The age of distributed truth

Apparently, for years, Nora Ephron, who was once married to Carl Bernstein, would openly tell people that Deep Throat was FBI Associate Director Mark Felt. It wasn't that Bernstein told her; she deduced it from clues and shared it with many people around her. It seems no one believed her, so when Felt finally came clean in 2005 it was treated as a big reveal.

Explosive truths that hide in plain sight are especially unusual in this age of the internet, especially with outlets like Deadspin so eager to share every rumor. How is it that incriminating stories can be floating out there for years and not spread like viral memes when headline writers everywhere are weaponizing even the most mundane of news? 

For years, many people in Hollywood knew that Bill Cosby was a sexual criminal, yet it wasn't until 2014 when Hannibal Buress called Bill Cosby a rapist during a stand-up set that suddenly everything began to turn. I've written before that how a message is encoded really matters. Buress took a dark story and turned it into viral video form, and no matter how many hung juries will let Cosby off the hook, his career is effectively over, his reputation forever tarnished beyond repair.

"I've done this bit on stage and people think I'm making it up.... when you leave here, Google 'Bill Cosby rape.' That sh** has more results than 'Hannibal Buress.'"

[I just did, and actually "Hannibal Buress" has now passed "Bill Cosby rape" in Google results. Glass half full?]

Until a week ago, I had never heard of Justin Caldbeck or Binary Capital. In the wake of the revelation that Caldbeck had been sexually harassing women coming to his firm for funding, suddenly multiple stories came to the forefront. Apparently Caldbeck had been well known for his perverse behavior among a subset of people in the tech community. Now, everyone knows him thanks to a story broken by Reed Albergotti in The Information. It's sometimes said that all PR is good PR, but like most such sayings, the qualifier is "except when it isn't."

With Caldbeck having resigned, maybe to never work in this town again, and Binary Capital likely headed for extinction, its brand now toxic, it's worth examining what feels like a distinctly modern ritual, the tipping point when highly localized common knowledge goes wide. It has happened over and over in this internet age, and it's going to happen again.

***

In Rational Ritual, the concise, readable, and seminal text on the subject of common knowledge, it is described this way:

...knowledge of the message is not enough; what is also required is knowledge of others’ knowledge, knowledge of others’ knowledge of others’ knowledge, and so on — that is, “common knowledge.”
 

Before Justin Caldbeck's behavior might have best been described as mutual knowledge: something that lots of people know, but after the story broke in the Information, and once Caldbeck and Binary Capital finally finally acknowledged the issue, his disturbing pattern or harassment became common knowledge, something that not only does everyone in tech know, they also now know that everyone else in tech knows.

In sharing their news on the record with the Information, the brave women Niniane Wang, Susan Ho, and Leiti Hsu created a new world in which you cannot pretend to be ignorant of Caldbeck's behavior. Everyone around him, from his investors to his partners and coworkers to the tech community at large had to choose how to handle the news. Feigning ignorance now is to be explicitly complicit.

Rational Ritual focuses on the role of public ceremony and ritual in creating common knowledge among the public; “rituals and ceremonies are not just “texts” but also publishing processes.”

What we've seen recently in Silicon Valley is the power of the written word to serve as its own form of ritual to create common knowledge in the community. Albergotti's story was one example, but an even more salient example was Susan Fowler's blog post "Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber."

There had been plenty of rumors and stories about the toxic Uber culture before, but many were about the win at all costs nature of the company, and that will always be spun as the inevitable side effect of dogged entrepreneurs doing what's necessary to break through in a market with privileged incumbents and regulatory capture. But as soon as Fowler hit publish on her blog post, as as soon as the story went viral among the tech press, then the mainstream press, spreading around Twitter with the what seemed to approach the speed of light, the entire tech community had a new source of common knowledge with which to grapple. Uber was a company that, from the top on down, forgave sexual harassment and discrimination.

As Kara Swisher notes of Fowler's post:

But post-Fowler, you could not ignore it, because she pulled off what poet Louise Gluck wrote about in her poem, “Circe’s Power”: “I never turned anyone into a pig. Some people are pigs; I make them look like pigs.”
 
Which is to say that Fowler did everyone in tech a public service by doing nothing more than making pigs look like pigs.
 

Fowler wasn't just brave, she was also incredibly wise. With every right to take an indignant tone, she instead maintains a measured, reportorial tone from the start, beginning with the very demure title. Can you imagine what any modern headline writer would've titled her post? Thank god she was able to retain control of her tone and voice from title on down.

In calmly reciting point after point with heroic, reserved prose, she checkmated the company, doing something that countless angry screeds from tech journalists could not do, all of those opening themselves to accusations of partisan naysaying. Fowler simply told her story, and told it straight.

It doesn't take long. In her third paragraph, she writes:

After the first couple of weeks of training, I chose to join the team that worked on my area of expertise, and this is where things started getting weird. On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn't. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn't help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.
 

"Things started getting weird." That's one way to put it, but think of how many other ways she could have said it. It almost sounds naive, but it's clear she knows what's happening, and how in this high stakes game of poker, she has to be the coolest player at the table, lest she, like so many women before her, be labeled some hysteric. Her post is a masterpiece of tone and rhetorical control, and it had to be. No resorting to snark or irony or any number of tricks of the clever; she bore her own witness, and no better witness could an attorney have imagined.

It's also worth noting that she did what every employee training course I've ever taken says you should do, which is to report such incidents to HR. I've met many a kind HR person in my career, but let's be honest about what bad advice this is for employees. It's not just that Uber's HR department let Fowler down; in every company I've ever been at, HR reports into the CEO, and their job is to protect the company. I hope my readers will provide me with examples of HR protecting employee's interests in such cases, but from what I've seen and read, the moment you report an incident to HR they start building a dossier on you and a case to defend the company in court. Their work will be in that courtroom with you, but it will be on the desk of the company's attorneys, not yours. As many an employment lawyer has told me, before you talk to HR, you should talk to one of them. Until we have some independent, ombudsman-like HR group looking out for employees in the tech world, that would be my advice, too.

HR failed Fowler, but she took matters into her own hand. Her post said, “This happened. This happened. Look on the works of these mighty, and despair.”

Those in power are not stupid. They know the power of common knowledge in solving the coordination problem among those who'd oppose them. The first thing oppressive regimes facing rebels at the gates will do is cut off public communication channels like television, radio, and social media. If the opposition cannot communicate with each other, they do not know how many others will stand with them if they march on those in power, weakening their resolve.

The tech equivalent is the non-disparagement agreement. Stitch Fix founder Katrina Lake had reported to Lightspeed Venture Partners years ago that she'd been harassed by Caldbeck, and in response the VC firm had Lake sign a non-disparagement agreement, a copy of which is now online. Lightspeed could have blocked a Benchmark investment in her company, and so she signed it.

While such agreements can cut both ways, in almost every case, preserving information asymmetry is a tactic for those in power to stay there. There's a reason that airlines have rules trying to prohibit passengers from filming personnel and other passengers on flights.

I have no idea whether Fowler had to sign a non-disparagement clause when she joined Uber, and it may be that United Airlines policies prohibited the type of video that passengers shot of security guards dragging an elderly man off a flight like a sack of produce, but even if so, the history of the world is testament that justice sometimes requires a bit of civil disobedience. Or, as the kids these days call it, a bit of disruption.

***

In many stories that have been written since the original story about Justin Caldbeck broke, it seems that his behavior wasn't exactly a well-kept secret, but the fact that it hadn't seemed to have hurt him until last week is another reason Wang, Ho, and Hsu had to show real courage in going on the record. When such behavior seems to be generally forgiven among a community, one can't be certain of what the punishment for speaking out will be. It's not just the structural leverage of VC's over entrepreneurs, it's the chilling sense of feeling like an outsider trapped in enemy territory, playing a game that has been rigged against you, only you're not sure who is in on it. If you start a war, from which there is no return, who will stand with you?

This is the type of coordination problem that common knowledge is supposed to solve, but one only need study the historical treatment of women who speak out against those who harass them on Twitter or those who've sexually assaulted them to understand why so many are reluctant to do so. The personal cost, and victory is far from assured.

Ask the black community, who have actual video of police gunning them down for no reason other than prejudicial fear, how that's worked out with them. I wrote that in the wake of the Philando Castile case that soon black drivers would have dash cams turned in towards their vehicles, recording every traffic stop in full. Only a short while later the actual dash cam footage from the police vehicle involved in the Castile case was released publicly. Combined with the Facebook Live video, the evidence seemed as strong as it could be.

We need look no further than the highest office in the land to see that common knowledge often isn't enough. When the audio of Billy Bush and Donald Trump laughing it up on the bus broke, I thought for sure that would be the incident to sink him. For once, Trump had been caught on tape, when the press and public weren't in the room to serve as an explicit audience. The tape could be entered into evidence as common knowledge for the public. Then there was video of Trump mocking a disabled reporter.

And on and on and on. Trump has laid so much rope by which the public could have hung him that his feet ended up back on the ground. He is the troll who thumbs his nose at the two intellectually neutered political parties, realizing they have neither the will nor the ideas to do anything as he and his family laugh their way to the bank. In literature, the court jester is often the wisest fool in the room, but sometimes an idiot is just an idiot. If the gloves do not fit, you must acquit. Who will ever forget? What's depressing about Trump is how he seems to be an exemplar of the variant: the gloves do fit, but you can't do shit.

Still, that Trump's personal failings could be common knowledge and yet not disqualify him from consideration from the Presidency is not an indictment of common knowledge but instead speaks to just how dire the economic situation is for too many in this country. Listen to most Trump supporters and they'll acknowledge his faults. That fact that the Caldbeck case sunk a VC firm and the Susan Fowler post kicked one of the most powerful companies in tech into choppy water give hope that internet has created a new form of public ritual by which to establish common knowledge of injustice. The pen can be mightier than the sword.

I'm no expert on blockchain technology, but one of its more elegant properties is that the truth, the common knowledge, if you will, is distributed, not owned by any one entity. When the accusations against Caldbeck went public, he and Binary Capital both denied the allegations in the strongest terms.

In the blockchain, computational algorithms ensure that the truth wins out and is irreversible. Like a sort of human blockchain, Niniane Wang, Susan Ho, Leiti Hsu, and three other women came out all at once, in solidarity, backed by the reporting of The Information, and neutered the predictable Caldbeck and Binary Capital denials as the reflexive bullshit that they were. In the public ledger, the word of these women became the truth.

The internet gave everyone a megaphone, and these days that can feel like that Chinese proverb, you know the one. Perhaps the truth was better kept in the hands of a limited set of responsible stewards, but that age of the expert has passed, and that system had its own issues. As every Death Star reminds us each time they're blown up, concentrating power in a small area has its own unique vulnerability.

We live in the age of distributed truth, and it's an environment in which fake news can spread like mold when in viral form. But the same applies to the truth, and if there's one lesson on how to do your part in an age of distributed truth, it's to speak the truth and to support those who do. It may be exhausting work—is it really necessary to point out the emperor is buck naked?—but it's the best we can do for now. In this age, the silent majority is no majority at all.

Globalization and its discontents

Among the structural cracks in contemporary societies in which Trumpism flourishes is a rapidly growing cleavage between cities and their deindustrialized, more or less rural, hinterland. Cities are the growth pole of postindustrial societies. They are international, cosmopolitan, and politically pro-immigration, in part because their success in global competition depends on their ability to attract talent from all over the world. Cities also require a supply of low-skilled and low-paid service workers, who clean offices, provide for security, prepare meals in restaurants, deliver parcels, and take care of the children of dual career families.21 The white middle class can no longer afford ever-rising urban rents; they find themselves living in growing communities of immigrants, or they leave and move to the small-town provinces.
Geographical separation has deeply divisive cultural and political consequences. Urban elites can easily imagine themselves moving from one global city to another; moving from New York to Ames, Iowa is another matter. National borders are less salient to urban elites than the informal borders between urban and rural communities. As urban labor markets turn global, job applicants from the national hinterlands must compete with talent from all over the world. Globalization creates an incentive for governments and employers not to invest too much in education. Why bother? They can always poach skilled labor from other countries. This is how the United States combines one of the worst school systems in the world with the world’s best universities and research centers.
 
There is an almost insuperable cultural barrier between the city and the country, something long known to city and country dwellers alike. City dwellers develop a multicultural, cosmopolitan outlook. As their values converge on their interests, what used to be social liberalism edges into free-market liberalism. Seen from the perspective of the provinces, of course, elite cosmopolitanism serves the material interests of a new class of global winners. Mutual contempt is reinforced by self-imposed isolation, both sides speaking only to and within their camps, one through the media, located in the cities, the other through self-constructed private internet channels.
 

Wolfang Streck on Trump and the Trumpists (he defines Trumpism as a particular strain of populism).

The primacy of the urban/rural divide resonates. Whenever I chat with friends about where they might move if they left their current home, it's always a list of what most would consider a list of the world's leading urban centers—New York, Tokyo, London, Sydney, Berlin, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Paris, to name the most commonly cited—and rarely the rural regions of the United States, despite the lower cost of living and other potential benefits.

We see how hard it is even for a large company to put the global maximum above the local maximums of various fiefdoms within the corporate hierarchy, it's not surprising that the same problem exists when trying to elevate globalization above nationalism. It's easier to hold to high minded principles of globalization, especially the free movement of labor, when the existing system seems to be working well for you.

On the difference between class and status:

Almost a century ago, Max Weber drew a distinction between class and status.12 Classes are constituted by the market; status groups by a particular way of life and a specific claim to social respect. Status groups are home-grown social communities; classes become classes only through organization. The Trumpist electoral machine mobilizes its supporters as a status group. It appeals to their shared sense of honor more than to their material interests.13 In this, Trumpism follows New Labour and New Democrat neo-liberalism, which deleted class from their political vocabulary. In its stead, they redefined the struggle for social equality as one over identity, that is, over the symbolic recognition and collective dignity of an indefinite number of ever narrower status groups. Neoliberalism had failed to anticipate that the discovery by experts and politicians of ever new minorities may make the demobilized working class feel abandoned in favor of special interests. Their discovery and celebration inevitably demoted the interests of the working class. As the United States was transformed into a polity of status groups, the working class lost its sense of identification with the country as a whole, if only because it is this class, reduced to one identity and interest among others, that is now blamed for a rich variety of social malignancies, from racism and sexism to gun violence and educational and industrial decline.14
 

In many ways, Barack Obama was a unicorn whose election misled the Democratic Party into thinking they had some demographic mandate to push Hillary through. Obama and Trump share one quality (likely the only one), they symbolized change for their supporters. Hillary never clarified what she stood for, but for many she stood for the opposite, a career politician born from and deeply embedded in the status quo. For enough people, that is no longer tenable.

Twilight of the liberal world order?

The system has depended, however, on will, capacity, and coherence at the heart of the liberal world order. The United States had to be willing and able to play its part as the principal guarantor of the order, especially in the military and strategic realm. The order’s ideological and economic core order—the democracies of Europe and East Asia and the Pacific—had to remain relatively healthy and relatively confident. In such circumstances, the combined political, economic, and military power of the liberal world would be too great to be seriously challenged by the great powers, much less by the smaller dissatisfied powers.
 
In recent years, however, the liberal order has begun to weaken and fracture at the core. As a result of many related factors—difficult economic conditions, the recrudescence of nationalism and tribalism, weak and uncertain political leadership and unresponsive mainstream political parties, a new era of communications that seems to strengthen rather than weaken tribalism—there has emerged a crisis of confidence in what might be called the liberal enlightenment project. That project tended to elevate universal principles of individual rights and common humanity over ethnic, racial, religious, national, or tribal differences. It looked to a growing economic interdependence to create common interests across boundaries and the establishment of international institutions to smooth differences and facilitate cooperation among nations. Instead, the past decade has seen the rise of tribalism and nationalism; an increasing focus on the “other” in all societies; and a loss of confidence in government, in the capitalist system, and in democracy. We have been witnessing something like the opposite of the “end of history” but have returned to history with a vengeance, rediscovering all the darker aspects of the human soul. That includes, for many, the perennial human yearning for a strong leader to provide firm guidance in a time of seeming breakdown and incoherence.
 
This crisis of the enlightenment project may have been inevitable. It may indeed have been cyclical, due to inherent flaws in both capitalism and democracy, which periodically have been exposed and have raised doubts about both—as happened, for instance, throughout the West in the 1930s. Now, as then, moreover, this crisis of confidence in liberalism coincides with a breakdown of the strategic order. In this case, however, the key variable has not been the United States as the outside power and its willingness, or not, to step in and save or remake an order lost by other powers. Rather it is the United States’ own willingness to continue upholding the order that it created and which depends entirely on American power.
 

Sobering, from this Brookings Institution piece.

I don't know enough about history as a subject to judge the prognostication of historians and think tanks like Brookings. How to assess political realism as an explanatory theory? Perhaps some readers have a better sense of its predictive power.

All of it can seem like macroeconomics, maddeningly theoretical and imprecise. And yet the best of it has the appeal of strong narrative, which we humans love so much. It's too bad the story here, which seems quite plausible, is so bleak.

There is no stable balance of power in Europe or Asia without the United States. And while we can talk about soft power and smart power, they have been and always will be of limited value when confronting raw military power. Despite all of the loose talk of American decline, it is in the military realm where U.S. advantages remain clearest. Even in other great powers’ backyards, the United States retains the capacity, along with its powerful allies, to deter challenges to the security order. But without a U.S. willingness to use military power to establish balance in far-flung regions of the world, the system will buckle under the unrestrained military competition of regional powers.
 
If history is any guide, the next four years are the critical inflection point. The rest of the world will take its cue from the early actions of the new administration. If the next president governs as he ran, which is to say if he pursues a course designed to secure only America’s narrow interests; focuses chiefly on international terrorism—the least of the challenges to the present world order; accommodates the ambitions of the great powers; ceases to regard international economic policy in terms of global order but only in terms of America’s bottom line narrowly construed; and generally ceases to place a high priority on reassuring allies and partners in the world’s principal strategic theaters—then the collapse of the world order, with all that entails, may not be far off.

The expanding Overton window

The ‘Overton window’ is a term from political science meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment. It was the creation of Joseph Overton, a think-tank intellectual based in Michigan, who died in 2003 at 43 after a solo plane accident. His crucial insight, one which both emerged from and was central to the work of the think tank Right, was that the window of acceptability can be moved. An idea can start far outside the political mainstream – flat taxes, abolish the IRS, more guns in schools, building a beautiful wall and making Mexico pay – but once it has been stated and argued for, framed and restated, it becomes thinkable. It crosses over from the fringe of right-wing think-tankery to journalistic fellow-travellers; then it crosses over to the fringe of electoral politics; then it becomes a thing people start seriously advocating as a possible policy. The window has moved, and rough beasts come slouching through it to be born.
 

John Lanchester on the roots of Brexit, emphasis mine. The echoes in the rise of Trump in the U.S. are hard to miss.

Kipling asked a good question: ‘What do they know of England who only England know?’ But there’s a variation which, today, might be more relevant: ‘What do they know of the UK who only London know?’ The answer to both questions turns out to be the same: ‘Not nearly enough.’ England is so small, geographically, that it is easy to forget that it is also surprisingly big. There is no rich country of equivalent size that is more densely populated. The only country which has both more people than England and more people per square kilometre is Bangladesh. What this means, experientially, is that there is a kind of denseness to England and to Englishness; England is both very similar to itself and significantly different when you move ten miles down the road.
 

Related: this Clay Shirky Tweetstorm to his white liberal friends. Forget the internet filter bubble, if it even exists. Far more dangerous is the geographic filter bubble.

When geography is destiny, inequality is a given, but in certain countries the effect has amplified.

To be born in many places in Britain is to suffer an irreversible lifelong defeat – a truncation of opportunity, of education, of access to power, of life expectancy. The people who grow up in these places come from a cultural background which equipped them for reasonably well-paid manual labour, un- and semi- and skilled. Children left school as soon as they could and went to work in the same industries that had employed their parents. The academically able kids used to go to grammar school and be educated into the middle class. All that has now gone, the jobs and the grammar schools, and the vista instead is a landscape where there is often work – there are pockets of unemployment, but in general there’s no shortage of jobs and the labour force participation rate is the highest it has ever been, a full 15 points higher than in the US – but it’s unsatisfying, insecure and low-paid. This new work doesn’t do what the old work did: it doesn’t offer a sense of identity or community or self-worth. The word ‘precarious’ has as its underlying sense ‘depending on the favour of another person’. Somebody can take away the things you have whenever they feel like it. The precariat, as the new class is called, might not know the etymology, but it doesn’t need to: the reality is all too familiar.
 

This is amazing:

The white working class is correct to feel abandoned: it has been. No political party has anything to offer it except varying levels of benefits. The people in the rich parts of the country pay the taxes which support the poor parts. If I had to pick a single fact which has played no role in political discourse but which sums up the current position of the UK, it would be that most people in the UK receive more from the state, in direct cash transfers and in benefits such as health and education, than they contribute to it. The numbers are eerily similar to the referendum outcome: 48 per cent net contributors, 52 per cent net recipients. It’s a system bitterly resented both by the beneficiaries and by the suppliers of the largesse.
 

So much of communicating well is knowing your audience. Some of this is selection bias, of course, but Trump is the last man standing in the GOP because he is the voice of some large segment of America. When he preens and smirks, punctuating his misogyny and racism with finger jabs and thumbs up gestures, he wraps his hands around the id of the angry white working class and squeezes, like a cardiac surgeon pumping a human heart.

Electing one person, or three thousand?

Interview with the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens:

And if you’re obliged to make the choice upon pondering that, who would the choice be?

BS: Well, you’re asking me the same question twice. My answer is the same. The only person who counts in the administration is the president of the United States, Hugh. That’s the only person who counts. When George W. Bush decided to save the American position in Iraq by going against the advice of all of his wise men, of Jim Baker and the whole Iraq Study Group, and 90% of his administration, that was George W. Bush’s decision. So we have to bear in mind that this isn’t an administration we’re electing. It’s a person that we are electing. Who knows better than you what it means to have a commander-in-chief who lived his entire life, who lived throughout the entire Cold War, and doesn’t know what the nuclear triad is? It’s absolutely astonishing. And so it’s terrific to have Joe Dunford and you know, perhaps John Bolton and other people in positions of trust. But you have to have a president who bothered over the last 70 years to gain a cursory understanding of how the world works. And on so many issues, Hugh, on so many issues, I know not all of the issue, but on so many issues, this guy is just the antithesis of what I’d want a Republican president to be on foreign policy. When it comes to trade, when it comes to standing up to countries like North Korea, when it comes to standing up to guys like Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump is not a conservative. If you put…

HH: Bret, you don’t have to, I agree with you on all of that. I know the critique. Nevertheless, what about my argument that civilians owe people who are fighting the war the best of the two candidates for commander-in-chief. We don’t have the option to be conscientious objectors in the one part of the war that is part of our job, which is to pick a commander-in-chief.

BS: Listen, I think that for the United States, Hillary Clinton, as awful as I find her, is a survivable event. I’m not so sure about Donald Trump.
 

I've nothing to add here on Trump, but the idea of whether you're electing 3,000 people or 1 is a relevant question here as it is elsewhere (think about hiring a director, electing a CEO, etc.). Also worth asking if you're trying to hire the 1 person or one of the 3,000.

Trump vs. a Japanese whale

The story of Akio Kashiwagi, drawn from Trump’s memoirs and news accounts from the day, offers a revealing window into Trump’s instincts. It shows that Trump isn’t just a one-time casino owner—he’s also a gambler, prone to impulsive, even reckless action. In The Art of the Comeback, published in 1997, Trump explains that until he met Kashiwagi, he saw himself as an investor who dealt only in facts and reason. But his duel with the great whale in action made him realize “that I had become a gambler, something I never thought I was.”
 
Perhaps just as important, when gambling failed him, Trump didn't quit: He doubled down. But he did it shrewdly, summoning a RAND Corporation mathematician to devise a plan that would maximize his chance of fleecing his Japanese guest.
 
And it worked. Kind of. In Trump’s recollection, which he shared for this story, his showdown with Kashiwagi was another one of his many great wins. Just don’t look too hard at the ledger.
 

A bizarre and nutty tale of the time Donald Trump hired a RAND Corp mathematician to try to win back money a Japanese gambler took from one of his hotels in a hot night of Baccarat.

Before reading the piece, I thought perhaps they had changed the rules of the game somehow to raise the house edge. But no, they just changed the terms under which Kahiwagi to play, counting on the house edge to manifest over the long run.

Behind the trademark bluster, however, Trump grew more calculated. Having looked in the mirror and seen a gambler, he reverted to careful strategy. Trump consulted Jess Marcum, a mathematical probabilities expert who co-founded the Rand Corporation—a government-affiliated think tank then better known for modeling nuclear war with the Soviet Union—on how to maximize his odds in a second showdown with Kashiwagi. Marcum knew the only way to compensate for the house’s very slight baccarat advantage, of just over one percent, was to keep the game going for as long as possible. Time was on Trump’s side.
 
So Marcum and an Atlantic City casino insider named Al Glasgow prepared a report for Trump proposing a “freeze out” agreement. Under the deal, Kashiwagi would bring $12 million to the table and play until he had either doubled it—or lost everything. Even with huge bets, that would take a long time. Marcum simulated the match in detailed hand written notes. Kashiwagi might surge ahead early, he estimated, but after 75 hours at the table – far longer than he had stayed the first time - his chances of winning would fall to 15 percent. The key was to prevent a repeat of Kashiwagi’s first visit, when he had walked out while ahead.
 
Kashiwagi, presumably fuzzier on the probabilities, agreed to the terms. There was no legal way to hold him to such a deal but Trump felt the men were honor-bound. “Gamblers are honorable, in their own way—at least about gambling,” he later wrote.
 

The peculiar thing about Trump is that, as offended as I am but so many of the things he says, I'm not convinced he actually believes half the things he spews with such gusto. Yes, he's a politician, and they're always churning out rhetoric for reasons of positioning, but Trump exceeds even other politicians in his commitment to artifice.

Because of that, when he says something I disagree with, I'm more offended by the casual way he tosses around such damaging ideas than the ideas themselves, and when he says something I agree with—which is, admittedly, rare—I don't give him much credit.

He needs no exaggeration to be rendered a caricature, because he has done it himself, both figuratively and literally, like one of those figures in Pinocchio who becomes the physical embodiment of its own hubris. If you were a cartoonist on assignment to lampoon him, you could just snap a photo and collect a full day's pay.

Trump

For example, when Trump says he is worth $10 billion, which causes his critics to say he is worth far less (but still billions) he is making all of us “think past the sale.” The sale he wants to make is “Remember that Donald Trump is a successful business person managing a vast empire mostly of his own making.” The exact amount of his wealth is irrelevant. 
 
When a car salesperson trained in persuasion asks if you prefer the red Honda Civic or the Blue one, that is a trick called making you “think past the sale” and the idea is to make you engage on the question of color as if you have already decided to buy the car. That is Persuasion 101 and I have seen no one in the media point it out when Trump does it.
 
The $10 billion estimate Trump uses for his own net worth is also an “anchor” in your mind. That’s another classic negotiation/persuasion method. I remember the $10 billion estimate because it is big and round and a bit outrageous. And he keeps repeating it because repetition is persuasion too. 
 
I don’t remember the smaller estimates of Trump’s wealth that critics provided. But I certainly remember the $10 billion estimate from Trump himself. Thanks to this disparity in my memory, my mind automatically floats toward Trump’s anchor of $10 billion being my reality. That is classic persuasion. And I would be amazed if any of this is an accident. Remember, Trump literally wrote the book on this stuff.
 

From Scott Adams (yes, of Dilbert fame) on the clown genius Donald Trump and how he's quite cleverly using verbal jiu-jitsu to turn his critics' attacks to his favor. A Republican card of Trump and Mark Cuban would be like something out of a satire novel and cause the media to swallow itself. Adams think it would win the election.

James Surowiecki on Trump and why he's won over working-class Republican voters:

Working-class voters face stagnant wages and diminished job prospects, and a 2014 poll found that seventy-four per cent of them think “the U.S. economic system generally favors the wealthy.” Why on earth would they support a billionaire?
 
Part of the answer is Trump’s nativist and populist rhetoric. But his wealth is giving him a boost, too. The Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, who’s published reams of work on white working-class attitudes, told me, “There is no bigger problem for these voters than the corruption of the political system. They think big companies are buying influence, while average people are blocked out.” Trump’s riches allow him to portray himself as someone who can’t be bought, and his competitors as slaves to their donors. (Ross Perot pioneered this tactic during the 1992 campaign.) “I don’t give a shit about lobbyists,” Trump proclaimed at an event in May. And his willingness to talk about issues that other candidates are shying away from, like immigration and trade, reinforces the message that money makes him free.
 
Trump has also succeeded in presenting himself as a self-made man, who has flourished thanks to deal-making savvy. In fact, Trump was born into money, and his first great real-estate success—the transformation of New York’s Commodore Hotel into the Grand Hyatt—was enabled by a tax abatement worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet many voters see Trump as someone who embodies the American dream of making your own fortune. And that dream remains surprisingly potent: in a 2011 Pew survey, hard work and personal drive (not luck or family connections) were the factors respondents cited most frequently to explain why people got ahead. Even Trump’s unabashed revelling in his wealth works to his benefit, since it makes him seem like an ordinary guy who can’t get over how cool it is to be rich.