Trump’s First Address to Congress: A Persuasion Sistine Chapel

I hope you were watching very intensely last night, because you saw an artistic masterpiece unlikely to be repeated for some time.

Donald Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress was the best political speech I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Maybe Ronald Reagan did better in his time, but I wasn’t even two when he left office. For me, this was the best ever. The biggest proof is that you had so many of Trump’s enemies in the media saying stuff like this:

Either that or they’re in full-blown cognitive dissonance (more on that below).

What made this speech to a joint session of Congress, which would be called a State of the Union if it had occurred last year or next year, so special?

Pre-Suasion at Work

Because of the conflict between President Trump and the Democrats as well as the media, and coming off the constant controversy since June 2015, you may have been pre-suaded that Donald Trump would deliver a belligerent, chaotic, self-aggrandizing speech. Many people had very low expectations. Because of this emotional atmosphere, expectations were easy to exceed. All Donald Trump had to do was be a little bit different in his first address to Congress. He delivered and then some. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was deliberately creating contrast to lead up to last night.

Striking Hard and Fast

If you’ve read Stumped, you remember that first impressions matter because people put more weight on the first things they hear. This is called the primacy effect or primacy bias of memory, and epic storytellers have instinctively known of it for thousands of years. How did Trump choose to begin his first address to Congress?

The impact of this was at once helpful of defusing the “literally Hitler” frame laid out by the left for so long and had double the magnitude because it came first. You could see in real time Donald Trump forcing the reluctant Democrats to stand up and applaud him. How could they not? This set the tone immediately for the mortar that held all the bricks of the speech together.

“Yes-Set” Agreements

You’ll remember that when I reviewed Unlimited Selling Power, you saw that one of the key methods of conversational hypnosis is to use statements that are impossible to disagree with. Unlimited Selling Power goes over these more at length, referring to them as “Yes-Set” Agreements.

The idea is that you get your audience to agree with you early and often, getting them in a frame of mind where they’re used to agreeing with you. This makes future, bigger agreements easier.

Jobs. Economic optimism. Saving taxpayer money. Lobbying restrictions.

You can’t say “no” to these things, can you? Of course not. Not without looking like an idiot or in cognitive dissonance meltdown mode. Nancy Pelosi had the look and it instantly became a meme. The Democrats audibly chafing at “drain the swamp” then looked idiotic when he talked about the lobbying ban afterward. They were sitting down when Donald Trump mentioned new jobs. In short, they looked awful.

The “Yes-Set” agreements didn’t stop there. They came even better when President Trump put multiple faces on them later in his first address to Congress which also, not coincidentally, further defused the “literally Hitler” frame.

One of the greatest demonstrations of the power of the “Yes-Set” agreement was when Donald Trump introduced a survivor of Pompe disease, Megan Crowley, on rare disease day.

Did you see? After the initial agreement, he made his suggestion – that the drug approval process is unduly onerous, and should be reformed so that other miracles can occur just like Megan. Can anyone say no to that? Only by looking stupid or even evil. Look at all those Democrats seated at the end of the segment. Who looks heartless now?

And by the way, this was a pretty good way to get out of the “mocks the disabled” trap, wasn’t it?

Of course, the zenith of the speech was in his honoring of the widow of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who was killed in action in the raid on a terrorist compound in Yemen last month.

Remember the trouble then-candidate Donald Trump got in with the Khan episode at the Democratic National Convention? That was reversed spectacularly in what felt more like a recital of epic, Homeric poetry than an address to Congress. “Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity” is language worthy of the Iliad. It felt like the end of the story, when all Troy mourned and celebrated their fallen Prince Hector. It was a kleos moment for both the President and Senior Chief Owens.

And there were many more “Yes-Set” moments besides those. Democrats refused to applaud initiatives to help women entrepreneurs, for example. One of the best was at the end (1:19:15).

He circled back to where he began his first address to Congress – what will America look line in its 250th year nine years from now? Until now, Make America Great Again was deliberately vague, as that was one of its great strengths. Yet, in last night’s address to Congress, President Trump started putting up the pillars of a great building right before our eyes, showing us what Make America Great Again meant all along to him.

It meant the same thing to me.

Trump addresses joint session Make America Great Again

This was all even more persuasive because it came at the end – the recency effect or recency bias of memory. It had double the impact because of it.

And the Democrats? The way they stormed out after that unifying, aspirational vision that was impossible to disagree with? They looked small and petty.

Donald Trump laid the trap and they fell right into it.

The Democratic Response

While Donald Trump’s first address to Congress was a persuasion Sistine Chapel, the Democratic response was modern “art.”

Usually, when responding to a joint session like this or a State of the Union, the non-incumbent party puts one of their rising stars front and center. This promotes the party’s bench. During Obama’s presidency, the Republican Party got people like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio to respond to his State of the Union addresses, helping to raise their profiles and pave the way for their own presidential runs.

The Democratic Party couldn’t even do this right. Instead they got a former governor of Kentucky that was visibly old and cranky to respond to the first address to Congress by President Trump. It became an instant meme of mockery.


The only other response the Democrats and the fake news media has is cognitive dissonance. This moment from fake news anchor Don Lemon, where he said Trump didn’t know the meaning of the words he used, is one of them. If you’ve found more hilarious instances, let me know.

What you just saw was very special. You may never see it again, at least on this magnitude, for some time. There’s only one Sistine Chapel, even though Michelangelo was a genius that created other great works of art.

You want to paint your own Sistine Chapel some day, right? Read Stumped because you’ll get the tools of persuasion to do what Donald Trump did last night.

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