Friday, March 16, 2018

Because We're So Stupid: Mystery Maybe Solved

"Whaddaya mean they make cars in Canada? Where, for Christ's sake?" Image via Greenpeace.

I think I may have a fix on what happened (as discussed in yesterday's post, and thanks to a comment from Professor Fate) when Trump was enjoying himself telling the Missouri Republicans how he makes shit up the other day, if you bear with me for a minute here, starting with the fact that he's told the story about his brilliant defeat of Prime Minister Trudeau before, notably at the Pensacola rally in support of Roy Moore, December 8, via Toronto Globe and Mail:
"I like the prime minister very much. Prime Minister Trudeau. Nice guy. Good guy. No, I like him. But we had a meeting... He said, 'No, no, you have a trade surplus.' I said, 'No we don't.' He said, 'No, no you have a trade surplus,"' Trump told the Florida crowd.
"(Trudeau) said, 'I'm telling you that Canada has a deficit with the United States.' I told my people – in front of a lot of people – I said, 'Go out and check'."
He said his staff found Trudeau left out some key details, pertaining to trade in goods: "(Trudeau) was right. Except he forgot two categories: Lumber timber; and energy. Other than that, he was right. When you add them all together, we actually have a $17-billion deficit with Canada."

So for one thing, the $17-billion deficit Huckabee Sanders was referring to in her tweet couldn't have been the one Trump was referring to in the December speech, because the Census Bureau wouldn't have had those numbers yet; they run about two months behind, so the 2017 US deficit in goods trade with Canada would have been about $12 billion at that point. The "lumber timber" (a solecism, timber is felled trees and lumber is after it's been cut to size) would, of course, have been just as irrelevant.

But when Trump actually hosted the White House meeting with Trudeau, February 13 2017, the (fairly new) annual trade balance numbers were for 2016, when the US deficit in goods trade with Canada was just under $11 billion according to the Census Bureau, for the year. In other words, that number went up a good 60% in Trump's first year compared to what it was under Obama. You sure you want to be bragging on that, Sarah?

Incidentally, there's no mention of trade balances with Canada in the readout for the 2016 White House meeting with Trudeau, or any other indication that they argued about whether there was a surplus or a deficit so if Trump laid down his challenge "in front of a lot of people" in the private meeting, we don't have any evidence.

However, in an interview with The Economist of May 2017, Trump told them that the US had
about a $15bn dollar trade deficit with Canada. The timber coming in from Canada, they’ve been negotiating for 35 years. And it’s been…it’s been terrible for the United States. You know, it’s just, it’s just been terrible. They’ve never been able to make it.
To which AP fact checkers responded,
His numbers are upside down. The United States actually ran an $8.1 billion trade surplus with Canada last year, according to the latest numbers available from the Census Bureau. A $24.6 billion U.S. surplus with Canada in the trade of services, including tourism and software, outweighed a $16.5 billion deficit in the trade of goods, including autos and oil.
I can't be arsed to do the arithmetic, but I think these "latest numbers" must have been something like April 2016 through March 2017 and that this is where Trump's "guy" got the $17 billion figure from, rounding that very last number upward, and poor Hope Hicks put the clipping on Trump's desk. Then somebody, likely Trump himself, saw the phrase "including autos and oil" (referring to the fact that these are the two biggest categories of US imports from Canada), and said to himself, "That idiot Trudeau left this stuff out! No wonder he got the numbers wrong!" and the idea froze in his brain, but not until he had substituted "lumber timber" for cars (because of course he can't believe we import cars from Canada, and assumes that lumber is the main thing, which it isn't, at less than $6 billion a year).

So he didn't really make it up. Lies are almost always transformations of a given input, not pure inventions. He simply learned it wrong, and didn't care, and when he does that you can never get rid of it.

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