Before setting off to Iowa in search of some TLC from his base, Donald Trump had yet another impromptu press conference on the White House lawn. One highlight of this back-and-forth was something that felt like a 2019 enactment of the tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” as Trump held up what looked like a blank sheet of paper, claiming that it was part of a secret immigration deal with Mexico to be revealed in the coming days.
As it turned out, the sheet of paper that Trump waved in front of the journalists’ noses wasn’t quite blank but it wasn’t filled with a groundbreaking set of new concessions made by Mexico as a result of the American president’s tariff gambit, either. As reported by CNN, Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard suggested that he was not aware of any deal beyond what was already announced last Friday.
In this 2019 version of Andersen’s tale, it’s not a child that loudly points out that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes but a host on Russian state TV. Dmitry Kiselyov, the CEO of the Russian government media corporation Rossiya Segodnya, described Trump as a self-proclaimed master of the deal, with no deals to speak of: “You will laugh, but Trump doesn’t have a single ratified deal under his belt. He’s only destroying existing deals and agreements.”
And he is not wrong. There is a growing list of agreements that Trump has taken the U.S. out of – such as the Iran deal and the Paris Accords on Climate Change – and nothing worth speaking of on the side of newly negotiated deals. Trump has yet to get the USMCA ratified; there is also still no trade deal with China and no progress has been made with regard to North Korean denuclearization, despite two high profile summit meetings.
The fact that Dmitry Kiselyov made his remarks on Russian state TV suggests very strongly that the disparaging comments about the American wannabe dealmaker have the Kremlin’s blessings. And this makes perfect sense. After all, the Russian president’s standing in his own country very much depends on a show of strength and dominance which means that weakening American prestige makes Putin look stronger by comparison.
By means of a number of clever propagandistic moves, Vladimir Putin has put himself into a win-win situation when it comes to the current U.S. president. The suspicion that Russian interference may have contributed to some extent to Donald Trump’s surprise election win certainly endows the former KGB agent with an aura of enormous power and influence. If Trump now reveals himself as a president of no consequence, this is also a win for Putin who can always count on the strictly controlled state media to portray the Russian president as efficient and successful.
If we strip away the illusions created by propaganda, Putin – who rules over a country that most certainly isn’t in a position to seriously compete with the U.S. as a superpower right now – turns out to be an Emperor who is just as sparsely clad as his American counterpart. He merely knows how to play the hand he has been dealt better than Donald Trump.