'Dilbert' Creator Scott Adams: Donald Trump's "Third Act" Is About To Begin

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In a videocast with fans on Periscope Thursday morning, 'Dilbert' creator and "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big" author Scott Adams discussed his theory that Donald Trump has scripted the arc of his presidential campaign to follow the model of a three-act movie, with himself as the protagonist.



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He explains that in the first act of a movie, "something unexpected [happens] that changes somebody's life trajectory" -- like deciding to run for president. In the second act, "you would see your protagonist overcoming a number of smaller hurdles," ending with the discovery of a seemingly unsolvable problem. In the third act, the protagonist grows or changes in order to solve the unsolvable problem.

Adams first explained this theory in an October 2015 blog post where he wrote that Trump created his own third-act problem: His position on immigration. "In the primaries it sucked all the attention out of the room and galvanized his base. In the general election, immigration will turn into an unsolvable third-act problem for Trump, as he planned," he wrote.

He also wrote: "Once we recognize the movie form, we root for the hero, automatically. We have been trained by Hollywood to do that. You can’t turn it off in your mind. You can’t ignore it. If a candidate can wrap his or her personal story into a three-act form, that is the highest level of persuasion."

"The idea of the third-act problem usually involves a character flaw of your hero," he explained Thursday. "It is a problem that they specifically can't solve because of a character defect. They're afraid of something, they can't forgive, they've been a liar all their life until now... That's what makes it a good movie, we like to see people change in some positive way. That's what makes us feel good. Because in the real world we don't see it happen, hardly ever."

"One of the big changes that I've predicted, that could make a difference, is that Trump would soften his approach and make a direct appeal to the Melting Pot, which has happened," he said. Trump reached out directly to black voters in a speech about 'law and order' Tuesday in Wisconsin and softened his position on the so-called 'Muslim Ban' in a foreign policy speech on Monday.

Adams also suggests that Trump's decision this week to sideline experienced political operative Paul Manafort in favor of two less experienced advisers could be a set-up for the predicted third act pivot. "Manafort is smart enough to actually be part of an intentional realignment that would make it look like something bigger has changed than it really has," he said. On Wednesday, the Trump campaign hired pollster Kellyanne Conway as its new manager and Breitbart News executive editor Stephen K. Bannon as the campaign “chief executive.” "If the campaign were a movie, the so-called third-act would be marked by Trump shaking up his campaign team so he can be more himself and less scripted," Adams wrote today on his blog.

"The way I would write this movie," Adams said, "is I would have Trump losing because he is taking advice from the professionals.”

"You'll see Trump pretending he is not going to change," Adams predicted. "But suppose he goes off-script and it is nothing but interesting, and he doesn't insult anybody. And what if he over-performs at the first debate? I'd say he's got a good chance at that if he's got Roger Ailes working with him, helping him on the debate."

“That's what makes it a good movie. Movies are about people changing, whether they do in real life or not,” he said.

"It can't be the hurdle of all hurdles unless you also have time running out,” he also said. “Because we imagine that most things can be solved if you have enough time, but it is the time running out that makes it a third-act. And now that you have September coming up pretty quickly, and October --the last two months of a long campaign. If there is a third-act, it would happen in those last two months."

“It is completely rational to say that real life does not act like a movie, because why should it?” he noted. “When real life does act like a movie, which is my prediction, and Trump wins and overcomes these last hurdles, I will explain to you in my blog why it wasn't a coincidence... So if the real life of the Trump story looked like a coincidence to you, keep in mind that I've predicted it for a year, and afterwards I will tell you why it wasn't a coincidence. It will be more fun if I save it until the end.”




Transcript:

SCOTT ADAMS: It is not clear that [Trump] demoted Manafort, because Manafort is smart enough to actually be part of an intentional realignment that would make it look like something bigger has changed than it has. And that could be part of a "Third Act" setup.

Let's say you were writing the movie of Trump's rise. Let's say you're thinking ahead and Trump actually wins in the end. If you're writing that movie, the typical form for the movie is that there is something unexpected that happened that changes somebody's life trajectory -- and that would be when Trump announced he was running for the presidency.

Then there is the Second Act of a movie --it has been called the fun and games part-- and in that you would see your protagonist, your hero in the movie, overcoming a number of smaller hurdles that while you're watching them look like big hurdles, so you don't know that they are overcome-able (you do because it is a movie), but they look like they are bad hurdles.

But it is not until you get to what is called the Third Act, when you realize that all those hurdles you have overcome, such as winning the primary, coming up to at least even in the polls in the general election with Hillary Clinton, at least for a while. It looked like he had crossed all the big hurdles, only to discover there was an even bigger one at the end. The big hurdle. The hurdle of all hurdles!

That's what makes it a movie. So, it can't be the hurdle of all hurdles unless you also have time running out. Because we imagine that most things can be solved if you had enough time, but it is the time running out that makes it a Third Act. And now that you have September coming up pretty quickly, and October --the last two months of a long campaign.

If there is a Third Act, it would happen in those last two months.

"It is interesting but real life doesn't act that way," you might say. It is completely rational to say that real life does not act like a movie, because why should it? What is the causation? What is the reason for that?

When real life does act like a movie, which is my prediction, and Trump wins and overcomes these last hurdles, I will explain to you in my blog why it wasn't a coincidence.

So if the real life of the Trump story looked like a coincidence to you, keep in mind that I've predicted it for a year, and afterwards I will tell you why it wasn't a coincidence. It will be more fun if I save it until the end.

COMMENT: Previously I thought you thought the Third Act started with Megyn Kelly.

ADAMS: You are correct that I was incorrect. Meaning that when you're watching the movie, there are a number of times when it looks like your hero has been thwarted, but he overcomes that hurdle. So movies are a series of hurdles being overcome, that make you start to think to yourself, 'Oh I guess he got by the hurdles,' only to learn that there is a much bigger one at the end.

So I would say the Megyn Kelly thing, in retrospect, in hindsight, looks a lot more like a Second Act, common hurdle. Bigger than you thought he would overcome, because that is what makes it a good movie, but not nearly as big as the one to come. Which is, you've got two months left and you're behind in the polls and people think you're a racist who is unfit for the presidency...

COMMENT: What if it is just another Second Act hurdle?

ADAMS: We'll know all that in retrospect... So there are lots of surprises that could happen still... There could be a Hillary Clinton health revelation, there could be WikiLeaks, there could be a terror attack, but one of the big changes that I've predicted that could make a difference is that Trump would soften his approach and make a direct appeal to the Melting Pot, which has happened. It is not enough on its own, but it is a pretty big change.

What is interesting is, if you were writing this movie... The way I would write this movie is I would have Trump losing because he is taking advice from the professionals, and then when he decides to go rogue in the end, and he is signaling that that is coming, and he decides to go off-script and be his natural, belligerent self -- everyone expects him to explode. That is what makes it a good Third Act. People will say: 'Oh my God, oh my God, this guy can't change!'

But movies are about people changing, whether they do in real life or not.

The idea of the Third Act Problem usually involves a character flaw of your hero. It is something they can't overcome because of who they are as an individual, not just that the world has given them this big problem. But it is a problem that they specifically can't solve because of a character defect. They're afraid of something, they can't forgive, they've been a liar all their life -- until now. It is something about them that is a character flaw. That's what makes it a movie, we like to see people change in some positive way. That's what makes us feel good. Because in the real world we don't see it very often, if ever.

So I think that's what you're going to see. You'll see Trump pretending he is not going to change --that's what makes the action so exciting-- Because when he goes off-script you're thinking, 'No he's off script! He's going to be Trump again! Don't do it, don't do it!'

But suppose he goes off-script and it is nothing but interesting, and he doesn't insult anybody. And what if he over-performs at the first debate?

I'd say he's got a good chance at that if he's got Roger Ailes working on him, helping him on the debate.


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