How India tried to make Trump happy (and what this says about him)

There's an international understanding that Trump cares about spectacle and celebrations of himself, so foreign officials appeal to his narcissism.
Image: President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive for a "Namaste Trump," event at Sardar Patel Stadium,
President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive for a "Namaste Trump," event at Sardar Patel Stadium, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Ahmedabad, India.Alex Brandon / AP
By Steve Benen

When American presidents travel abroad, foreign officials have, for many years, made every effort to impress the Leader of the Free World. In many instances, this led foreign governments to try to arrange substantive policy breakthroughs important to the U.S. chief executive. In other cases, officials have arranged carefully planned visits to sites of cultural and historical significance. Some presidents like to deliver remarks to local students or conduct interviews with foreign journalists.

But with Donald Trump, those usual efforts won't work -- in large part because the Republican doesn't have much of an interest in policy, culture, or history. And with this in mind, the New York Times reported on India's approach to making the current American president happy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India opted to appeal to Mr. Trump's first love -- crowd size -- as he stages a rally of more than 100,000 people in Ahmedabad on Monday after a drive in from the airport along roads where perhaps 100,000 more will line the motorcade route. The president will almost certainly not be greeted by the 10 million people he expects, but it will look like an enormous crowd nonetheless and, the Indians hope, satisfy his need for affirmation.

It's worth pausing to appreciate how truly pitiful this makes Trump sound. There appears to be an international understanding that the current American president cares about spectacle and celebrations of himself, and so foreign officials have learned to appeal to his narcissism.

Julianne Smith, the director of the Asia program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told the Times, "World leaders have learned to shorten or scrap the historical tours, remove local delicacies from the menu and focus on one thing only: feeding his ego."

But just as important is the fact that this recipe for success, while seemingly patronizing to an adult, is surprisingly effective. As the Times' report added, Trump boasted to reporters last week, in reference to Modi's assurances, "He told me we'll have 7 million people between the airport and the event." A couple of days later, Trump told supporters, "I hear they're going to have 10 million people."

Yesterday, the Republican continued to marvel at the "millions and millions" of people who would see him. "Some people say the biggest event they've ever had in India," Trump told reporters. "Some people say the biggest event they've ever had in India. That's what the Prime Minister told me. This will be the biggest event they've ever had. So it's going to be very exciting."

The Times added that this morning's event will be held in a city with a population of 8 million, so the idea that Trump would be greeted by a crowd of 10 million seemed implausible.

"Local officials estimate that it will be more like 100,000, making Mr. Trump off by only 99 percent," the report added.

If recent history is any guide, Trump will start calling government photographers tomorrow, demanding that they produce evidence of enormous Indian crowds that make the president feel better about himself.