Donald Trump has ended the nuclear threat from North Korea!
According to Donald Trump, that is.
“Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump tweeted. “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!” He followed that one up with this: “Before taking office people were assuming that we were going to War with North Korea. President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer - sleep well tonight!”“
Sounds good! Problem solved! Nailed it! 10 out of 10!
Wait, what’s that you say? There are no concrete promises about North Korea’s de-nuclearization plans in the future? And North Korea has reneged on two past agreements – in 1994 and 2005 – not dissimilar to this one?
Actually, not “hmmm.”
This fake-it-until-you-make-it strategy is pure Trump. And not just in politics: It’s a defining element of his life.
There’s a moment in the 2016 “Frontline” documentary on Trump and Hillary Clinton – a must-watch if you haven’t already – in which a former associate of Trump is describing how the real estate magnate handled bad news and bad deals. Paraphrasing, the associate said: “He’ll just declare victory and move on. It’s what he does.”
That approach to life is how Trump has weathered – and even prospered! – amid three bankruptcies and as many marriages. He acts like he won, like he knew this was happening all along, like he meant it to happen. He creates a reality that may, but often does not, comport with actual reality, and then sells that created reality as hard as he possibly can.
The narrative Trump is always selling – regardless of whether he is flacking some deal he made as a private citizen or talking up the Singapore summit – is of total victory. And not just that, but victory that others couldn’t achieve. Historic victories. The biggest. Record-setting.
Trump’s “Art of the Deal” is a testament to this idea. And this quote from that book really stands out:
“The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration, and a very effective form of promotion.”
Trump himself even acknowledged his own tendencies toward exaggeration and, well, faking it, during his Singapore summit press conference.
“I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong,’” Trump said in response to his boasting about the effectiveness of the deal in its initial aftermath. Then he added: “I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”
It is possible that Trump’s boasting that he has ended the North Korean nuclear threat ends up being right? Sure! After all, there are negotiations ongoing – and Trump has made clear that denuclearization is the only option if North Korea wants to live peaceably and join the world community.
Does Trump know something we don’t know about the chances of that denuclearization happening? And does that superior knowledge inform his tweets? Almost certainly not. In fact, if past is prologue, then definitely not. The boasting, the exaggeration, the faking it is all part and parcel of what Trump views as a self-created reality. If he talks about how the North Korean nuclear threat has disappeared, he sets that as a narrative. And once that narrative sets in, even the North Koreans will struggle to dispute it.
Of course, Trump is facing a unique foil in the case of Kim. Because like Trump, Kim has made a brand out of serial exaggeration and outlandish claims. (Reports in North Korea have Kim learning to drive by age 3.) If anything, Kim is more well-versed in wishing “facts” about himself and his existence into life than even Trump. Rarely has Trump dealt with someone who not only plays his exaggeration game, but may be even better at it.