Thursday, March 8, 2018

One Billion Dollars

From March 2017, via The Wrap.

Trump over the weekend, as reported by The Hill, seemed to be letting an awfully big cat out of his bag:
President Trump said late Saturday that North Korea must “denuke” before any talks with the U.S.
“Now we are talking and they ... called up a couple of days ago. They said that ‘we would like to talk.’ And I said, ‘So would we, but you have to denuke, you have to denuke,’ ” Trump said at the annual Gridiron Club dinner in Washington, D.C., Reuters reported.
“We will be meeting and we’ll see if anything positive happens,” he said.
“I won’t rule out direct talks with [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un. I just won’t.”
He took a phone call from North Koreans? They discussed entering formal talks and he made a proposal? Actually no, it seems this did not happen. As explained by an unnamed National Security Council official and confirmed by the White House and noted in Newsweek, the president misspoke:

The official said the president was in fact referring to a March 1 phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, during which the two leaders “noted their firm position that any dialogue with North Korea must be conducted with the explicit and unwavering goal of complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.”
But I have to say I'm not totally satisfied with this: I mean, anybody could briefly mix up the names of South Korea and North Korea, not that it's something Trump has ever publicly done before, and he's talked a lot about North Korea, South Korea not so much, but if he's talking about a conversation with President Moon, why would he say, "Now we are talking"? We're always talking with South Korea, where something like 23,500 US troops are stationed, etc. Why would President Moon say to him, "We would like to talk?" By the same token, why would he reply, "But you've got to denuke"?

What I mean to suggest is that he wasn't misremembering what happened, hahaha, can't tell the difference between North and South Korea. He was making the whole thing up, and then the minders scrambled to think of something he might have meant to say instead, to make it go away.

Then there's this one:

He can't really think extracting a promise from the Chinese to reduce their massive Trade Deficit by One Billion Dollars would have any significant effect on anything (though the plan certainly looks well capitalized, heh-heh), and he can't be misremembering some actual plan he's signed off on.

He 's making it up, again; he hasn't asked China to do anything and he doesn't know whether anybody in his government has done it or not. He's merely trying to give the impression that he's on top of things and working hard, and he doesn't know what he's talking about and too lazy to make an effort to make it sound plausible. And half an hour later,
He's clearly been stewing over the controversy that began (as NBC's Stephanie Ruhle in particular has been reporting) when his temper boiled over last Thursday morning over his problems with Hope Hicks, Jeff Sessions, the war between Kushner and Kelly, and the failure of the staff to come up with any cool tariff ideas (they said they were two weeks away from being able to make recommendations), climaxing with what seems to have been a Wilbur Ross fuckup: Trump had been expecting one of those "listening sessions" he loves, because they remind him of the boardroom dénouement of a Celebrity Apprentice episode, with a bunch of steel and aluminum executives, but Ross had failed to get them cleared for entry by the Secret Service. By the time they were admitted he was stuck with a press corps who'd been waiting an hour to witness some imperial decisiveness and nothing to show them. So when he invited them into the Cabinet Room for a very abbreviated ten-minute meeting, he made the announcement for which the White House was wholly unprepared, though it wasn't clear what he'd announced until the press questions:
THE PRESIDENT:  Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for being here.  We appreciate it.  Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.  And we’ll see you next week.
Thank you, everybody.  Thank you very much.
Q    How long, do you think, on the tariffs?
THE PRESIDENT:  Unlimited period.  Unlimited.
Q    Twenty-five on steel?
THE PRESIDENT:  Twenty-five percent for steel.  It will be 10 percent for aluminum.  And it will be for a long period of time.
Q    Do you have comment on Jeff Sessions, sir?
THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, everybody.  Thank you.
Q    Twenty-five for steel and ten for aluminum?
THE PRESIDENT:  Twenty-five for steel and ten for aluminum.
Q    (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT:  It’s being written now.
Q    Thank you, sir.
He was pretty clearly making that up, too, on the spot, though possibly with some help from Ross, who would have had the last-person-who-spoke-to-him position. And then Gary Cohn resigned and the Dow dropped 500 points.

What brought on yesterday' tweets was presumably something that sounded mildly critical on TV suggesting that the tariff proposal he'd improvised in his "unglued" state wasn't targeted at important things (I've spent a ridiculous amount of time looking, and I'm guessing it was an elegy for Gary Cohn by Matt Egan on CNN, or Mark Zandi of Moody's, whose "What Trump Gets Wrong" piece had shown up on CNN the night before). Now the staff is going to have to scramble again, as hard as it can, to crank up some intellectual property idea and try to make people forget the One Billion Dollars number.

This is such a big part of the way government is working at the moment, where Trump pulls some illiterate or innumerate fabulation out of his ear, or out of his wherever, to retain the look of being in command, and the rest of the West Wing has to work out a way of making it look as if he really were in command and what he said made sense. It's going to end in tears.

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