There are few parallels between Franklin Roosevelt and Donald Trump, beyond their wealthy upbringings in the Empire State. FDR’s first inaugural address famously proposed that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” while Trump’s was a seminar in fear itself.
But early in both men’s presidencies, they offered insistent claims that things are getting better, even when there was little hard evidence (or little hard evidence yet) to back it up. For Roosevelt, that worked: The fake-it-till-you-make-it approach instilled real confidence in the country, which in turn instilled confidence in markets and helped foster an economic turnaround. And for Trump, there are signs that by repeatedly claiming he is doing things, he is managing to make people believe he is doing them, and to act accordingly.
Take border enforcement. No one has broken ground on the fabled wall; no huge infusions of Border Patrol officers have been deployed; Congress has appropriated no money to strengthen controls. And yet, the Associated Press reports:
The first months of the new administration have seen a huge drop in the number of people being caught by agents on the U.S.-Mexico border, raising the possibility that a "Trump effect" is keeping migrants away.
Despite Trump’s false claims during the campaign of accelerating crossings, the flow over the border was already in a years-long downward trend. And yet, as the AP notes, March’s tally of 12,500 people stopped at the border was “the lowest monthly figure in at least 17 years and the second straight month that border arrests dropped sharply.” In effect, it’s a rhetorical victory. Partly, fewer people may be crossing because Trump’s bellicose rhetoric makes them feel unwelcome, but they may also assume crossing is more challenging. After all, crossings increased somewhat between the election and inauguration.