One of the oddest — and at least bitterly amusing, if not laugh-out-loud funny — things about watching the news since Trump was elected is watching everyone in the Legacy Media, everyone, trying to understand Trump. This week, the running story seems to be that Trump is reversing his positions. According to news analysis, there have been more whiplash cases in New York and D.C. newsrooms than after a roller coaster accident at a personal injury lawyers’ convention.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. Quick position reversals were certainly a feature of his campaign.
Of course, the press had their own little flip-flops: busily reporting wiretaps of Trump associates, followed by just as busily reporting that Trump was not being wiretapped, no way, Trump is lying. And the reversal from “Trump is Putin’s catamite!” to “Trump is trying to start World War III!” was so fast it risked rupturing the space-time continuum.
The confusion here is rooted in trying to figure out what Trump’s convictions are, what his foreign policy is. This inevitably goes astray, because Trump doesn’t actually have any firm convictions, at least along those lines. He can be in favor of and against gun control; be against the government being involved in healthcare and in favor of a government single-payer system; be opposed to bombing Syria and okay with Tomahawk cruise missiles striking Syrian airbases—because he doesn’t actually have any sort of coherent large-scale vision or any particular ideals about the human condition.
He’s a salesman. What he cares about is the Deal. He even says it outright: his autobiographical business book is called The Art of the Deal.
If you want to understand salesmen, the best start is to watch the famous “Always Be Closing” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross.
“Always Be Closing” is not David Mamet’s invention, it’s an observation. It was the advice given to salesmen back at least into the ’60s when I was reading sales training materials that my grandfather had for the salesmen that worked selling pianos and appliances in the family business. (Yes, I actually will read anything.) It’s the advice given to salespeople now.
“Always Be Closing” means everything you do should be in the service of getting the deal, getting a signature and a check.
Whatever else one may think of Trump, you have to admit that Trump is a master salesman. Look at the campaign, where he took various positions — expel Muslims, deport Mexicans, or well, maybe not all Muslims, and Mexicans are mostly wonderful people — one after another, clearly responding to the reaction. Always Be Closing: he made sure his positions got him closer to closing the deal on the presidency. Did it matter that he contradicted himself? No! Concerns about things like that weren’t helping him close the deal.
On health care, he said “repeal and replace” so often it practically became an inside-joke. He used it to close the deal. He got elected.
Once he’d closed that deal, it was up to subordinates to figure out how to make “repeal and replace” happen. Then, when there was a plan, he came in trying to close the deal, until it became obvious it wasn’t happening. So pull the bill. Having it voted on and rejected certainly didn’t serve closing the deal. If the customer isn’t ready to close, trying to force a close prematurely can spoil the deal once and for all.
Then, Trump said, “Fine, so we won’t have this, we’ll let Obamacare collapse. Let’s do tax reform.” If you want the best deal, you have to be willing to walk away.
The thing was, that wasn’t resignation, that was pressure. The collapse would be ugly, and Trump understood what a lot of other people didn’t: the Republicans would own the collapse, no matter how unfair it was. The Legacy Media and the Democrats and Media Matters and Think Progress would make sure of it.
Sure, it would hurt Trump, but Trump is president for the next four years, barring a stroke or a coup d’état. The whole House and one-third of the Senate know that next year they have to protect their phony-baloney jobs.
Trump made it clear that he was serious when he started to talk down the Freedom Caucus. One member resigned. Pretty quickly we started hearing rumors, and now it seems to be likely that they will come to an agreement, maybe right after the Easter recess.
Trump knows he needs something that will pass as “repeal and replace,” and he means to get it; that’s his focus. Always Be Closing.
How do you sell something, anything, from a refrigerator to a billion dollar development? Make sure that the potential buyer feels like they have to have your product, and Always Be Closing.
While the Legacy Media frets and quivers and tries to figure out what Trump is up to, they’re getting distracted; they expect him to have principles, convictions, ideals. Trump is fooling them because he doesn’t have ideals, he just sees deals. As long as this goes on, they’re asking the wrong questions, looking for answers in all the wrong places. If you want to understand Trump, you have to ask: “President Trump. What’s your deal?”