About a year ago, Donald Trump sat down for an interview with the Associated Press, which touched on the president’s criticisms of NATO. He referenced an exchange he had during the campaign with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, in which then-candidate Trump expressed deep concerns about the security alliance despite “not knowing much about NATO.”
In other words, according to Trump, he spoke with great conviction about a key area of U.S. foreign policy, despite the fact that – by his own admission – he had no idea what he was talking about.
Yesterday, something very similar happened. The president spoke at a fundraiser about a conversation he had had with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in which the two leaders discussed which country had a trade deficit with the other. As the Washington Post reported, Trump bragged last night that he made the private comments without having a clue as to whether or not he was correct.
“Trudeau came to see me. He’s a good guy, Justin. He said, ‘No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please,’ ” Trump said, mimicking Trudeau, according to audio obtained by The Washington Post. “Nice guy, good-looking guy, comes in – ‘Donald, we have no trade deficit.’ He’s very proud because everybody else, you know, we’re getting killed.
“… So, he’s proud. I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know…. I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid. … And I thought they were smart. I said, ‘You’re wrong, Justin.’ He said, ‘Nope, we have no trade deficit.’ I said, ‘Well, in that case, I feel differently,’ I said, ‘but I don’t believe it.’ I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy, they went out, I said, ‘Check, because I can’t believe it.’”
So, Trump started with the premise that the United States is “stupid” – a curious assumption for an American president – and then based his assumptions on that dubious foundation. It then led him to assume, without having any facts or having done any homework ahead of his meeting with the Canadian prime minister, that we have a trade deficit with our neighbors to the north.
According to last night’s story, Trump’s aide then came back to him to assure the president that he was, in fact, correct about the trade imbalance – which is bizarre, since, according to the Trump administration’s own data, the United States has a trade surplus with Canada.
What’s amazing about this story, however, isn’t just the American president being wrong about a simple issue he’s talked about for years.
Rather, what we have here is a president bragging about making stuff up, then assuring his audience that his evidence-free claims are accidentally true, without realizing that he’s still wrong. It’s like a lie wrapped in a gaffe inside propaganda.
For most presidents, this would be a deeply embarrassing moment that he hoped the public would never find out about. For this president, it’s an anecdote that Trump thinks makes him look better, not worse.
What’s more, given the circumstances, we have no reason to believe any of the conversations Trump described last night – the one with Trudeau or the one with the aide who looked up the trade details – actually happened in reality. It’s entirely possible the president just made up this part of the story, too.
After all, according to Trump, this is just what he does. Why anyone would ever take his word at face value is something of a mystery. When someone boasts about making stuff up, their credibility necessarily evaporates.
Donald Trump is not the nation’s first ignorant president. He is the first American president to brag about his ignorance, as if it’s worthy of celebration.