Greatest President Ever

President Donald Trump exits Air Force One at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base. Photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck.

It is the morning of the State of the Union speech, and politically-oriented Americans are wondering about the specifics of the speech. As always, hints of broad topics and some policy details have been released by those close to the President, so as to build interest prior to the event. As always, journalists await the presentation of the text of the speech which is given to them shortly before it is to be read.

I can tell them precisely what is in it beforehand: superlatives.

Donald Trump traffics in superlatives like a verbal drug dealer, feeding them to his throng whenever the opportunity arises. He uses them to promote policy, to promote people, and to defend himself. One of hundreds of examples from Twitter:

He is not the only President to feed his base with the undeserved joy of being associated with “the best”. President Obama and his supporters repeatedly built a mythology around him, even giving him a Nobel Prize in anticipation of his actions toward Peace. (Note: Obama was a two-term President who never experienced a day where the country wasn’t in an active war.)

The argument is presented by their media supporters as well. While Trump may be mocked for his claims that The Art of the Deal is one of the best books ever written (or, more accurately, ghost-written), President Obama’s autobiographies were treated as if they were works of great literature on the level of Tolstoy and Shakespeare. The undeserved praise heaped upon them triggered doubters to investigate the possibility of alternative authors, when in reality the truth was that they were, for those who weren’t already fans of Barack, pedestrian and forgettable.

The use of superlatives is important, because it triggers a few natural responses. The first is obvious: some people believe it, and that builds a legacy. For decades to come, we are likely to hear some people repeat every self-described accolade from Trump as if it were Gospel. With luck, their numbers will be few, but they will be out there… and currently their numbers are legion.

The second response is inversion. For those people, if Trump proclaims something to be the greatest, the immediate response is that it is somehow the worst. It is an equally unreasonable response. While something or someone will always be the best and something else will be the worst, reaching a pinnacle or nadir is rare. Most actions fall somewhere in between the limits rather than expanding them.

The third, and I would argue most common response is perfidious. People will discount the claim of being the best, and in so doing will believe they are being wise; they will, however, still extend undue credit. It’s a simple psychological trick, and one for which people repeatedly fall.

This trick is at the core of Trump’s success. “I have the highest-rated show in television history!” At its core, it’s a lie, and a blatant one at that. The Apprentice, in fact, had consistently low ratings after its first season, and survived only because reality shows are notoriously cheap to produce. But people who heard the claim thought themselves clever for recognizing the lie while simultaneously granting the completely inappropriate credit of the show having at least good ratings. Not only was the superlative a lie, the notion that things were even trending in the direction of the superlative was an implied lie… and people overwhelmingly bought into the implication.

Trump is not the only politician to use this trick. Most do. He differs only in the frequency at which he depends upon it, which is another reason many politicians dislike him; his hamfisted use of a very effective tool risks exposing the tool to their marks.

You’re going to hear many superlatives in the speech tonight. When you do, please remember that they don’t mean something is the best, they don’t mean something is the worst, and they especially don’t even mean that something is good. They mean nothing.

There will be a lot of nothing spoken tonight.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.