Cartoonist Scott Adams originated, and briefly wrote one of the best comic strips in the United States, Dilbert. Today, twenty-five years later, he continues to write it, but it’s far from one of the best. In the early days, it was an escape from Adams’ day job as an engineer, and its often whimsical flights of fancy were like a breath of fresh air in a climate-controlled cubical. After leaving his office job, however, Adams began crowd-sourcing the misery, and the strip’s quality rapidly declined. Relying on “WTF” corporate moments submitted by fans, the strip eliminated its less popular but more creative departures from the office location, and settled into a lucrative afterlife as a workplace-themed gag-a-day daily in the mode of fellow cash-cows Garfield and Marvin.
Back in the early days, I was briefly a member of the Dilbert fanclub, “Dogbert’s New Ruling Class,” but I quickly dropped out after realizing Adams himself was a wannabe Dogbert with dramatically less charm. And that was the last time I read Adams work in his own voice –until recently, when his blog emerged as a leading predictor of Donald Trump’s success in the Republican Primary.
Adams’ widely-viewed series of blog posts predicts electoral success for Trump on the basis of his putative status as a “Master Persuader,” who successfully bypasses logic and facticity in favor of neuro-linguistic programming style mass brainwashing –excuse me, persuasion. The magic certainly seems to have worked on Adams himself, who, while ostensibly supporting Clinton, appears throughout the series to be continually deploying painfully clumsy persuasion techniques against her, perhaps in support of protecting his newly won status as a insightful contrarian prophet. Or, more likely his only real goal is to ride Trump’s tidal wave of publicity to increased visibility for himself and his own new book (and damn the consequences). If so… well played Mr. Adams.
One sign Trump himself may be taking him seriously comes courtesy one of Adams’ more interesting predictions –that Trump can counter the widespread portrait of himself as a rabid racist by making a direct appeal for black American support. In recent days, Trump has in fact done so, repeatedly, albeit in such a jarringly tone-deaf manner –characterizing all black Americans as hopelessly mired in poverty, and desperately in need of more policing –that he makes Romney’s attempt to establish black credentials by shouting “Who let the dogs out?!” seem positively enlightened in contrast.
If, as some have speculated, Trump doesn’t care about his perception among actual black Americans, and is merely trying to rehabilitate his racial reputation among queasy white Republicans, perhaps this is enough to turn the trick. But if his aim is to actually improve his standing in the black community, then I contend –in opposition to Adams’ belief that persuasion is everything –that Trump could deliver a speech penned by Dr. Cornel West himself, and barely move the needle. The reason is the okey-doke.
Many people were first introduced to this term when then-candidate Obama used it during the 2008 primaries, or when he used it again recently in reference to the Republican agenda. As many have speculated, it’s coded speech aimed directly at a black audience, but I’ll be glad to here explain it openly and directly:
The term is a parodic reference to the characteristic Midwestern phrase “okey-dokey,” itself a jocular varient of the word “okay,” meaning everything is great. “The okey-doke” is when people smile at you, and make overtures of friendship, and assure you all things are fine, and that they have all your best interests in mind; when the real truth is the exact opposite. To fall for the “okey-doke” is to believe that someone wants to be your friend when he is really just biding his time waiting to betray or exploit you –or is in fact already doing so.
The truth is that the black community has fallen for –or at the least been exposed to –the okey-doke so many times, that the community as a whole has built up a certain level of resistence to persuasion, even as delivered by a master. Even if the media has already forgotten, we still remember Trump started his career discriminating against black people in his housing, and throwing us out of his casino. We still remember his race-baiting vigilantism in the case of the Central Park Jogger. We certainly haven’t forgot his weakly disavowed endorsement from Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. Above all, we know that when someone begins his political career with a promise to deport all Mexicans, and follows up with a call for banning all Muslims, it’s only a matter of time before he works his way around to some sort of final solution for the “black problem” as well. For all those reasons, and despite “friends” like Dennis Rodman and Omarosa, or endorsements from Dr. Ben Carson and a host of prosperity-preaching pastors, Trump isn’t going to get much beyond his current 1% black support, no matter how many persuasive speeches he makes.
Can it be said, however, that the Clintons, Bill and Hillary, are peddling nothing but a more sophisticated version of the okey-doke? Can it be said they’ve done little enough to deserve their startlingly high level of support in the black community? Indeed, there is a case to be made along those lines. However, if Bill is the white classmate obsessed with black culture, but who occasionally lets the “n” word slip, and if Hillary is his overly earnest girlfriend, who doesn’t understand his love of rap, but goes along with it anyway, then Trump is the rich kid who demands your vote for student council even though he spat in your face in the cafeteria just a few days ago. The one who treats everyone, everyone like crap, but gets away with it, because his parents have a private pool and are never home. The one who thinks he can buy your vote for pennies on the dollar, at the small auxiliary cost of your self-respect and personal integrity.
America, don’t fall for the okey-doke.