One of the (many) curious things about the man who currently occupies the Oval Office is that no matter what it is he’s ostensibly trying to accomplish, the bar is simultaneously set unrealistically high and also very, very low.
Trump himself couches everything in terms of superlatives. How’s it going with trade, Mr. President? “It’s going tremendously – better than anyone could have expected.” How’s the domestic economy, Mr. President? “What does ‘domestic’ mean again? Oh, right. It’s doing amazing. Some say it’s doing the best it’s ever done.”
Everyone else long ago realized that the best way to think about things is simply to expect the worst and hope for something else – if not “hope for the best” then at least “hope for something other than an outright calamity.”
For the people who have the misfortune of being tasked with dealing with Trump, one tried-and-true strategy for navigating the conundrum outlined above involves simplifying complex concepts and nudging the President in the desired direction by making him believe that he’s “won”, even when what’s under discussion is something that isn’t amenable to zero-sum thinking.
It’s a kind of end around that appeals to Trump’s penchant for “trusting his instincts.” You dumb the discussion down in a way that’s conducive to instinctual thinking and then you present him with a list of options that you think would, in his mind, count as “winning”.
That, apparently, was the strategy European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker employed when he visited Washington this week in what amounted to a last-ditch effort to convince Trump not to move ahead with tariffs on some $200 billion in auto imports.
AP Photo / Evan Vucci
Hours before the meeting, reports suggested that Trump’s aides and advisors were becoming increasingly concerned that the President had already made up his mind on the issue and couldn’t be swayed by reason. So it came as a surprise when, just hours after the meeting with Juncker began, he and Trump strolled out into the Rose Garden and delivered a joint press conference full of conciliatory rhetoric.
Of course the “agreement” was short on details and the promises had a decidedly nebulous character to them, but one thing that came across pretty forcefully was that the talking points were designed to appeal to Trump’s base. Lack of detail and headline- friendly talking points would appear to be entirely consistent with the notion that Juncker simply cajoled the President or otherwise sought to pacify him like a toddler.
Sure enough, it turns out that Juncker used actual flash cards to demonstrate complicated dynamics to the President in an effort to ensure Trump didn’t lose interest.
You can read the entire story for yourself from the Wall Street Journal, but really, Business Insider does a pretty good job of summarizing this (for those of you who, like the President, have a short attention span):
Juncker and his team used the cards to simplify complex issues for the president as a means of getting their points across as effectively as possible.
The Journal’s report says Juncker “flipped through” more than a dozen cards, which had minimal information on them, and all focused on a single issue. These included the automotive trade, and regulatory standards for medicines, the report added, saying that there were a maximum of three figures per card.
“We knew this wasn’t an academic seminar,” a senior EU official who was at the meeting told the Wall Street Journal. “It had to be very simple.”
This recalls multiple disconcerting (albeit hilarious) accounts of how national security officials are forced to deal with the President. The following excerpts are from a Reuters piece published last May:
Conversations with some officials who have briefed Trump and others who are aware of how he absorbs information portray a president with a short attention span.
He likes single-page memos and visual aids like maps, charts, graphs and photos.
National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump’s name in “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned,” according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials.
Obviously, there is nothing at all dangerous about this state of affairs.
space force pic.twitter.com/BTy0nLBZ6N
— Trump Draws (@TrumpDraws) June 19, 2018