“I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know … I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’”
That, as reported by The Washington Post, was Donald Trump boasting during a private fundraising dinner about lying to Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, our northern neighbor and closest ally.
When caught in the lie, Trump did what Trump does: Repeats the lie, louder, stronger, and more stridently.
After the lie was reported, Trump tweeted:
“We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada, as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive). P.M. Justin Trudeau of Canada, a very good guy, doesn’t like saying that Canada has a Surplus vs. the U.S. (negotiating), but they do … they almost all do … and that’s how I know!”
By the way, here is PolitiFact’s fact-check of Trump’s claim:
“In 2017, the United States had a $23.2 billion deficit with Canada in goods. In other words, the United States in 2017 bought more goods from Canada than Canada bought from the United States.
However, the United States had a $25.9 billion surplus with Canada in services – and that was enough to overcome that deficit and turn the overall balance of trade into a $2.8 billion surplus for the United States in 2017. The same pattern occurred in 2016.”
It bears repeating that Donald Trump is a pathological, unrepentant liar. We must state this truth for as long as he revels in untruth.
But there is something about the nakedness of this confession, the brazenness of it, the cavalier-ness, that still has the ability to shock.
First, why does the president of the United States not know whether we have a trade surplus or deficit with Canada? A pillar of his campaign was to renegotiate NAFTA. Surely he understood the basic fundamentals before making wild accusations and unrealistic promises, right? Wrong.
Trump’s recalling of the story suggested that he was somehow overpowering and outmaneuvering Trudeau, free to best him because he was unencumbered by an allegiance to the truth.
But in fact, the story makes Trump look small and ignorant and unprincipled.
Lying to your friends and then bragging behind their backs that you lied to them is the quickest way to poison a friendship.
This is lying for sport, for the thrill of it, because you can and feel that there is no penalty for it.
Our relationship with our allies around the world depends on some degree of mutual trust and respect. What must they think when they watch Trump demolish those diplomatic tenets? How are international agreements supposed to be negotiated when one party is a proven, prolific liar?
We have no idea just how damaged the American brand has become under Trump.
As a June Pew Research Center report pointed out:
“Although he has only been in office a few months, Donald Trump’s presidency has had a major impact on how the world sees the United States. Trump and many of his key policies are broadly unpopular around the globe, and ratings for the U.S. have declined steeply in many nations.”
The report continued:
“According to a new Pew Research Center survey spanning 37 nations, a median of just 22 percent has confidence in Trump to do the right thing when it comes to international affairs. This stands in contrast to the final years of Barack Obama’s presidency, when a median of 64 percent expressed confidence in Trump’s predecessor to direct America’s role in the world.”
Surely, some may think this lie to Trudeau is a small matter, particularly in light of the waves of Trump chaos and scandal that wash over us several times a day.
But it is this damaging of truth, this injuring of American identity, this undercutting of American credibility that will be the hardest to reverse.
One of Trump’s most lasting legacies will likely be the damage he’s doing to the fundamental idea that truth matters.
The world is watching, and that includes the world’s children, some of whom will register him as their first American president. How will they regard this absence from world leadership that Trump is enacting? Will they grow up repulsed by it? Most hopefully will. But there will undoubtedly be others that draw a different lesson from the Trump philosophy: Create your own reality; populate it with “facts” of your own creation; use lying as a tactic; remember that strict adherence to truth is a moral barrier and morality is a burden.
This is what this man is projecting: A debauched character and a hollow place where integrity should exist.
Rather than preserving the nobility of the presidency, he is debasing it. Rather than burnishing the image of America, he is tarnishing it.
It is an awful fact that the most powerful man in America may also represent the worst of America. In a way, Trump is the un-American president.