TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump leaves after speaking during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in the...
SAUL LOEB

Trump continues to assume others know as little as he does

Updated

Donald Trump’s posture toward China is increasingly disjointed. On the one hand, the Republican president is engaged in an escalating trade war in which Trump is eager to show how “tough” he is.

On the other hand, there’s his handling of the ZTE affair. Trump recently directed his Commerce Department to ease penalties on the Chinese telecom company after it was accused of violating American sanctions and using its products for foreign espionage.

Trump declared last month that as a result of the penalties, there were “too many jobs in China lost” – as if the White House’s principal focus was Chinese unemployment.

The administration’s handling of this has generated bipartisan criticism, and the Washington Post  reported today on how Trump has tried to calm the waters in D.C.

GOP lawmakers went to the White House last month to hear President Trump’s case for lifting U.S. sanctions on the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE. But even as Trump tried to convince his skeptical listeners that it was all part of a grand plan to win China’s help on North Korea, he threw in a jab, according to two senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting.

None of you, Trump told the lawmakers, had even heard of ZTE before the most recent flap.

That was, of course, ridiculous. The controversy surrounding ZTE hasn’t exactly been front-page news, and much of the public was likely unaware of the developments, but on Capitol Hill, lawmakers, especially those involved in foreign policy and national security, have taken a key interest in the Chinese telecom giant.

Congress even prepared an investigative report on ZTE – several years ago – following a series of hearings.

So why would Trump tell lawmakers that they’d never heard of ZTE? Because he’d never heard of ZTE, and this president tends to assume everyone is roughly as ignorant as he is.

This comes up all the time. As we discussed a few months ago, Trump frequently says, “People don’t realize” – or its rhetorical cousin, “A lot of people don’t know that” – after learning things most of us already knew. It’s his way of effectively saying, “I recently learned some new detail, and since I wasn’t aware of it, I’m going to assume most people didn’t know it, either.”

But those assumptions are wrong. As Dana Milbank recently put it, “Trump’s lessons are often accompanied by raised eyebrows, widened eyes and a ‘gee whiz’ look that suggests perhaps the nation is witnessing the president’s education in real time.”

The president just doesn’t seem to know what he doesn’t know.