The Grift and the High-Pressure Sale

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June 13, 2016 3:31 p.m.

One of the things people marvel at with Donald Trump is how successful he’s been over the last year with these gyres and tirades which are full not only of what are often demonstrably false claims but increasingly hyperbolic warnings about the future. In his statement yesterday Trump said “If we do not get tough and smart real fast, we are not going to have a country anymore. Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen – and it is only going to get worse.”

As I’ve written, I think this was much more effective in Republican primaries than with a general election electorate. But the pattern is clearly still there. In pure Trump whether it ends up being effective or not. Some claims get dropped. Others come up repeatedly even though they’re shown to be demonstrably false. Many see this as part of Trump’s spellbinding but horrifying magic. But I hear something different, something others in business may recognize. For Trump, mass casualty terror is like a sell point in a high pressure sales pitch. Glengarry Glen Ross meets Joseph Goebbels.

Trump’s tirades are part and parcel of a certain kind of high pressure sales technique. Which makes sense because that’s what Trump does for a living. Most people don’t change a lot once they’ve lived almost 70 years. There’s a certain kind of salesperson who’s approach is to wear you down, attract and terrify you with an escalating array of blandishments and warnings. It’s gonna get bad, real bad … unless you do this, and it’ll be amazing.

There’s a closely related negotiation variant, which someone who knows Trump from the business world describes here.

If you know the type, you know that whether any of these things are true or even relevant is largely beside the point. Hear the pitch again a few days later and the mix of threats and promises is likely as not to be totally different. Also note that when Trump gets asked just what his plans are or what he’s going to do to make everything great, virtually always his response is simply to say it will be amazing.

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You can see something similar in the way he adopts horribly demeaning nicknames for opponents – “Little Marco”, “Lyin’ Ted”, “Crooked Hillary” – and then drops them and calls them great guys as soon as the fight is over. That makes sense. None of it’s real. It’s just part of the sale. He used to say wonderful things about Hillary Clinton. Sometimes the comedy of it is something Trump himself has to note it. After finally dispatching Ted Cruz and moving on to Hillary Clinton, in one recent speech he said: “Ted Cruz is no longer a liar, we don’t say Lyin’ Ted anymore”We love Ted, we love him, right? We love him. Now we don’t want to say Lyin’ Ted. I’d love to pull it out and just use it on lying, crooked Hillary because she is a liar.”

Quite apart from the hideousness of many of his statements and proposed policies, one thing that is hard to ignore in virtually everything Trump says is that there’s little sense he believes any of it. Or perhaps better to say, little reason to think he’d thought of it or believed it until it became situational helpful to do so. Of course, every politician panders to the needs of the moment to some degree. But usually it is at least in tension with pre-existing or longstanding beliefs or positions. Trump has no such tension. This is obviously a great indictment of Trump’s character. But the framework and practice of high pressure sales is a much more helpful and explanatory way to understand almost everything Trump does. The details don’t matter. It’s about the sale.

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