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Image: U.S.  President Trump declares national emergency while speaking about southern border security at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump declared a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday.Jim Young / Reuters

For Trump, over-promising and under-delivering is a real problem

Just once, it'd be good to see Trump under-promise and over-deliver, because when it comes to the pandemic, he's doing a whole lot of the opposite.


It was one month ago today when Donald Trump stood in the Rose Garden and declared, "To unleash the full power of the federal government in this effort, today I am officially declaring a national emergency -- two very big words."

The big words were soon accompanied by some big promises. Exactly one month after the president sketched out some rather specific results that Americans were supposed to soon see, NPR this morning took a closer look and found a series of promises that have gone "largely unfulfilled."

NPR's Investigations Team dug into each of the claims made from the podium that day. And rather than a sweeping national campaign of screening, drive-through sample collection and lab testing, it found a smattering of small pilot projects and aborted efforts. In some cases, no action was taken at all.

The full report is worth your time, in part because it's well researched, and in part because it paints an unflattering portrait of a president who made a bold presentation on March 13, only to arrive at a very different landscape on April 13. Touted partnerships did not materialize. Vaunted projects were not implemented.

Jeremy Konyndyk, senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, told NPR, "What became clear in the days and weeks or even in some cases the hours following that event was that they had significantly over-promised what the private sector was ready to do."

It's the phrase I keep coming back to: over-promising. As we discussed several weeks ago, it's generally known as a business truism: under-promise and over-deliver. The idea behind the maxim is simple: it's far better to show some humility, set modest expectations, and produce impressive results than the opposite.

Trump, a little too eager to be a "cheerleader," keeps doing the opposite: showing brash confidence, setting expectations high, and producing underwhelming results. Instead of under-promising and over-delivering, the president keeps over-promising and under-delivering.

The Associated Press' Calvin Woodward had a related analysis yesterday on the White House casting "a fog of promises meant to reassure a country in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic," but then failing to deliver on critical ones.

[Trump and his team] talk numbers. Bewildering numbers about masks on the way. About tests being taken. About ships sailing to the rescue, breathing machines being built and shipped, field hospitals popping up, aircraft laden with supplies from abroad, dollars flowing to crippled businesses. Piercing that fog is the bottom-line reality that Americans are going without the medical supplies and much of the financial help they most need from the government at the very time they need it most -- and were told they would have it.

The AP report added that Trump "systematically exaggerates" what the federal government is doing in response to the crisis.

This is more than a lament about a president with a strained relationship with the truth. It's also about a leader who's proven -- and continues to prove -- that his promises and assurances about an ongoing crisis are not to be accepted at face value.

As we explored last month, it's possible that Trump believes exaggerations and hype will instill a sense of hope. Perhaps he sees misplaced boasts as part of a self-aggrandizing strategy that will improve his political standing. Maybe the president is confused about the relevant details and doesn't realize that his promises are wrong.

Whatever the cause, just once, it'd be good to see Trump under-promise and over-deliver, because he's doing a whole lot of the opposite.