At a brief Q&A with reporters yesterday in the Oval Office, Donald Trump was asked about possibly imposing new tariffs on his European allies. The American president, sitting alongside Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, meandered for a while, before sharing a familiar argument:
"[T]he bottom-line result is whether or not we can make a deal with the EU that's fair. We you we lose about $151 billion trading with the EU. That's a lot of money. And this is been going on for many years."They wouldn't meet with the Obama administration and they're meeting with us. So we'll see what happens. We'll see what happens."
Right off the bat, Trump made clear that he's still badly confused about the most basic trade details. He not only exaggerated the size of the U.S. trade deficit with the European Union -- the $151 billion figure ignores services trade -- the Republican also characterized the trade imbalance as proof of the United States "losing" money. That continues to be both wrong and bizarre.
But it's that other point that stood out for me: in Trump's mind, E.U. trade officials "wouldn't meet with the Obama administration." That's true, just so long as one overlooks all of the meetings E.U. trade officials had with the Obama administration.
I wish I knew where Trump came up with this stuff. As the Toronto Star's Daniel Dale has noted more than once, the European Union engaged in "full-scale trade negotiations, on a proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, for three years with Obama."
Circling back to our previous coverage, while "Trump lies about his predecessor" isn't exactly an unfamiliar story, this is a very specific kind of lie, which Trump seems to turn to with unsettling frequency.
Last summer, for example, talking to reporters on Air Force One, the Republican said, "Don't forget -- Japan would not deal with Obama. He wouldn't deal with President Obama. They wouldn't deal. They said, 'No, we're not going to talk trade.' Me? They're calling up."
Again, this isn't even close to being true. The Trans-Pacific Partnership included a variety of countries, but Japanese officials and the Obama administration were at the heart of the talks that led to the agreement (which Trump rejected despite not understanding it).
Around the same time, Trump said, in reference to diplomacy with North Korean officials, "Obama couldn't meet, they wouldn't see him."
Reality points in the exact opposite direction: North Korea was eager, if not desperate, to meet with every recent American president, including Obama, but each U.S. leader had the good sense not to reward Pyongyang in exchange for nothing. Only Trump was willing to give up major diplomatic concessions without meaningful concessions from the rogue dictatorship.
The common thread is Trump's strange insistence that he's succeeding where Obama failed -- though this is plainly ridiculous because, in each of the examples Trump cites, his claims are the opposite of the truth.
Trump seems absolutely convinced that Obama either wouldn't talk to our international friends or foes, or they wouldn't talk to him. It's fallen to Trump, in his mind, to break through the silence and have the negotiations that his predecessor wouldn't or couldn't engage in.
Trump's preoccupation with Obama can get a little creepy, but this is just bizarre.