On the eve of his meeting with Vladimir Putin, President Trump gave a speech in Warsaw that included several jabs at Russia, which prompted a fairly strong reaction in Moscow. Many officials and commentators were hard-pressed to understand why it was necessary to rile things up right before such important top-level negotiations. But it doesn’t take much digging to unearth the explanation – you just need to view the situation like a businessman instead of a politician or policy analyst.
There was once a time when, in order to understand the keynote addresses made by American presidents, analysts needed a solid background in a wide range of weighty political, philosophical, and literary texts, including the Bible, the plays of Shakespeare, and the essays by America’s Founding Fathers on domestic and foreign-policy issues.
But all you need to understand President Trump’s speeches is a passing familiarity with a single book written in 1984 by the American psychologist Robert Cialdini: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Mr. Cialdini spent many years interviewing and chatting with successful salesmen peddling super-expensive “high-end vacuum cleaners,” as well as with Amway distributors, sellers of shares in pyramid schemes, and used-car dealers. In essence, he looked at anyone whose professional success rested on his ability to use psychology to cajole and strong-arm others into agreeing to a deal that’s not in their best interest. If we break down Donald Trump’s speech, we can see that it is not actually an address by a politician, but rather the patter of a very successful salesman of “high-end vacuum cleaners,” and he won over the Poles by appealing to their nationalistic hubris.
In economic terms, Trump has set his sights on three specific goals: ensuring Poland’s purchase of expensive American natural gas; forcing Poland to pay billions of dollars into NATO’s piggy bank (i.e., the US military-industrial complex); and playing off the EU’s internal conflicts in order to encourage Poland to lock horns with Germany. He made reference to Russia, the Russian threat, and the historical conflicts between Russia and Poland with the express intention of furthering these goals, and it must be said that the American president did this masterfully.
Convincing Poland to buy American LNG, which is far more expensive than gas from Gazprom, would seem a hard sell. Or, to be more precise, although politicians can be coerced into agreement, how can ordinary voters also be persuaded to look favorably upon this bloated price tag, which, according to various estimates, will be 50% to 150% higher than the cost of Russian gas? Like a seasoned huckster, the American president pulled one of the best trump cards out of his marked deck by offering the Poles a bonus in the form of independence from “a single [Russian] supplier of energy.” In fact, the American leader claimed that Poland wasn’t getting just American gas, but genuine American gas “with the taste of independence from Russia,” implying that such gas must naturally be very expensive and that its consumption is a sign of national success, prestige, and membership in an elite Western club. Appeals to elitism and the quest for status through the consumption of some unjustifiably expensive product or service is also a classic gimmick straight out of the professional arsenal of any salesmen of “high-end vacuum cleaners,” but the ruse is seemingly less apparent when it is being used by an American president.
In order to ensure that this tribute would be paid to NATO each year with great enthusiasm, Trump used a different method, this time working straight from the Amway playbook. Fear is a powerful sales tool. And here Russia once again proved useful. In this context it needed to be presented as a source of danger, from which only NATO and the corresponding contributions to the US military-industrial complex and the Pentagon can possibly save Poland, Europe, and the whole world. Translated into marketing jargon, the US president’s message was reminiscent of a classic push such as “buy our pills, otherwise tomorrow all your teeth will fall out and you’ll die in agony from some awful disease.” NATO generals have long complained that the alliance has problems with its image and the way it is advertised to the public. Trump has solved these problems in his own way, pitching NATO as a very expensive but essential tonic to ward off all geopolitical perils. The fact that these risks are illusory does not bother anyone.
Trump’s final and most difficult challenge was to encourage Warsaw “to bravely persist in its open, unflinching conflict with Berlin,” as part of the battle to maintain American control over the European Union. To achieve this goal, it was necessary to extinguish both rational thought as well as historical memory in Poland. It is political suicide for Poland to engage in open conflict with the most powerful state in the EU, whose economic and political power allows it to lay claim to the title of the leader of the European Union, especially given the German political elite’s express wish to suppress any opposition from within Europe to its own hegemony. But the Poles’ historical memory has to be extinguished in order for the country to forget how things worked out for them in the past whenever they entered into a confrontation with both Russia and Germany at the same time. Those attempts were rare, each time ending in Poland herself being erased from the global map.
But apparently Trump has managed to pull this off, at least as far as the Polish elite was concerned. This was the goal of the most stirring moment of his speech – his proclamation of what was practically a crusade in defense of Western values, praising Poland for remaining true to the ideals of the collective West, and, of course, promising “protection and unwavering support” from the US. It is entirely possible that Warsaw’s future attacks on Moscow and Berlin will be viewed by Polish politicians as the elements of a holy war to defend Western civilization from the German and Russian barbarians, but history has shown that, when in a conflict with one’s neighbors, counting on assistance from overseas is a losing strategy.
Source in Russian: Crimson Alter
Adapted and translated by ORIENTAL REVIEW