As America continues to ponder whether President Donald Trump is obstructing justice by firing his FBI director in order to stymie an ongoing inquiry into his team’s various bizarre links to the Russian government, the Economist delivered an interview with the chief executive that reminds us of the original and most basic horror of the Trump administration: The president of the United States has no idea what he’s talking about.
And while Trump’s own answers are so bizarre and meandering that it seems overwhelmingly likely he is speaking nonsense out of ignorance rather than rank dishonesty, the performance of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as his squire in the interview is disturbing on an entirely different level. Much as Trump has turned the political appointees at the Justice Department into facilitators of his lies about Jim Comey, Mnuchin acts as an enabler rather than a provider of adult supervision.
Trump, ignorant, will say something stupid. Then Mnuchin, better-informed, will back him up by saying something blatantly false. The good news, such as it is, is that in Trump’s own telling, the president can be easily manipulated by foreign governments who dupe him into avoiding rash actions.
Trump makes tons of random false claims
The sheer volume of things that Trump says over the course of the interview is mind-boggling, and practically beyond counting. At times he appears to be willfully lying in pursuit of some political agenda, or at least repeating a half-remembered partisan talking point. But he also asserts that nobody had heard of Mike Pence before he was chosen to be Trump’s running mate, when Pence has in fact been well-known in American political circles for years.
Trump says that Ireland “never raised their taxes” during the Great Recession, when in fact Value Added Tax, gas tax, and alcohol taxes went up and the government also imposed a new carbon tax and moved to close some corporate tax loopholes.
Trump says we “always lose” in NAFTA arbitration cases, when in fact that United States has a better won-loss record in such disputes than either Canada or Mexico.
Trump says we run a $15 billion trade deficit with Canada, when in fact last year we ran a trade surplus.
Trump says Reagan’s 1986 tax reform proposal increased the deficit, when it did not.
Trump says we’re “the highest taxed nation in the world,” when in fact the United States has lower taxes than every developed country except Chile, Mexico, and Korea.
At times it’s difficult to know where exactly misstatements end and free associating nonsense begins. The Economist asks Trump why his tax plan is so tilted toward wealthy families and he (falsely) says that it isn’t “because they’re losing all of their deductions.” This wouldn’t change the fact that the plan is regressive even if it accurately characterized the plan, which it does not, since the plan in fact maintains several deductions.
The Economist then rightly asks him how something like eliminating the estate tax could fail to benefit the rich, and Trump appears to enter a fugue state:
I get more deductions, I mean I can tell you this, I get more deductions, they have deductions for birds flying across America, they have deductions for everything. There are more deductions … now you’re going to get an interest deduction, and a charitable deduction. But we’re not going to have all this nonsense that they have right now that complicates things and makes it … you know when we put out that one page, I said, we should really put out a, you know, a big thing, and then I looked at the one page, honestly it’s pretty well covered. Hard to believe.
Rather than bring Trump back down to earth, his aides stand by to enable his nonsense.
Trump aides guide him toward dishonesty
A signature moment in the interview comes after Trump gives a long, rambling answer on China in which he appears to say that he dropped his campaign pledge to designate China as a currency manipulator as part of a deal on North Korea:
Now, with that in mind, he’s representing China and he wants what’s best for China. But so far, you know, he’s been, he’s been very good. But, so they talk about why haven’t you called him a currency manipulator? Now think of this. I say, “Jinping. Please help us, let’s make a deal. Help us with North Korea, and by the way we’re announcing tomorrow that you’re a currency manipulator, OK?” They never say that, you know the fake media, they never put them together, they always say, he didn’t call him a currency [manipulator], number one. Number two, they’re actually not a currency [manipulator]. You know, since I’ve been talking about currency manipulation with respect to them and other countries, they stopped.
At this point Mnuchin chimes in to try to clarify the president’s rambling with an answer that’s crisp, precise, reflects well on the president, and is totally false: “Right, as soon as the president got elected they went the other way.”
In reality, Chinese undervaluation of its currency came to an end way back in 2014, and Trump waged his entire campaign on the basis of a false premise. It is to his credit that he is making the right policy decision rather than sticking by his wrong talking points, but it’s extremely troubling that his top advisers on the subject appear to be winning the argument by spinning the president with flattering lies rather than accurate analysis.
https://www.vox.com/2017/5/11/15622900/ ... -interview
There's more: how he's forgotten his excuse for not showing his taxes ("being audited") and an aide has to remind him; thinking he invented the economic use of "priming the pump" a few days ago, when it's been in widespread use since the 1930s (enough for people to base cartoons on it back then), and rambling on about how foreign leaders can easily persuade him to change his mind.
It's time for a proper medical examination of him, to look for signs of Alzheimer's.