Top Story: Trump Transcripts Tell Troubling Tale

Today’s Top Story: On Thursday, it was revealed that the Washington Post had obtained two transcripts of phone conversations of world leaders with Trump from January; calls he had with Peña Nieto, President of Mexico, and Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister of Australia. The call with Turnbull was previously reported as tense, with President Trump reportedly hanging up midway through the call. The call with President Peña Nieto reportedly mostly concerned the border wall, and also led to the memetic “tough hombre” (matching an earlier comment about nasty women).

The released transcripts reveal conversations familiar to students of Trump’s diplomatic style. He harps on the size of the crowds he attracted at rallies, he exaggerates his win margins, he doesn’t understand how policy is truly formed (that there is more to it than saying it at a rally), and he manages to complement Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also called New Hampshire a “drug-infested den”, and claimed he won it. While the President did win the New Hampshire primary, the vote was so close that Hillary was called to have won their vote after the fact.

When he was speaking to President Peña Nieto, President Trump seemed surprised that his campaign promises were not considered policy. Trump had been including a message about introducing some sort of tariff with Mexico on the campaign trail. However, he had apparently not included it in trade talks with Mexico, and when the Mexican president claimed it was new policy that had not been discussed, Trump seemed almost offended. During the call, Trump returns to the topic of the wall again and again, emphasizing how President Peña Nieto has to stop denying he’s going to pay for the wall, because it looks bad for Trump. Peña Nieto replies again and again that he cannot say anything else, because he has a duty to his citizens. Trump also seems to grasp that the wall is empty rhetoric, saying “this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important talk about,” [sic] although Trump claims, as he has many times, that he can keep the cost for what would be the greatest public works project America has ever embarked upon down to a reasonable level.  The call ends with Trump trying to flatter Peña Nieto, while the Mexican president seems to understand how empty Trump’s words truly are.

President Trump’s conversation with PM Turnbull primarily concerned a deal that the Obama administration had made to take in 1,250 detainees (although Trump thought the number might be as high as 5,000) from Australia’s Manus and Nauru detention facilities, where anyone trying to enter Australia by boat (for example, asylum seekers) are held. Conditions are awful there. Commenting on the Australian policy, Trump told Turnbull, “You are worse than I am.” The call came the day after Trump enacted his first Muslim ban, which was later found unconstitutional, and the President was incensed by how weak he thought the detainee deal would make him look. President Trump seemed to think that the detainees were guilty of violent crimes, saying, “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.” (He probably meant dairy farmers.) The Boston Bombers were brought up (although the brothers were from Russia and Kyrgyzstan, not the countries where these Australian detainees originated), and while Trump worried about security, Turnbull assured him the “vast bulk” were “basically economic refugees from Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan”. Again Trump had an insight he didn’t follow up on, asking, “Why haven’t you let them out? Why have you not let them into your society?”, with Turnbull replying about his commitment to stop the boats (Australian laws concerning refugees give undocumented refugees significant rights, as long as they land on Australia), as doing anything else encourages human smuggling. Outspoken opponents criticize the practice as violating international regulations on human rights. Frustratingly,  although Turnbull explains to Trump exactly how he can utilize his “extreme vetting” to keep only a handful of the detainees, Trump still complains about the deal. The call ends in unrequited acrimony, with Trump ending the call while Turnbull desperately tries to conclude with some semblance of regular order, to the point where his replies do not match up to what Trump is saying.

Overall, the conversations are alarming mostly because it shows a man who has no grasp of the task ahead of him, and very little ability to adapt to it. World leaders are almost assuredly giving each other advice on how to best deal with the President of the United States, to flatter the “dealmaker” instead of trying to negotiate or reason with him. At this point, Trump’s behavior in these conversations is not surprising, but the status of American relationships with foreign governments remains in the state of crisis that we now know began at least as far back as January of this year.