Image via Unsplash- Jonathan Simcoe

How Donald Trump Made the Emperor’s New Clothes into a Political Strategy

The outgoing President built a political career from getting people to accept his lies as truth

The popular Hans Christian Andersen children’s tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, tells the story of two grifters who accept a large sum of money to produce a lavish set of clothes for a vain emperor. They pretend to undertake this project and take advantage of his vanity and the insecurities of those around him by providing him with absolutely nothing. Nobody admits that they can’t see any clothes, even after the emperor parades around in public naked. After a child points out that the emperor is naked, the monarch is initially startled but continues proudly displaying his invisible fashion. In a twist that could have never been fathomed, this whimsical cautionary tale is a sad and shocking parallel to the inexplicably loathsome behavior of President Donald Trump and his followers.

The four-year reign of Trump as President is rapidly coming to an end, but not without much shrieking and gnashing of teeth. Looking back on his political career, nothing less should be expected, as he inexplicably built a solid base of followers based on half truths, exaggerations and many outright lies. He has personified the two thieving tailors in the Andersen fable and done so in such an effective manner he may actually find it hard to believe his grift was ended by the recent election that he still refuses to concede.

Trump has long had a notorious reputation but it’s hard not to marvel in a disgusted way at how he was able to form and massage a political strategy. During Barack Obama’s presidency, he relentlessly pushed for years an unfounded and racist birther consiracy theory that said the Democrat was a Muslim who was born outside of the United States. Perhaps it was then that he and his inner circle saw exactly how much support he could whip up by pushing an agenda that was based entirely in conjecture and outside of the realm of fact, and discovered it could be turned into something much larger.

Once he decided to run for President, Trump expanded his strategy of using dishonesty to inflate his support. Turning towards candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton, he once against developed narratives attacking their character and backgrounds, which in turn only delighted his base, who couldn’t embrace the character assassinations fast enough, facts be damned.

Once it became clear that Clinton would be his primary competitor, Trump ratcheted up his dishonest attacks, focusing particularly on her alleged use of an unauthorized email server and the role he indicated it played in the death of Americans during a coordinated attack in Benghazi, Libya years before when she was Secretary of State. Despite a lack of damning evidence that has continued to the present, he hammered at this narrative, even popularizing the chant of “Lock her up,” which proved to be a big meaty bone to supporters giddy at the idea of putting an assertive and ambitious woman in prison, apparently for the crimes of being assertive and ambitious. Again, no facts necessary.

The “Lock her up” trope has proven so popular with Trumpsters that he has wheeled it out like a band playing hit songs from 20 years before at a reunion concert whenever he needs to rouse a crowd. In 2020, a target he has directed this invective at more than once is Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. Her “crimes” have included publicly questioning the President and her efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic through orders designed to impede the aggressive virus.

Being elected President seems to have emboldened Trump to pull off the final phase of his Emperor’s New Clothes gambit. With no regard to reality, he lied whenever it suited him, even if there was written or video proof. In doing so, he popularized the phrase of “fake news,” which he and his supporters have levied as a simple explanation for any fact-proven issue that they disagree with and don’t care to dignify with explanation or reason.

While many have called him out and proven in minute detail of his lies, he simply gets away with it. He lies and the earth doesn’t stand still. He lies in the face of known and easily verifiable facts and his base will call out “fake news” and never give it a second thought. There have been little to no consequences and amazingly a significant number of people have convinced themselves that his word is gospel even when there is readily available evidence to the contrary. Much like the emperor, he is naked as a jaybird and millions are still in awe of his stylish wardrobe.

Very few prominent Republicans have challenged Trump in his creation of an alternate reality. The majority have said nothing at all, while some have seen how well it has worked and even attempted to hitch their own wagons to the scheme by following the same general playbook.

The 2020 election should be the end of the line for Trump’s gaslighting. Although all evidence shows that Joe Biden beat him, and rather handily, he has railed on the results, claiming them to be rigged and fraudulent. Naturally, he has not been able to provide any evidence but has regularly spewed a vast array of conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated rumors. While a good number of followers continue to lap up whatever he puts down, his attempt to subvert a legal and secure democratic election doesn’t appear to have enough backing to be successful.

It’s frustrating to see the people who are in to him for a penny and in for a pound, willingly ignore his lack of truth; his lack of substantiation; his utter lack of anything that makes him anywhere near relatable. These people would lie down in traffic in defense of his self-serving lies and yet would never get anything in return from him other than his self-serving support of political causes and doctrines they may hold dear.

It was once said that notorious Roman emperor Nero fiddled in the streets as the city burned. The modern equivalent has seen Trump largely ignore the current pandemic. Continuously casting doubt on science and medicine, he has enabled the virus to run rampant in the United States by consistently downplaying its impact and misleading on its severity. He has seemingly only been interested in setting himself up as a hero to save a flagging economy or lead the way to the discovery of a vaccine while apparently being completely disinterested in whatever happens in between.

The tipping point finally appears to be here. There is no longer a plurality that continues to insist on the gospel of Trump in the face of truth and reason. The voters spoke and elected to remove him. There has been no fraud; no evidence of widespread malfeasance. Even so, he’s not going down without a fight, flinging misinformation left and right to see what sticks. Luckily, very little of it is and an increasing number of people are seeing America’s emperor for what he is — a self-serving liar who took advantage of those who were unwilling or unable to call him out and confirm that instead of a fine suit of clothes, he was actually stark naked.

Dabbler in history & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about diversity, culture, sports, investing and education.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store