Donald Trump may have become a cultural icon by pretending to build businesses on The Apprentice, but the fact is that transactions have always been his forte. He builds nothing. He’s a grifter who specializes in buying and selling and cutting deals. In point of fact, he has no “brand” just a gold-tinged aura of success that he and a lot of publicists have worked on selling to the public for decades. Bearing that in mind, and three other key Trump traits, provides the first Single Theory Of Trump, or Unified Field Theory Of Trump, which explains everything — or at least puts it in context. Forbes Magazine:
He boasts, with a dose of hyperbole that any student of FDR or even Barack Obama could undercut: “I’ve had just about the most legislation passed of any president, in a nine-month period, that’s ever served. We had over 50 bills passed. I’m not talking about executive orders only, which are very important. I’m talking about bills.”
He counterpunches, in this case firing a shot at Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who reportedly called his boss a moron: “I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
And above all, he sells : “I also have another bill … an economic-development bill, which I think will be fantastic. Which nobody knows about. Which you are hearing about for the first time… . Economic-development incentives for companies. Incentives for companies to be here.” Companies that keep jobs in America get rewarded; those that send operations offshore “get penalized severely.” “It’s both a carrot and a stick,” says the president. “It is an incentive to stay. But it is perhaps even more so–if you leave, it’s going to be very tough for you to think that you’re going to be able to sell your product back into our country.”
Numbers, whether they are accurate or not, are big in Trump World. You may recall Huckabee Sanders telling Jim Acosta recently how CNN “only reports 5% of the news about the president,” her point being that the negative news about Trump is only 5% of the picture and the other 95% is rosy, it’s just being ignored. She comes by this aberrant use of numbers honestly, because here’s what Trump says himself:
“When I build something for somebody, I always add $50 million or $60 million onto the price. My guys come in, they say it’s going to cost $75 million. I say it’s going to cost $125 million and I build it for $100 million. Basically, I did a lousy job. But they think I did a great job.”
According to Trump, that trick explains the current proposal to cut the corporate tax rate to 20%, after months of saying he wanted to go even lower, to 15%. “I was actually saying 15 for the purpose of getting to 20,” he says, adding, “As you know, this will be a negotiation for the next 30 days. But I wanted the 15 in order to get to 20.”
And so it goes, hyperbole raised to an exponential degree, last seen leaving the known galaxy of reason and business as usual, as that term was once understood.
Nearly a year after the most stunning Election Day in many decades, pundits still profess to find themselves continually shocked by President Trump. They shouldn’t be: His worldview has been incredibly consistent. Rather than as an opportunity to turn ideology into policy, he views governing the way he does business–as an endless string of deals, to be won or lost, both at the negotiating table and in the court of public opinion. Look at his first year through this prism, and it makes sense.
There is no Trump policy, there is no overview, and there never was. He’s negotiating everything on the fly, replete with 3 a.m. blasts of policy and piffle out into the virtual firmament, as Kurt Eichenwald put it, governance by twitter. What we see is what we get — and there’s nothing there but smoke and mirrors. The White House is now the Fun House. We have seen the suckers and they are us.