The White House has now admitted that the phone call President Trump claimed to get from the Boy Scouts praising his sex yacht speech never actually happened. But somehow, that's not the biggest presidential phone call news of the day. The Washington Post got its hands on transcripts of two of Trump's infamous early calls to other world leaders, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Those incidents drew some concern at the time about the Trumpian approach to diplomacy. Now, it's clear we weren't nearly worried enough.
First, there was the call with Peña Nieto, in which the president called his counterpart "Enrique" throughout—a total of 14 times—to show Tremendous Respect. The most obvious point of discussion was The Wall, which Trump insisted Mexico would pay for throughout the campaign. Apparently, there are people who actually believed this, and Trump felt some pressure to follow through. Peña Nieto (not to mention former president Vicente Fox) was clear in public statements that Mexico was never going to pay for The Wall, and Trump, in their first powwow, was desperate for him to stop acknowledging reality so loudly:
The only thing I will ask you though is on the wall, you and I both have a political problem. My people stand up and say, "Mexico will pay for the wall" and your people probably say something in a similar but slightly different language. But the fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall—I have to. I have been talking about it for a two year period...So what I would like to recommend is—if we are going to have continued dialogue—we will work out the wall. They are going to say, "who is going to pay for the wall, Mr. President?" to both of us, and we should both say, "we will work it out." It will work out in the formula somehow. As opposed to you saying, "we will not pay" and me saying, "we will not pay."
...We cannot say that anymore because if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that...But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that.
Stop saying that! Just say "we will work it out" until one or both of us gets run out of office. (Peña Nieto can also claim some godawful approval ratings.) Later, Trump was also candid about why The Wall was actually so important.
Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important talk about. But in terms of dollars—or pesos—it is the least important thing. I know how to build very inexpensively, so it will be much lower than these numbers I am being presented with, and it will be a better wall and it will look nice. And it will do the job.
Trump made a bunch of different claims about how much The Wall would cost, but WaPo cited one of his estimates of $8 billion. The Department of Homeland Security put the actual numbers at $21.6 billion, so Trump will really have to flex his Inexpensive Building Skills. But the real takeaway is that Trump will readily admit The Wall is primarily a political device.
Elsewhere, he offered an intriguing take on the Drug War:
And we have the drug lords in Mexico that are knocking the hell out of our country. They are sending drugs to Chicago, Los Angeles, and to New York. Up in New Hampshire—I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den—is coming from the southern border. So we have a lot of problems with Mexico farther than the economic problem. We are becoming a drug-addicted nation and most the drugs are coming from Mexico or certainly from the southern border.
Trump did not actually win New Hampshire in the general election. But he is well aware of the opioid abuse epidemic there. He attributes that not at all to the overprescription of painkillers, but completely to the flow of drugs over the Mexico-New Hampshire border.
Then he just descended into self-parody:
You have some pretty tough hombres in Mexico that you may need help with, and we are willing to help you with that big-league. But they have to be knocked out and you have not done a good job of knocking them out.
This is what a liberal Twitter user who exclusively calls the president "Drumpf" would imagine his conversation with the president of Mexico would sound like. But it's what actually happened.
Having safely shored up our relationship with one geopolitical ally, the president moved on to Malcolm Turnbull, prime minister of Australia. This call got a lot of play right after it happened, even when the full details weren't clear, because reports were widespread that things hadn't exactly gone well. The transcript lays that bare, and more. It's not just that Trump was like a bull in a china shop, raging about a deal for the U.S. to accept some refugees from Australia. It's that he was so breathtakingly ignorant about everything he was raging about.
Well, actually I just called for a total ban on Syria and from many different countries from where there is terror, and extreme vetting for everyone else—and somebody told me yesterday that close to 2,000 people are coming who are really probably troublesome. And I am saying, boy that will make us look awfully bad. Here I am calling for a ban where I am not letting anybody in and we take 2,000 people. Really it looks like 2,000 people that Australia does not want and I do not blame you by the way, but the United States has become like a dumping ground.
It's always nice to use a metaphor, like "dumping ground," that implies human beings seeking refugee status are actual garbage. Trump's description of the deal, as Turnbull later explained to him, is also off: The U.S. was not required to accept 2,000 people, or anyone at all. The U.S. agreed to review and vet at least 1,250 people the Australians had put in camps on two remote Pacific islands—in conditions human rights groups deemed inhumane—and let in whomever passed the vetting process. The people were not from conflict zones, Turnbull added, but were economic refugees.
Trump zeroed in on the important point, however:
Who made the deal? Obama?
And then things really went off the rails:
"I am the world's greatest person," he said, before once again misstating the terms of the deal. When corrected, he threw out another number that "he also heard." But then came the worst of it:
I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad. That is why they are in prison right now. They are not going to be wonderful people who go on to work for the local milk people.
They're not in prison. They're in refugee camps. Jesus Christ. This is an actual toddler's interpretation of events. And what the hell are "local milk people"? Is this an attempt from the president, a Man of the People, to throw out some Normal All-American Job That People Still Do, like be a milkman? This is another disturbing look into the president's brain, which is rapidly atrophying in a jar of 1950s nostalgia.
He also had some thoughts on refugees in light of the Boston marathon bombing:
TRUMP: Okay, good. Can Australia give me a guarantee that if we have any problems – you know that is what they said about the Boston bombers. They said they were wonderful young men.
TURNBULL: They were Russians. They were not from any of these countries.
TRUMP: They were from wherever they were.
The only difference between the president in public and the president on the phone with world leaders is that on the phone, he's apparently willing to admit The Wall is just politics. Otherwise, he's the same: He knows nothing, cares less, but is always willing to lash out at anyone or anything that threatens him—whether it's the prospect of negative media coverage or the 5,000 refugees knocking on the door of his addled mind.
This post has been updated.
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