“There’s a sucker born every minute.” There’s some question about whether P.T. Barnum really said that first, but it’s attributed to him. And certainly it’s true. All you need to do is ask President Donald John Trump, the reincarnation of Phineas Taylor Barnum. Have you noticed the similarities? Trump released “The Art of the Deal” in his own name. True, it was ghostwritten, but let’s not quibble. Among the books that Barnum authored was “The Art of Money Getting.” Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Barnum was a blatant hoaxster with his various phony freak shows. Trump is a major-league huckster, and his administration has been described more than once as a freak show.
P.T. is best remembered for his circus. See? Another dead ringer. Actually, we could say “dead three-ringer.” While the Democrats put on a memorable show with their virtual convention, you know that D.J. Trump is producing the “Greatest Show on Earth.” He always does with his high-wire acts. Why? As P.T. said, “The bigger the humbug, the better people will like it.”
That has been Donald Trump’s motto from day one. He convinced folks that he was a master businessman even though his properties went bankrupt six times. He has always had a reputation among contractors for agreeing to a price, getting the work done and welching on full payment, hiding behind a wall of lawyers. Through it all he declared his business failures to be roaring successes, and so they were as far as the public was concerned.
He has taken that con job to public life.
Among the various Barnum quotes that Trump has clearly embraced is his personal favorite, possibly without knowing who said it: “The success of quacks and quackeries are infinitely more wonderful than those of honest and laborious men of science and their careful experiments.”
Donald Trump has always ignored experts, dismissing them as tools of some sort of “deep state.” That is nowhere more evident than in his reactions to the COVID pandemic, where he has gone against the public health specialists nearly every step of the way. He has gone from first dismissing the coronavirus as not a big deal, to embracing various phony “miracle” cures like hydroxychloroquine, to declaring the crisis over long before it was, to my personal favorite, igniting a rebellion against face masks. Now what is his campaign selling as fundraisers? You guessed it: face masks with “MAGA” or simply “Trump” on them. Again, the wisdom of P.T. Barnum:
“The common man, no matter how sharp and tough, actually enjoys having the wool pulled over his eyes, and makes it easier for the puller.”
We can witness a one-man show not only with his convention spectacle, but with his entire campaign. It was ever thus with him, saying in 2016, “I alone can fix it,” referring to the state of the country. And now, four years later, standing in the wreckage he has caused, telling a group of conservatives, “I’m the only thing standing between the American Dream and total anarchy, madness and chaos.”
So remember the two P.T.s: P.T. Barnum and the modern P.T., President Trump. As he seeks re-election, Donald Trump once again will be testing still another quote from the master showman of days gone by as he parodied Abraham Lincoln:
“You can fool most of the people most of the time.”
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.