The failed art of the deal

The overhyped myth of Trump’s negotiating style

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Fundamental to this calamitous presidency is not just the vulgarity or toddler tantrums, nor his rally-pleasing hatred of fact-professions. It is Donald Trump’s essential inability to grasp what the word “negotiation” means, outside of his old worlds: real estate and reality shows. Anyone could have warned him — and many did — that making deals with legislative or international counterparts — and certainly adults — would be very different, in many ways diametrically-so.

Time and again, Donald Trump tries the same pattern: break something the other party wants, threaten copious pain, then watch them scramble 90% toward what you want. It worked for Trump against Merv Griffin and dozens of real estate development ‘partners’ and shivved contractors. It worked when he got his (very clever!) 1980s tax break deal with New York City. It reliably worked on his television show, The Apprentice.

And it hasn’t worked even one time since Trump entered the White House. Not once. Sabotaging DACA and 2 million innocent young Americans didn’t get him his Wall. Nor did he have any success extorting Mexico to pay for it. Trying to sabotage the ACA (Obamacare) only made people realize they like it. So far, his ongoing tariff war has accomplished zilch. Every month he takes something away from the Palestinians, hoping the rising agony of their families will drive angry men to the bargaining table, never realizing that harming poor people strengthens, not weakens, Hamas. The list goes on, revealing a stunningly un-sapient inability to learn.

Canceling the Paris Climate Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iran nuclear deal all had similar results. “Trump has proved to be more adept at breaking deals than making deals,” notes Michael Kruse in Politico. In politics and the global arena, the glare of accountability has proved painful to Trump — who is much more accustomed to deals cloaked in secrecy, surrounded by advisors constrained by NDAs.

Ironically, his accustomed method did work once, when North Korea’s Kim Jong Un used it on Donald Trump. Desperate for any way to save face, our president gave Kim every single thing he wanted, and now the Pyongyang dictator is yanking Trump back for more, by the simple expedient of breaking the previous deal.

The glare of accountability has proved painful to Trump — who is more accustomed to deals cloaked in secrecy

Yes, there’s are alternative explanations for these actions. (1) Trump is deliberately weakening us at the behest of Kremlin masters, and (2) pure spite. Sure, both of those are in play. But I believe a major factor is Trump’s inability to distinguish between obstinately repetitive, feral cunning, on the one hand — and adaptably pragmatic intelligence.

The former worked well for Trump in the world of real estate deals, mafia coercion, falsehood-supported debt, bullying and money laundering. The latter is what you need when negotiating under the public glare, where a politician seen buckling to Trumpian pressure tactics will be finished — or where breaking something or hurting innocents doesn’t shift the bargaining table.

Trump’s failed style of negotiating is enumerated in a recently released book, The Real Trump Deal: An Eye-Opening Look at How He Really Negotiates, by negotiator and consultant Martin E. Latz, who notes that “nothing may have a more direct impact on the safety, security, and prosperity of the world than Donald Trump’s negotiating skills.”

And yet the over-bloated, overhyped myth of his skilled negotiating style is self-manufactured, dating back to The Art of the Deal — a book he actually had very little to do with writing. Trump’s natural skill is in the spin — presenting his position as a win for himself — regardless of the actual results of the (frequently failed) negotiation.

Let’s not take this too far. As I said earlier, his past is lined with crushed enemies and disadvantaged partners. His accustomed method worked, in its narrow, borderline-legal and smelly-shadowed world, reinforcing a ‘genius’ self-image that now threatens all our lives.

Trump’s opponents need to parse the feral-cunning from the drooling stupidity. We see the former at his Fox/KGB-supported nuremberg rallies. And his enemies under-rate this cunning at their peril.

In turn, they display a blindness of their own — inability to grasp the power of polemic, ceding that territory to the Putin/Murdoch/Trumpian/fundamentalist cabal, never realizing that these tricks can be answered…

…the way FDR and Churchill finally rose up and used the power of words to save civilization.

Author, scientist, public speaker. My books include The Transparent Society, The Postman, Earth, Existence, and Startide Rising.

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