The other day I explained to you that Trump was using “stamina” as a linguistic kill shot against Hillary Clinton. The genius of it – persuasion-wise – is that every normal candidate has some low-energy days. Everyone gets hoarse from too much speech-making. Everyone takes bathroom breaks, and other kinds of breaks. Trump knew that voters would see “evidence” of Clinton’s lack of stamina even when there was no evidence. That’s how confirmation bias works.
And sure enough, Clinton took a few days off from campaigning and people were primed to make “stamina” comments all over my Twitter feed. That’s what I call sleeper persuasion. You put the suggestion out in the world and wait for a trigger to activate it. The trigger can be real or imagined (confirmation bias). Either way, it works.
Likewise, Trump chose border security as his signature issue in part because there was a 100% chance voters would see another terror attack somewhere during the election cycle. Any attack would serve as a trigger to activate the persuasion. Unfortunately, ISIS has provided three triggers already in the past year, with Belgium being the latest.
If you’re paying attention to the news, you know that Trump just doubled-down on waterboarding (and maybe worse) because of the Belgium attack. And the world just shrugged it off this time. Every time something blows up, Trump starts looking less crazy. That’s sleeper persuasion with a trigger.
I recognize this method of persuasion because I sometimes use it. In 2004 I wrote my sequel to God’s Debris called The Religion War. In that novella, set in the near future, a Caliphate forms in the Middle East and starts using small, hobby-sized drones in terror attacks around the world. In the book, the drone attacks are impossible to stop with normal means. The proposed solution in the story – from a military dictator coincidentally named Cruz – is to wall up the Caliphate, cut off communication, and wipe out every living thing inside the walls. (This is not my personal recommendation. It is fiction designed to predict.)
My strategy for that book was to write what I expected to someday happen and use that as my trigger for book sales later. I figured back in 2004 that there was a 100% chance that terrorists would someday use hobby-sized drones for attacks. When they do, the persuasion trigger will be activated and people will wonder what else I said in that book.
Just to be clear, I prefer selling zero books and having zero terror attacks. But that isn’t realistic. Terror wasn’t going to stop no matter how many books I write.
At the risk of spoiling the story, a Master Persuader enters the picture and attempts to avert genocide in the Caliphate. But the Master Persuader does not resemble Trump, in case you were worried.
To summarize Sleeper Persuasion with a Trigger:
1. Predict something you think is likely to happen in the future even if others think it is not likely.
2. Associate a product with the prediction. In my case, the product is my book. In Trump’s case, the product is Trump as a candidate.
3. Wait for the trigger to happen, or for confirmation bias to make people think the trigger happened.
4. Remind people that you predicted whatever is happening.
You might wonder what happens when one of your sleeper predictions turns out to be wrong. The answer is that people won’t remember, or won’t care. And unless you put a deadline on your prediction, you can always say it will happen later.
Most of my Trump predictions have been accurate, but if Trump had crashed and burned in September you would have already forgotten I made a dumb prediction. I saw a big upside potential for predicting Trump’s rise and no real downside. So I jumped on it. And I had the advantage of recognizing his persuasion tools so I could see his potential early. I liked my odds.
Regular readers might remember I went out on a limb some time ago and said terrorism thrives because of a lack of mating opportunities for young Muslim men. The powerful men in that culture have multiple wives and many of the rest have none. Some men, I explained, are willing to die because life does not offer them any realistic mating opportunities. That suggestion was met with the type of bad reaction you might expect. But that’s okay because it was designed as Sleeper Persuasion with a Trigger. I was willing to wait until evidence piled up on my side.
Since my first writing on that topic we learned that ISIS is using captive women as sex slaves to recruit fighters. And check out this clip of Steve Harvey on Family Feud asking what men would do for sex. “Kill” was the second-highest vote-getter. It’s funny until you realize the men answering the survey were serious.
Update: You might have thought “Lying Ted” was a linguistic kill shot. But it turns out it was a sleeper persuasion with a trigger.