Even for Donald Trump, it was a bizarre moment. The president boasted at a fundraiser this week that he hosted a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the two leaders discussed which country had a trade deficit with the other. According to his own version of events, Trump insisted the U.S. has a trade deficit with our neighbor to the north, though he had no idea whether or not that was true.
It was striking for several reasons. The president not only admitted that he makes stuff up, Trump also acted as if this is worth bragging about – even in the context of trying to mislead the prime minister of one of the United States’ closest allies. It also served as a reminder that the president doesn’t feel like doing his homework, even on one of his signature issues.
But nearly as important is what Trump did when this news caused a stir: the president repeated the falsehood he’s so fond of:
“We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive). P.M. Justin Trudeau of Canada, a very good guy, doesn’t like saying that Canada has a Surplus vs. the U.S.(negotiating), but they do…they almost all do…and that’s how I know!”
The child-like logic is a sight to behold:
1. Trump believes the United States has a trade deficit with almost every country.
2. Canada is a country.
3. Ergo, the United States must have a trade deficit with Canada. QED.
Faced with the evidence, Trump seems determined to dig in further, and the rest of his team feels compelled to play along with the fantasy.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters yesterday that Trump’s claim was “accurate,” all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. She followed up with a tweet insisting that the U.S. trade deficit with Canada is real.
It’s not. Sanders’ conclusion ignores trade in services.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Trump and his team lie a little too often, but their dishonesty is routine and usually inconsequential. What makes the lies about Canadian trade any more notable than the other falsehoods the White House has peddled this week, or last week, or the week before?
The answer, I believe, is the larger context. At Trump’s insistence, U.S. officials are in the middle of negotiating a possible new NAFTA trade deal, and being honest with our neighbors – two of our closest trade partners on the planet – makes a difference.
And yet, here we are, watching the White House, for no particular reason, start with a falsehood on Wednesday night, only to spend Thursday pretending fiction is fact.