Friday, March 16, 2018

Literary Corner: Because We're So Stupid

Update here.
After blanking on the name “Canada”, U.S. President Donald Trump was overheard referring to Justin Trudeau as the “leader of the igloo people”, as the two met for crunch talks. The incident occurred during the President’s sit down meeting with the Prime Minister in the Oval Office. While Trump was commenting on how “great” the PM was, he paused mid sentence at: “And you’re honestly a terrific leader of…” Unaware that his microphone was on, or that everyone else in the room could easily hear him, Mr. Trump leaned over to his advisor Kellyanne Conway and whispered: “Ah, what do they call themselves again, those people,” Trump said while discreetly pointing upwards. “You know, up there where it’s cold,” he added, snapping his fingers. Before an alarmed looking Conway could respond, Trump bluttered, “the igloo people, is that it? He’s the leader of the igloo people, right?” (Satire, I should say, from the Burrard Street Journal. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters.)

I hate to tell you all, but she's almost right. Lying, but only over one nonsensical detail. Trump is not exactly making that up in his fundraiser speech for senatorial candidate Josh Hawley in St. Louis on Wednesday . Or he is, but he isn't lying: he's creating; he's not trying to tell his audience what happened as much as giving them the drama of how it felt. He's messing it up in a very odd way, too, but that's another matter. There's just one real lie in his account, which Sarah is lying about in turn in a more calculated and yet brazen way. But Trump is like Herodotus, giving you the sting and the rush of it:

The Triumph of Instinct over Knowledge
by Donald J. Trump
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." Nice guy,
good-looking, comes in — "Donald, we have
no trade deficit" — he was very proud,
because everybody else you know were getting
killed with our — so he's proud.
I said, "Wrong, Justin, you do." I didn't
even know. Josh, 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. But when you
do we lose 17 billion dollars a year."
It's incredible. So you're in good hands.
It's lovely how he sets this up as a morality, raising up his victim to fall all the farther, "good", "nice", "good-looking", but "proud", to take his punishment at the hands of the wily old businessman.

I don't think anybody's quite noticed how the midsection is spoiled by Trump's personal difficulty in imagining the other person's point of view—Trudeau should be saying, "You have no deficit with us," or "We have no surplus," because the fact, as you know, is that the United States has been running an overall surplus against Canada in goods and services trade, and the fact is what he's dealing in, but Trump has him say "We have no deficit," which would be false. In any case Trump doesn't know he's misspoken, and this causes him to stumble into saying that "everyone else" is getting killed with trade deficits instead of the suffering USA, which is supposed to be getting killed, "because we're stupid" and all these cunning and wicked nations can have their way with us.

It's confusing, but the error is irrelevant to the point of the story, which is about Trump's victory over the young and smart. The point is that he's high, like the Pythoness at Delphi! He doesn't need any information. What he says will be true, because he's Trump! "I didn't even know, I had no idea." But "I feel differently... I don't believe it... I can't believe it." And then they send out "our guy, his guy, my guy" to duel it out—Googles at 20 paces—and Trump's champion wins (remembering, at the last, which side the Trumpian deficit is supposed to be on).

In reality, presumably, Trudeau said, "You have a surplus against us," and Trump was astonished at this crazy bravado, which contradicted everything he's been saying for 30 years. I don't believe the dénouement with the "our guy, his guy, my guy", that's surely Trump's theatrical staging of the thing so that Trudeau can be on the spot to witness his defeat, but it seems clear that he must indeed have asked "his guy", after the meeting, to find out if there could be any truth in the young PM's strange beliefs, which the guy understood correctly as an instruction to find some way in which Trump could continue to assert he was right.

It's a sign of the desperation in communications around the White House that it never occurred to the guy to do something sensible like call up the US Trade Representative's office, where they've cooked up an especially insane position for use in the NAFTA negotiations (Canada doesn't just have a trade surplus against the US but a monster surplus of $87 billion, if you count all the stuff, apparently a huge amount, that comes into the US through Canada, which is already counted as part of the China-US trade imbalance), which is what Trudeau was probably expecting, according to CBC.

Instead, Trump's guy let Google take him to the Census Bureau, of all places, where they have a special set of figures, representing only some of the trade, the goods and not the services. Since Canada really does export a relatively large amount of stuff to the US (petroleum and timber), and the US really does export a lot of services to Canada, in the travel, intellectual property (software and audio-visual), and transportation sectors, so if you only count the goods, Canada really does have a surplus, of about $17 billion in 2017. Along the same lines as the formula whereby you could say Trump won the popular vote in 2016 if you ignored everybody in California.

(If you count both goods and services it's the US that had the surplus, of about $12 billion, exactly as Trudeau said.)

So, long story short, that's where Trump learned that he was right and Trudeau wrong, except that that wasn't true, and that if Trudeau had actually been there would have totally defeated him, except that it wouldn't. "So they are killing us!" Trump said to himself, incorrectly. "I knew it, the sons of bitches! Wish that Trudeau was here now."

And the bizarre error, the idea that people think the US has a surplus because they refuse to count oil and wood, is created by shaking some of the facts out onto the floor and then sticking them back in in the wrong places.

Sanders, though, suggests in her tweet that Trump knew what he was talking about (trade in goods), when he clearly didn't understand anything, once again.

The most damning thing in the whole episode, though, is certainly Trump telling the truth, about how he's completely comfortable making statements without having a clue whether they're right or wrong, in the apparent faith that the gods will turn them right on his behalf, and that this event, which didn't even happen at all the way he said it did, is evidence that he's using a sound procedure when he does that.

No comments:

Post a Comment