The Magical Thinking Opposition - Scott Adams' Blog

The Magical Thinking Opposition

My hypothesis is that the political side that is out of power is the one that hallucinates the most — and needs to — in order to keep their worldview intact. For example, when President Obama was in office, I saw all kinds of hallucinations on the right about his intentions to destroy America from the inside because he “hates” it.

That was a mass hysteria. If President Obama wanted to destroy America, he failed miserably. We’re stronger than ever.

The birther issue started as ordinary political shenanigans to delegitimize the president. I call it ordinary because you see the trick used whenever it is an option, as it was with “Canadian” Ted Cruz in the primaries. Eventually it morphed into a full-blown hallucination that President Obama was a Muslim sleeper cell from Kenya, or something like that. That was mass hysteria.

Now that Democrats are out of power, we should expect them to hallucinate like crazy (literally) because the election results of 2016 shattered their expectations. Do we see signs of their hallucinations? I’ll walk you through a few examples.


Based on President Trump’s tweets and speeches, I can see into his soul, and it is all darkness and racism in there.


If the President of the United States tries anything racist in the real world, the Supreme Court, Congress, and the voters would shut him down in a heartbeat. For example, the Courts modified President Trump’s immigration ban to remove even the perception of racism. That’s a sensitive filter for racism, and I think we like it that way.

Society’s standard is that you are judged for what you do, not what you privately think. That’s good because humans are terrible at knowing what other people think, while at the same time we think we are good at it. I know this first-hand because dozens of people misinterpret what I write on social media every day. If you don’t have my type of experience  — of being routinely misinterpreted — you might think humans are good at reading minds based on subtle clues. We are not good at that. We might be slightly better than random chance, at best. The problem is that we are dead-certain we are champions of evidence-based mindreading. That is a hallucination.


I can spot a racist by how long it takes them to properly disavow other racists.


That isn’t a thing. The first rule of communicating is that people only hear what they think you intend to say. They don’t hear what you actually say. If you think someone is a racist, you will perceive their disavowals of racism as too late and too inadequate. If you think someone is not a racist, you might see their statements as politically incorrect and nothing worse. This phenomenon is most pronounced when strong emotions are involved. The topic of racism stirs our strongest emotions. So according to everything we know about brains, we should expect the highest level of hallucinations when racism is the topic. And that is exactly what we observe.

To be clear, racism itself is very real. The hallucination is limited to seeing it under every bed and behind every couch.


The president has accomplished nothing!


The president has accomplished a long list of things.

That said, we are 13% into President Trump’s first term, and Congress has created no major bills worthy of signing. Congress is tasked with working out the details of bills. The president can’t do his job until they do theirs.

We observe that the president has not shown leadership on any major legislation. But keep in mind that Congress produced nothing worthy of leadership. Would any leader be able to fix that? Yes, but I assume it takes longer than simply signing bills that come to your desk. Especially in this hyper-polarized environment.


President Trump is performing poorly!


Compared to what? The imaginary president in your head? There is no base case with which to compare any president’s performance. Would Hillary Clinton have passed major legislation with a Republican Congress in less than six months? It seems unlikely. But we can’t know because she isn’t president.

We are terrible at judging how well a stranger performs compared to the imaginary person in our minds. We just think we are good at it.


If you thought some “fine people” were marching with Nazis and KKK in Charlottesville, you are a racist.


I condemn all racists and anyone who marches with them. But It turns out that some non-racists were at the event to support the absolute right of free speech, including the worst kinds of speech. In this one case, President Trump passed the fact-checking but failed miserably on the “saying the right thing” dimension.

He wisely left the facts alone after failing on the empathy.


This country needs moral leadership and we are not getting it!


The country does not need moral leadership in 2017. Social media has filled that void. The country is unified (let’s say 98%) in condemning the KKK and other racists in Charlottesville. We did that without moral leadership. We want moral leadership, but there is no evidence we need it.

We would also like to know our president has the right intentions. But hallucinations on that topic are nearly unfixable. Obama never fixed it. Trump will not either.


The way you worded your statement, you made a moral equivalence between the KKK and people protesting the KKK.


Literally no one but the KKK and other extreme racists has any trouble understanding that Nazis are worse than the people protesting against hate. It is a hallucination (or political tricksterism) to suggest normal citizens can’t distinguish the moral difference between Nazis and those demonstrating against racism.

I could go on, but I think you are starting to see the picture. The party out of power has to hallucinate to make their world make sense. The people who think they are smart and morally pure don’t understand why their side lost an election. The simplest fix for that broken worldview is to imagine there are far more “secret racists” than they first assumed, and those people can be identified by the way they accidentally reveal their “moral equivalence” opinions that look exactly like law-and-order opinions to others.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Cognitive dissonance hits the losing team hardest. It has to, because only the losing side need to make sense of it all. The winning side thinks things are going exactly as expected. They have no trigger for hallucinating.

If our next president is a Democrat, expect the Right to do most of the hallucinating. The Left will think things are going as expected.


Update: If you are still confident you can read President Trump’s inner thoughts because of the clear pattern of racist acts he has committed, see if this article about the Central Park 5 shakes your confidence in what you thought you knew.

Remember, President Trump is not the only person good at persuasion. The opposition is running on all cylinders.

I wrote some books you might enjoy because you love books you enjoy.