’re good at screening. I don’t know the exact odds, and neither do you, because it depends on how hard ISIS is trying to infiltrate in that particular way. If they are trying hard, one assumes the number is higher than if they are not trying. But the bottom line is that we don’t know.
I propose that instead of calling fellow citizens racists or idiots we do a deeper dive into the risks and put a price tag on our preference for religious intolerance. If the risk of future terror attacks is tiny, most of us would prefer maintaining our respect for religious differences.
But if the risk is more than tiny, can you put a price on your love of religious tolerance? In other words, how many dead Americans are you willing to accept? I’ll go first.
Personally, I would accept up to 1,000 dead Americans, over a ten-year period, to allow Muslim non-citizens to enter this country. My calculation assumes we are better off accepting some degree of tragedy in the name of freedom. That is often the case with freedom.
If you believe there is no risk from allowing Muslim immigration to continue as is, please explain that thinking in the comments. I have not seen that argument yet.
And if you believe there is some risk of a Muslim terrorist slipping through our current system of screening, what level of American deaths do you consider an acceptable tradeoff?
And keep in mind that you are not offering to die for freedom, since your personal odds of dying in a terror attack are negligible. What you are offering is a higher risk that other people will die so you can live in a country with uncontested religious freedom.
In summary, I will agree with critics who say Trump’s call to ban Muslim immigration – even temporarily – is Hitler-scary. I hope all good Americans are offended by the suggestion on some visceral level even if you think it has to be done.
But if you plan to participate in this conversation, and you aren’t willing to put a price tag (in terms of American deaths) on your preference for maintaining religious open-mindedness, I will find it hard to take you seriously.
We all want the plan that maintains religious tolerance and keeps our risk of violence at zero. No candidate has proposed such a plan.
What price – in American lives – do you put on your preference for religious tolerance?
Update: If I had to put a label on Trump’s method of persuasion for this topic it would be a variant of the High Ground Maneuver. (I have called it the Big Picture Maneuver in the past. Same thing.)
The way this works with the question of Muslim immigration is that Trump was presented with impossible choices and he actually picked one. And in so doing, what he did to the media, his opponents, and the public at large was to make you defend the imaginary option in which none of the peace-loving Muslims are barred from legally entering the country and all terrorists are kept out. That uncomfortable realization will sink in with voters over time. In simple terms, Trump infantilized the entire country and installed himself as dad.
You know Dad; he’s the asshole who makes the hard choices. He makes you go to school when you don’t feel like it. He makes you come home before midnight when you know there is nothing magic about midnight. He prohibits you from watching X-rated movies when you are nine years old even though you are sure it would be fine.
Here I am not talking about logic and reason. I’m talking about the tendency of human brains to form automatic associations. Those automatic connections that are disconnected from reason are how hypnotists can hypnotize and influencers can influence. Reason aside, when you observe an older male authority figure making a hard choice on your behalf, it just feels dadlike. You can’t help make the connection.
The Dad idea won’t fully emerge until the general election…when Dad runs against mom. Speaking of Mom, you love what she stands for, but she can be such a bitch sometimes. Still, if you need a sandwich, or a hug, or some understanding, you probably pick mom.
But if you hear a loud noise downstairs, and you live in a dangerous neighborhood, you’re probably hoping Dad gets to the baseball bat before Mom, even if they are equally capable. You’re a sexist that way, in your irrational brain.
According to the Master Persuader filter, the selection of the next U.S. president is dependent on whether the public is feeling hungry or scared in the coming months. I’m betting on scared.
Update: How long did it take for someone to take me out of context? This long. Notice no link for context.
@anfhomhair: Thank you. I respect that.