Why Trump's ongoing confusion about China and trade matters

File photo taken in November 2017 shows U.S. President Donald Trump (and Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a welcome ceremony in Beijing.
File photo taken in November 2017 shows U.S. President Donald Trump (and Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a welcome ceremony in Beijing. 

During a brief Q&A with reporters yesterday, Donald Trump fielded a question about trade talks with China, which the president responded to in a familiar way:

"China would love to make a deal with us. We had a deal, and they broke the deal. I think, if they had to do again, they wouldn't have done what they did. We're taking in billions of dollars in tariffs. China is subsidizing products. So the United States taxpayer is paying for very little of it."

Earlier this week, Trump made a very similar argument during a press conference in Tokyo, while standing alongside Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

"You know, foolishly, some people said that the American taxpayer is paying the tariffs of China. No, no, no -- it's not that way. They're paying a small percentage, but our country is taking in billions and billions of dollars.... I don't believe that China can continue to pay these, really, hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs. I don't believe they can do that."

At this point, we could talk about the simple fact that Trump has reality backwards. We could also talk about the latest Monmouth University poll that suggested the American public has a better grasp of the basic details than their president.

We could even have a chat about Trump's willful ignorance and his decision to deliberately ignore reality, even when his own White House team tries to educate the president about his own agenda.

But as important as these angles are, I'm principally concerned with the practical effects of Trump's ongoing and persistent confusion.

By all accounts, the American president is absolutely convinced that his tariffs policy is forcing China to pay us billions of dollars, which Trump believes gives him leverage in trade talks. After all, in the Republican's mind, Beijing will yield any day now, unwilling to keep pumping billions into the American treasury.

That leverage exists only in Trump's imagination, making it that much more dangerous -- for the economy, for U.S. consumers, for everyone affected by international economic conditions -- when the White House pursues a policy built on a foundation of ignorance.

Complicating matters is that Trump, falsely convinced that his tariffs on China are working wonders, is now poised to impose new tariffs on Mexico, unaware of the impact this will have on his own country.

Pointing and laughing at the American president's unsettling limitations is easy, but there's nothing comedic about the real-world effects of Trump's nonsense.