The Current

Why the 'fire and fury' of Trump's salesman approach to diplomacy doesn't work

According to political historian Heather Cox Richardson, Donald Trump is a salesman trying to perform international diplomacy — and it's not going well.

Trump warns North Korea

5 years ago
Duration 0:32
Donald Trump warns North Korea "they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."

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The recent remarks by U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this week threatening North Korea with "fire and fury like the world has never seen" has set off alarms on both sides of the Pacific.

While many may feel compelled to dissect Trump's hyperbolic language, political historian Heather Cox Richardson warns context is key.

"The mistake people make is trying to see some sort of an intellectual justification for the way that he approaches both governing and language," Richardson tells The Current's guest host Megan Williams.

"[Trump] is not a politician. He made his claim to fame as a salesman, as a blunt talking salesman, and he is very, very good at that."

Donald Trump warned that under specific circumstances, the U.S. would bring force to North Korea 'the likes of which this world has never seen.' North Korea responded with a threat directed at Guam, the key strategic U.S. territory in the Pacific. (Drew Angerer, Ed Jones/Getty Images)

Richardson points out Trump's language includes superlatives, very short sentences "with very strong words at the end of those sentences, usually dire words that promise death and destruction if you don't buy his product."

But the salesman approach approach should not be a model to follow when running a country, Richardson argues.

"That business of trying to close a deal quickly, the way a salesman does, is exactly the opposite of what you need to do when you govern — which is to create coalitions and to create space to bring a group of people along behind you."

Related: Trump's unjustified boast about U.S. nuclear arsenal

This disconnect is clear in the use of Trump's recent off-the-cuff comments about a dire situation, Richardson says, using his stock phrase he loves to use: "the world has never seen."

"You don't say that when you're talking about nuclear war. You say that when you're selling a used Toyota, and this is where you've got this real disjunction that is really problematic."

This file photo distributed by the North Korean government shows what was said to be the launch of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile at an undisclosed location in North Korea, July 28, 2017. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

The aggressive language Trump uses is designed to make him look strong to his base, says Richardson — "to sell himself as a product." 

It's a direction that works for Trump's Evangelical supporters, explains Richardson, who are pleased to see the U.S. president has drawn a line in the sand and feel "this is exactly what America should be doing — throwing its weight around and being powerful."

With this in mind, the real-world consequences have Richardson concerned.

"His base loves it when he acts like this and just how far he can carry that under our system is looking quite frightening."

Listen to the full segment near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal and Julian Uzielli.