fb-pixelA Dilbert’s-eye view of Trump as ‘Clown Genius’ - The Boston Globe Skip to main content
Alex Beam

A Dilbert’s-eye view of Trump as ‘Clown Genius’

Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert,” predicted Trump’s victory way ahead of the pack.

As far as I know, only one regular Globe contributor correctly predicted Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory. He made his call in a blog post entitled “Clown Genius,” 15 months before the election.

I remember reading Scott Adams’s post – Adams created the monstrously successful “Dilbert” comic strip – and thinking: This guy better stick to cartooning.

In retrospect, perhaps famed pollster Nate Silver, who gave Clinton a 70-plus percent chance of winning, might want to take up professional macramé. Or maybe it’s time for me to open up that used bookstore I’ve been yapping about; I predicted, laughably, that America’s “better angels” would sing Trump to his electoral demise.


Here is what Adams wrote on Aug. 13, 2015: “On the surface . . . Trump appears to be a narcissistic blow-hard with inadequate credentials to lead a country.” He opined that there was method to Trump’s apparent madness and concluded: “I’m going to predict he will be our next president. I think he will . . . win against Clinton in a tight election.”

Adams, whose publicist ignored my request to chat, is a man of many parts. He has an MBA, he is a hypnotist, and he is a student of unconscious persuasion. His mission might be called “to justify the ways of Trump to men,” and he’s good at it.

In The Wall Street Journal last week, Adams praised the “weaponized humor” of Trump’s tweets, e.g., “Low Energy Jeb,” and so on. “Humor is an extraordinary tool of persuasion,” Adams wrote. Even if you are already tuning out Adams’s message, remember: “Dilbert” is very funny, especially if you have served time in the dark satanic reality of the modern cubicle farm. Adams knows humor.

Adams also elucidates a technique called “thinking past the sale,” a Marketing 101 technique in which the salesman asks if you want to buy the red Honda or the green one? So he has ushered you past the decision to buy the Honda, and gets you thinking about what color you want.


Adams sees many examples in Trump’s tweets, and so do I. He points out that while Trump’s audience is howling about the absurdity of “Mexico paying for the wall,” they have accepted the premise that a border wall is a good idea. When Trump tweeted about yanking NBC’s broadcasting license, I discounted that absurd suggestion. But I was curious; what did NBC report, anyway?

Adams compares Trump to Ronald Reagan, “a Master Persuader — someone who sees reality as malleable because to a large degree it really is.” Adams and others see a direct line between Trump and Norman Vincent Peale, who officiated at Trump’s first wedding. In books and endless public appearances, Peale preached that positive thinking could make good things happen for average Americans.

Of course Trump talks bunkum, Adams allows. “Why does he say these things? He does it because he’s creating the future. The fact checkers are missing the entire show. The show is the president is describing the future by pretending it’s the present. It’s right out of the Norman Vincent Peale playbook.”

Why should we care about some troll-cartoonist’s solipsistic musings on a presidency with ankle-high approval ratings and a record of legislative failure? Because even if Trump serves only one term, or less, he is already on track to be one of the most influential presidents in memory. He has essentially halted government regulation in its tracks. He is remaking the federal judiciary. It’s very possible that he will appoint the next two Supreme Court justices.


“Clown Genius” indeed.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.