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How Trump won the Election by Using Core Narrative Techniques


Obama said in Charlie Rose interview that one of the biggest mistakes of his first terms was thinking that being president is about getting the policy right. But in reality, it’s also about telling a story to the American people.

The core idea of this podcast: Trump had a very simple story that people could buy into. Hillary did not.

And how you can bring narrative structure back into your world.

Randy Olson, Author and Independent Filmmaker, joins a special Business of Story Podcast to talk about how Trump intuitively utilized a surprisingly simple story template for creating compelling narratives to win the election.

Southpark storytelling technique: The rules of replacing ands with either buts and therefores. This is at the core of effective narrative.

Very simple. Fractal nature. Out of simplicity you can get complexity.

[Probably derived from a great screenwriting instructor in the 1980’s named Frank Daniel. Read more about his work here and here. Problem we always have with first drafts is that the default nature in our brain is the and and and mode. And then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened. And the challenge is to go back into that first draft and replace the ands with the buts and the therefores. You could create a metric around this: ratio of ands to buts and therefores (or so)]

How did Trump do this?

Narrative intuition. Storysense.

Work with the rules so deeply that it moves to a deeper level of intuition.

Intuitive feel for how story is shaped in a way that pulls people in and holds people’s interest. Trump has great narrative intuition.

Problem solution dynamic.

Wizard of Oz. Problem: stuck in a place where she doesn’t want to be. Solution: how to get back to Kansas.

Trump is a dealmaker? But what IS a dealmaker? He’s focused on problem-solution.

He’s constantly speaking in ABT (AND BUT THEREFORE) form:

We love Mexicans. But we feel there’s too many illegals. Therefore we need to build a wall.

He gets to the therefore very quickly, without much nuance and without going into too much detail. That was Hillary’s downfall, because she is very intellectual and tried to communicate things in all the nuanced levels of detail, which doesn’t work on a campaign. Connect with the masses.

We got a problem with the tax code. Therefore, we’re gonna get the best people to solve it.

Very high narrative content.

Overarching Trump story: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.

A: Once upon a time we were a great and mighty nation.

B: But we’ve slipped.

T: Therefore, it’s time to make America great again.


3 fundamental forces in narrative:

  1. Agreement: How we begin a story. Getting everybody on the same page. And, and, and…
  2. Contradiction: But… everytime you hit a point of contradiction, a part in their brain lights up. It stimulates the audience.
  3. Consequence: TK

Great orators have a very high ratio of buts to ands.

ratio of buts to ands = narrative index

Gettysburg address. 3 paragraphs. and but there structure. → one of the most popular speeches in US history.



Hillary’s narrative structure was all: and, and, and… (narrative index: 14)

Trump was ABT. ABT. ABT. (narrative index: 29)

Trump also gave people a label and then consistently stuck with it: Crooked Hillary. Little Marco. Lying Ted. Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd. “Pocahontas” Elizabeth Warren. [Research has shown that the use of noun phrases creates a sense of permanence. It’s the difference between calling someone a chocolate-lover vs. saying someone loves to eat chocolate. The former is a more concrete description. It’s called “essentializing,” which is psychology-speak for coming to see a “trait or quality as an essential and indisputable feature.”]

Hillary was going on and on with facts and information.


Look at MLK I have a dream speech. First paragraph is ABT:

AND: I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

BUT: But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

THEREFORE: And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.


Give speeches that could have a title to them!


Single narrative. Unified theme. E.g. equality. For Trump it was “Make America great again”.


Sentiment analysis. They throw out all the ands and buts.


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