The Art of the Oversell
By Stephen Tuttle | March 9, 2019
Remember the “immediate and irretrievable denuclearization” of North Korea? That's what we were told was the result of the first meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
No such thing was likely to happen because no such agreement had been reached. The only agreement was to talk again, which they did without result a couple weeks ago.
The wild exaggeration — the less charitable might call it a lie — is part of an ongoing pattern. For the president, almost everything he does, or claims he has done, is the greatest, biggest, most historic, never-been-done-before, more-than-anybody-else-has-ever-done accomplishment.
In his book “The Art of the Deal,” he talks about something he calls “strategic hyperbole,” making claims he knows to be false in order to try and advance a business deal. Maybe it worked in the bizarre world of New York real estate. It's an unnecessary distraction for a president.
He oversold the results of the first meeting with Kim, then oversold the potential results of the second. When no deal was reached, in a moment of rare clarity he said, “Sometimes you have to walk away.” And had he left it at that, it could have been victory enough since a bad deal is worse than no deal. But he couldn't.
He had to claim, falsely, that the first meeting resulted in “no nukes and no missiles” in North Korea. Then he blamed Michael Cohen's testimony before Congress as his reason to walk away from the second meeting, successfully snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
It has become bizarre.
He claims we have the “strongest economy, fastest growing, the best ...” Certainly the biggest but many countries’ economies are growing faster, including most of Europe’s. China's economy is expanding almost twice as fast as ours.
He claimed to enact the “biggest tax cut in history” but, depending on the metrics used,
Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan, George W. Bush, and even Obama (by extending the Bush tax cuts) all oversaw larger cuts.
He says he's done more in two years than any other president ever did in his first full term. When he first got started with that boast, it was “more in my first 100 days.” Neither is even remotely close to being true, though it's not necessarily all his doing.
Franklin Roosevelt's entire cabinet was confirmed, and he signed 76 pieces of legislation in just his first 100 days. Trump signed 96 pieces of legislation in his first two years, the least of any post-World War II president. Congressional action, or lack thereof, can't always be controlled by the president, and legislation isn't the only measure of activity. But accomplished more than anybody? C'mon.
During his recent speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which has abandoned conservatism for Trumpism, the various fact-checkers found at least 100 falsehoods or dramatic exaggerations. That's nearly one a minute in his two-hour talk. Other than self-aggrandizement before a fawning crowd, what's the point?
It is especially peculiar, given he has a story to tell without all the nonsense. For many conservatives and his hard-core base, he needn't exaggerate what he's done.
The economy is chugging along, and unemployment hovers around a strong 4 percent (not 3.7 percent, as Trump claimed at CPAC). His administration has systematically stripped away Obama-era environmental regulations, as he said he would. He has cracked down on illegal immigrants, as promised. And he can certainly make the argument he's made a good faith effort to get his wall built.
He undid NAFTA, though most of its provisions still apply. He imposed tariffs, again, as he said he would. The tax cuts his administration proposed were enacted by Congress. Both his Supreme Court nominees were confirmed, altering the makeup of the court for at least many years.
There isn't anything in the mix that is the greatest or most historic but there are campaign promises kept, and all good selling points for Republicans and independent conservatives without the preposterous embellishments. But for some reason that's never enough for this president.
Trump's willingness to treat facts like distant cousins seems to burnish his non-politician bona fideswith his base. But he isn't actually telling it like it is; he's telling it like he wants us to believe it is. Eventually the oversell runs out of steam, not because he's done nothing but because we can all see he hasn't done what he claims.
He's not exactly the boy who cried wolf. He's the boy who cried wolf and then claimed it was the biggest, meanest, most vicious wolf ever, as big as a car, and he chased it away. But we already knew the wolf was really just a barking Yorkie.