The distinguished editors at The Economist interviewed President Trump. When I set out to analyze his statements, I felt as if I had wandered into a hall of mirrors.
Donald Trump is a persuasive person who, one-on-one, has been able to make deals all over the world. He’s the master of communicating in tweets and campaign rallies. But the interviewers from The Economist and Trump do not even appear to be in the same conversation. In writing, you see how Trump takes on both sides of each issue . . . when he makes sense at all.
This is straight out of 1984, in the sense of “Peace is War. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.”
I’ll pull out a few of the most contradictory and tangled passages and translate them for you. These quotes read as if they were taken out of context. But I promise you, things are no clearer if you read the whole interview. The context, and the contradictions, are somewhere deep in Trump’s imagination.
[T]rade deals that have to be fair, and somewhat reciprocal, if not fully reciprocal. And I think that’s a word that you’re going to see a lot of, because we need reciprocality in terms of our trade deals. We have nations where…they’ll get as much as 100% of a tax or a tariff for a certain product and for the same product we get nothing, OK? It’s very unfair. And the very interesting thing about that is that, if I said I’m going to put a tax on of 10%, the free-traders, somewhat foolishly, they’ll say “Oh, he’s not a free-trader”, which I am, I’m absolutely a free-trader. I’m for open trade, free trade, but I also want smart trade and fair trade. But they’ll say, “He’s not a free-trader,” at 10%. But if I say we’re putting a reciprocal tax on, it may be 62% or it may be 47%, I mean massive numbers, and nobody can complain about it. It’s really sort of an amazing thing.
Translation: Free trade and tariffs are the same.
Negotiating with China
[Our] relationship with China is long. Of course by China standards, it’s very short [laughter], you know when I’m with [Xi Jinping], because he’s great, when I’m with him, he’s a great guy. He was telling me, you know they go back 8,000 years, we have 1776 is like modern history. They consider 1776 like yesterday and they, you know, go back a long time. They talk about the different wars, it was very interesting. We got along great. . . .
I’m dealing with a man, I think I like him a lot. I think he likes me a lot. We were supposed to meet for ten minutes and . . . the ten minutes turned out to be three hours, alone, the two of us. The next day it was supposed to be ten minutes and . . . [t]hat ten minute meeting turned out to be three hours. Dinner turned out to be three hours. I mean, he’s a great guy.
Translation: Xi Jinping is a nice man from a very old country.
Is China a currency manipulator?
[People said] [Journalists] 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.
Translation: I said China were the world champions of currency manipulation, but that was before I needed their help, so now they’re not.
On legal immigration
I want people to come into the country legally. No, legally? No. I want people to come in legally. . . . I absolutely want talented people coming in, I want people that are going to love our country coming in, I want people that are going to contribute to our country coming in. We want a provision at the right time, we want people that are coming in and will commit to not getting…not receiving any form of subsidy to live in our country for at least a five-year period. . . .
Now they’re going to be much more strongly vetted as you see. You know, we’ve broken the all-time record [of detentions at the border] by many times, 73, we’re up to 73, it’s going to go up to almost 80% at the border, we’ve…you know, really stopped it. We also want farm workers to be able to come in. You know, we’re going to have work visas for the farm workers. If you look, you know we have a lot of people coming through the border, they’re great people and they work on the farms and then they go back home. We like those people a lot and we want them to continue to come in.
Translation: Immigration is good if the people coming in are good, and bad if they are bad.
On “priming the pump” to boost economic growth
It is OK [if the tax plan increases the deficit], because it won’t increase it for long. You may have two years where you’ll…you understand the expression “prime the pump”? . . . We have to prime the pump. . . Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just…I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do. Yeah, what you have to do is you have to put something in before you can get something out.
Translation: Tax cuts will lead to revenue increases.
On Democratic support for his tax plan
I think the Democrats are going to like it. We may align it with infrastructure, which they like. They like it as much as the Republicans like it. We need infrastructure in our country. This country has wasted $6 trillion in the Middle East. Wasted. Like taking it and throwing it right out that window. Right in to the Rose Garden. See that beautiful Rose Garden? Look at those very nicely dressed people. It’s religious liberty out there. [Immediately after this interview, President Trump was due to sign an executive order promoting religious liberty.]
Translation: Taxes. Infrastructure. War. Religious Liberty. Squirrel!
On releasing his taxes
[Would I agree to release my taxes as part of a tax plan deal in Congress?] Because they’re not going to…nobody cares about my tax return except for the reporters. Oh, at some point I’ll release them. Maybe I’ll release them after I’m finished because I’m very proud of them actually. I did a good job. . . . I might release them after I’m out of office . . . By the way, so as you know I’m under routine audit, so they’re not going to be done. But you know, at a certain point, that’s something I will consider. But I would never consider it as part of a deal.
I would never do it. That would be…I think that would be unfair to the deal. It would be disrespectful of the importance of this deal. Because the only people that find that important are the reporters. Well, the Democrats say it’s important.
Well, don’t forget I got elected without it. Somebody said, “Oh but you have to do it,” I said, “Look where I am”. I was, you know, I was out front, I was asked that question, every debate, I said, you know, I’m under routine audit.
Translation: I’ll release my taxes after I run out of excuses . . . and I have so many excuses. Which one do you like best?
On his tax plan
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. . . . We’re contemplating various…I have to say, we’re contemplating various things, but one of the things that’s very important is simplicity. We want to keep it as simple as possible. Because even if you do, it’s complicated. I mean even if you keep it simple with taxes it gets complicated.
Translation: Taxes will be simpler, because we put out a simple one-page plan that leaves out all the details.
On the American Health Care Act, the Republican replacement for “Obamacare”
Our health care is much better than Obamacare. It’s going to be much less expensive. We’re going to have competition, we’re getting rid of the state lines, etc etc. The premiums are going to be low, the deductibles are going to be low. . . . We’re not going to let people die on the streets. . . . But ultimately, you know I use the expression, “If you have a bad knee, I would rather have the federal government focus on North Korea than fixing your knee.”
The state governments are in much better position to, you know, help people. You’re going to have it if you’re a person going in…don’t forget, this was not supposed to be the way insurance works. Insurance is, you’re 20 years old, you just graduated from college, and you start paying $15 a month for the rest of your life and by the time you’re 70, and you really need it, you’re still paying the same amount and that’s really insurance.
But I believe it’s very important to have this. Because one thing Obamacare did, is it gave that and it was a concept that people hadn’t heard of. And now I don’t want to end it. I don’t want to end it for somebody that…first of all I don’t want to end it for the people that already have it. And I don’t want to end it for somebody that hasn’t been buying insurance for all of his life where he has a guarantee that for all of his life he’s been buying the insurance and he can buy it inexpensively when he turns 65 or 70 years old. So we put in a tremendous amount and we’re…you know, for the pre-existing conditions. We are going to have a great pool for pre-existing conditions.
Now, that will even get better as it’s going along, it’s going to get better. But in a way you could say, that’s not really insurance, but it’s there. And I want to make it as…I want to make it actually better than what they have in Obama[care]. Now, Obama[care] has something that’s very, very bad. Where you have to pay a penalty. And people don’t realise, how many people are forced to pay a penalty and they don’t get any benefit out of it. We don’t have that. We’re going to have much lower premiums and we’re going to have much lower deductibles.
Translation: We will let states charge old and sick people much more, but that will make things better for them.
A lot has been written about whether Trump imagines that he invented the venerable term “priming the pump.” Based on this transcript, I don’t think he does.
I’m a lot more concerned about his ability to maintain and promulgate contradictory and incoherent ideas than whether he thinks he has invented language. Because that’s truly Orwellian.