Thursday, March 15, 2018


President Trump delivered a fundraising speech in Missouri last night. This anecdote from the speech is getting a lot of attention:
President Trump boasted in a fundraising speech Wednesday that he made up information in a meeting with the leader of a top U.S. ally, saying he insisted to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the United States runs a trade deficit with its neighbor to the north without knowing whether that was the case.

“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.’

‘Well, sir, you’re actually right. We have no deficit, but that doesn’t include energy and timber. ... And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year.’ It’s incredible.”
First, I think Trump would dispute the notion that he "made up information." Yes, he admitted he "didn’t even know" what the U.S.-Canada trade balance is. But to Trump, that doesn't mean he was making stuff up. Read this part of the anecdote again:
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.
Other people, if they'd attained the job of president of the United States, would sit down and learn the facts about U.S.-Canada trade before discussing the issue with the Canadian prime minister. But Trump doesn't need facts. He has theories. And they're Trump theories, so they're always right.

One of those theories is: Every American leader who's ever dealt with foreign trade is an idiot who allowed America to be screwed, because none of them were Donald Trump. Only Trump could have prevented America from being screwed by Canada (and every other country on the planet) all these years. That's why Trump was certain that we have a trade deficit with Canada, even though he'd never looked it up. He had to be right, because everyone who's come before him has been bad at dealing with trade -- "we're so stupid" as a country that we've let all these non-Trump people do the job until now.

Trump doesn't need facts -- he inevitably grasps the truth because, as he never tires of telling us, he has a very high IQ:
Trump's always been the world's leading gladiator when it comes to IQ smackdowns.

In 2016, he challenged London's mayor, Sadiq Khan, to compare IQ tests after Khan dismissed Trump's take on Islam as "ignorant."

Trump has also boasted that he has a higher IQ than George W. Bush, Barack Obama, George Will, Karl Rove and the entire staff of the Washington Post. Lest he missed anyone, Trump has also issued blanket warnings to those who might question his intellectual chops, as he did in this Twitter post from 2013:

And why does he have a high IQ? Great genes!

So of course he was right. And he was right without checking first. In fact, if you have to bone up before a trade meeting with another head of state, that proves you have a lower IQ than Trump, and therefore you have genes that are inferior to his!

Of course, Trump wasn't right:
Here’s our actual trade deficit with Canada:

For the past three years, we’ve had a trade deficit in goods with Canada of about $20 billion, mostly because we import lots of oil and natural gas from them (about $70 billion in 2017). But that’s only tangible goods. We export a lot of services to Canada (financial services, computer services, etc.), and as a result we’ve been running a total trade surplus of about $5 billion. This is what Trudeau was talking about. It has nothing to do with timber, and the number $17 billion doesn’t show up anywhere.
I have a few theories about this part of the anecdote.

Maybe the entire anecdote is a lie. Or maybe no one was ever sent to confirm Trump's theory. Or maybe someone was sent, and he felt compelled to give Trump what he wanted, so he pulled up numbers from before the last three years, when the U.S. did have a trade deficit with Canada. Or maybe Trump actually absorbed this information years ago, probably from a segment on Fox and Friends, rather than intuiting it from the idea that every non-Trump figure in the U.S. government has allowed America to be screwed, and he's relied ever since on this outdated information he half-learned, and never bothered to check the current facts.

It's also possible that he has some vague understanding of the current facts but literally doesn't believe that services exchanged across borders count as international trade.


There was another odd anecdote in Trump's speech:
He accused Japan of using gimmicks to deny U.S. auto companies access to their consumers....

“It’s the bowling ball test. They take a bowling ball from 20 feet up in the air and drop it on the hood of the car,” Trump said of Japan. “If the hood dents, the car doesn’t qualify. It’s horrible,” he said. It was unclear what he was talking about.
A number of people have said on Twitter today that they've searched for this and can't find any likely source for it. I also tried and failed. Here's the problem: There weren't right-wing email forwards in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when angry white guys were upset about "Japan Inc." Maybe someone will come up with a poorly mimeographed penny-stock newsletter from that era that includes this dubious tale. But I bet that's how old it is, and I bet it's just folklore Trump heard from some guy he knew during the Poppy Bush era.

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