Parsing Persuasion: Birthright Citizenship Edition

Students of persuasion:

Today Trump announced that he would end birthright citizenship (the conferring of US citizenship on all babies born on US soil) via an executive order.

This is wonderfully effective persuasion.

https://www.axios.com/trump-birthright-citizenship-executive-order-0cf4285a-16c6-48f2-a933-bd71fd72ea82.html

First Let’s Talk Technique

The first technique is that this is highly attention-getting. It comes one week before mid term elections when people are paying more attention. It’s also in light of the headlines of caravans from Latin America, so people are already paying attention to immigration issues.

And all those in opposition in the media will “fact check” the claim right into the first story of every news website, propagating his message far and wide.

It’s also surprising. It has been assumed for a long time that it would take a constitutional amendment to change the laws regarding citizenship of babies born in the United States.

Some more techniques:

  1. Trump uses authority: he has top men working on it, presumably experts in the law.
  2. Pacing and leading: “It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t”
  3. Imagining a future: “It’s in the process. It’ll happen”
  4. Artfully vague language: “But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”
    • Who is “they?” If you’re on the anti-anchor baby side, “they” means authoritative legal scholars.
  5. Confirmation bias: Trump says it’s possible, so when his supporters hear any evidence, they will interpret it to support that pre-existing idea.

Now Let’s Talk Strategy

With a single announcement he turned birthright citizenship from something that the public assumed would be too difficult and not worth trying into something that people now think is possible.

Overnight, Trump will have millions of Americans who want anchor baby laws to end, to newly think it’s possible to end them, and will be more motivated to vote in the mid-terms so they can make it happen.

He also gets *millions* of people to research the legal possibilities. The sides will make the arguments for him. In the first day alone we learned that prior to 1960 it was not applied to illegal aliens and that the amendment’s original author never intended it to apply to aliens.

And here’s the 3D chess: He forces Democrats to be constitutional originalists. They cannot claim the 1st and 2nd amendments require a modern interpretation but the 14th amendment must be interpreted as original text only. They have to pick one or the other. Either he gets the 14th amendment re-interpreted, or he saves the 2nd amendment.

Bonus persuasion: the liberals want the 2nd amendment repealed and the 1st amendment modified or reinterpreted. Trump wants the same for the 14th amendment (and possibly the 17th). Now both sides are interested in the possibility of altering the Constitution. This makes it much more likely to actually happen because its no longer outside the realm of possibility.


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Parsing Persuasion: International Diplomacy Edition

Yesterday, after some disruption in the denuclearization talks between North Korea and the United States, President Trump has “walked away” from the negotiations. In this blog post I parse Trump’s notification letter to North Korea for persuasion.

Others can perhaps speak better to the negotiating aspects than I can, so I‘m going to focus on the framing and the use of motivations, both pleasure-based and pain-based (the proverbial carrot and the stick). Also notice the transitions back and forth between the personal messages / feelings and the message to the international community, since he knows the entire world will be reading the letter. And finally, notice that the tone isn’t angry or hostile – it’s generally sad over missed opportunities but cordial and welcoming towards the right behavior in the future.

 

May 24, 2018

His Excellency
Kim Jong Un
Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea   [ Framing KJU as an officer of the state, not the “Supreme Leader,” his usual title. A Supreme Leader is not beholden to the state, but the Chairman of the State Affairs Committee has a responsibility on behalf of his nation. This is a powerful identity play. ]
Pyongyang

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We greatly appreciate your time, patience, and effort with respect to our recent negotiations and discussions relative to a summit long sought by both parties, which was scheduled to take place on June 12 in Singapore. [ 1. Pacing, 2. Starts with a compliment, which sets the tone of being cordial and non-hostile. 3. Highlights the efforts and pains taken (“time, patience, and effort” and “long sought”). This sets up the painful takeaway coming soon. ] We were informed that the meeting was requested by North Korea, but that to us is totally irrelevant. [ Possibly taking the value of that away so NK can’t use it as a tradeable concession, or perhaps signaling toughness. ] I was very much looking forward to being there with you. [ Adds a personal touch, and shows openness to a turnaround by NK ] Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting. [ Painful takeaway tied directly to NK behavior ] Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place. [ Speaking to the international audience here. It’s good for US and NK individually to not have talks, but bad for the world, which frames having the talks as a selfless, generous, honorable act (and when the talks do happen, they will be perceived as such). This also implies that leaving negotiations is better for the US and NK than having them, so it’s a true walk-away. Great framing. ] You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used. [ Threat of pain. We don’t want to use them, but we will if we have to. ]

I felt a wonderful dialogue was building up between you and me [ Back to good feelings. Personal again, and indicates the situation is open to course correction ], and ultimately it is only that dialogue that matters [ All is not lost; you and I can still solve this. ]. Some day, I look very much forward to meeting you [ Future pace of good experience ]. In the meantime [i.e. before we meet in the future – presupposes they will meet], I want to thank you for the release of the hostages who are now home with their families. That was a beautiful gesture and was very much appreciated [ Internationally public praise for doing a good thing. We generously reward good behavior, and NK has shown it can be the good guy. ].

If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write [ The window is still open, but NK is at fault here and must make a change for things to continue ]. The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth. This missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history [ International again. Loads of pain and takeaways here. Huge leverage. ]

Sincerely yours,

Donald J. Trump
President of the United States of America

 


 

In other news, I’m working on a method to get out of cognitive dissonance for any particular concept or idea. So far it has worked 100% of the time on myself and on others one on one. I’m currently testing it with small groups.

Negations and Reversals in Persuasion, Or, Team Trump’s Tweet Trip-up

Today, Donald Trump’s official Twitter account posted the following tweet.

Let’s unpack the persuasion in this tweet from the perspective of associations and negations (I’ll talk about the final leading question in a moment).

First, the negations and reversals. The mind processes negations by understanding the core un-negated idea first, and then negating it. Take the example, “The dog isn’t running.” You have to think of a dog running first, before you can negate it. (I thought of a dog running, and then it abruptly stopped and just sat there.)

So, looking at it that way, “tax cut” is processed as “not tax” and “end the big tax cuts” is processed as “not (not tax).” “Raise taxes” is processed as “tax” because it has no negation. So now we have:

with Nancy Pelosi wanting to not (not tax) and tax

It takes the mind a moment to sort that out.

Now let’s consider the associations. The first sentence qualifies his audience to Republicans, so let’s take that position for this exercise. Assuming they (we) have bad/negative associations to tax and to Nancy Pelosi, and good/positive associations to the rest – energy, excitement, winning, and a strong economy – the associations go like this:

Good. Good, and good. Good, and with bad wanting to not (not bad) and bad, why wouldn’t we win?

Wait, what?

The shift from good associations to bad associations is jarring, as is the shift from easily processed ideas to a complicated thing to sort out. That also muddles the pre-suasion / context for the final question.

Now, if the associations (i.e. emotional pre-suasion) up to this point had been super clear and unambiguous, the “why wouldn’t we win?” question might have been ok because it would be emotionally obvious that he meant it rhetorically. Consider this set of associations:

Good. Good, and good. Good, and with good, why wouldn’t we win?

The context is better.

That ending question is still not a great idea though, because questions demand answers and he probably didn’t want people thinking of reasons why he wouldn’t win.

The tweet is still effective overall, but the way it was structured with complicated negations and confused associations reduced its effectiveness.