The Art of Persuasion In the Age of Trump

01/05/2016 12:34 pm ET Updated Jan 04, 2017

Even though Donald Trump wrote The Art of the Deal and frequently flaunts his entrepreneurial, branding and management skills as qualifications to run the country, very few people have caught on that he's using familiar negotiating techniques in his presidential campaign. Maybe the most obvious example is the magnate-cum-candidate's call to deport 11 million immigrants, the political equivalent of making an outlandish demand in a business proposal that one doesn't really expect to be met. Asking capitalists for way more than is needed might raise eyebrows, but it doesn't generally provoke the sort of outrage Trump's so-called immigration policy has evinced among Americans. A typical response to an aggressive opening volley in the world of commerce is to simply make a counteroffer. Which usually leads to more back-and-forth, and ultimately a deal that works for all parties.

Trump is making up his own rules if not his own game, and many Americans just aren't ready for a salesman's posturing to be applied so crassly to the political arena. But unless he's eliminated from the race sooner rather than later, look for Trump in the coming months to unveil a creative yet realistic immigration policy that everyone can live with. If he fails to transition from alarmism to pragmatism by Election Day, it will expose a profoundly flawed marketing strategy, and it will then be time to declare the emperor has no clothes. Not yet, though. It's fair to call Trump a carnival barker, but he's also an accomplished storyteller and master of mass communication. Stories have arcs, and they take a while to be told. Consider this possibility: Trump's timing is better than yours.

Consider also, as if it were a negotiating position or film narrative, the Second Amendment argument made by Dorothy Samuels in the #4 most popular story on BillMoyers.com in 2015 (originally published by The Nation). Samuels was a member of The New York Times editorial board for 31 years, and is now a senior fellow at NYU's Brennan Center for Justice. She denies the right to bear arms applies to individuals, and insists the Supreme Court's 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller is the product of rightwing bias that came about as a result of the National Rifle Association (NRA) "winning over...the conservative justices." Samuels not-too-subtly characterizes the Court's opinion as "radical," "appalling," "judicial activism" (natch) and "an epic feat of jurisprudential magic." Her tall talk is as disconnected from reality as Trump's immigration rhetoric.

Actually, the Court was influenced by renowned liberal law professors - including Laurence Tribe, arguably the nation's preeminent constitutional scholar - and the Heller lawsuit was filed by then small-fry attorneys who regarded the NRA as interlopers more than allies. If Samuels were deploying conventional negotiating tactics, she would follow up the false premise she initially floated with a more reasonable position that at least concedes the meaning of the Second Amendment is debatable. After all, the ambiguity of "a well regulated militia" is the very reason its interpretation is so controversial. But according to Samuels, it's obvious the amendment's drafters didn't believe firearms should be used in defense of one's home, and the legal experts who concluded otherwise are outliers who lack credibility and deserve no mention.

Just as Trump will have failed if he doesn't eventually espouse a truly viable immigration policy, people like Samuels must at some point stop pretending the majority opinion in Heller is judicial malpractice. How is it fair to impugn conservative justices whose reasoning is in alignment with well-respected liberal jurists? Moreover, millions of Americans believe they are constitutionally entitled to own guns, and that using deadly force in self-defense is sometimes necessary. Because they're up against so many people who already have what they want, gun control advocates have a greater need to engage their ideological opponents than vice versa. It's self-defeating to dismiss gun rights advocates as incorrigible nuts, because if they're perpetually brushed off, they will inevitably walk away from the "bargaining table" in disgust - and acquire more weapons.

Any good storyteller knows the audience won't be satisfied unless the protagonists' problems are resolved. It appears Samuels is bent on alienating gun owners by clinging to a trite myth that is more likely to prolong cultural stagnation than lead to a resolution. Trump seems to be fostering similar estrangement with other segments of the population, but his story is a much fresher work in progress, and his background suggests he has a more strategic game plan in mind. One needn't endorse his methodology to recognize its usefulness as a frame of reference that helps us understand how influence is brought to bear in America. Second Amendment discourse is only one such comparison. You could likewise consider almost any issue of the day.

This post was originally published by The Norman Report.