WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s ignorance of government policy, both foreign and domestic, is breathtaking. The Republican Party is likely to nominate for president a man who appears to know next to nothing about the issues that would confront him in the job.
Such a sweeping condemnation may sound unfair. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump were already busy tweeting that I’m a “dummy” or something. But if you read the transcript of Trump’s hourlong meeting with the editorial board of The Washington Post, which took place earlier this week, I don’t see how you can come to any other conclusion.
I should note that I’m not a member of the board and therefore did not attend. But the Post published a full transcript, and it is one of the most chilling documents I’ve read in a long time.
I have argued for many months that Trump should be taken seriously, that he has tapped into a legitimate anger and that he understands the Republican base far better than the party establishment does. I’ve had cordial conversations with him, on the telephone and in television studios, and I agree with those who say he should never be underestimated. So I’m not a reflexive Trump hater. I am, however, appalled at how little he knows – and truly frightened.
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The editors and writers at the Post were not playing “gotcha,” as the transcript clearly shows. They asked straightforward questions such as, “Do you see any racial disparities in law enforcement?”
Trump’s response was to give an empty soliloquy, ending with the declaration that “I’m a very strong believer in law enforcement, but I’m also a very strong believer that the inner cities can come back.” Asked twice more whether blacks and whites receive disparate treatment, Trump offered this:
“I’ve read where there are and I’ve read where there aren’t. I mean, I’ve read both. And, you know, I have no opinion on that. Because frankly, what I’m saying is you know we have to create incentives for people to go back and to reinvigorate the areas and to put people to work. And you know we have lost millions and millions of jobs to China and other countries. And they’ve been taken out of this country, and when I say millions, you know it’s, it’s tremendous. I’ve seen 5 million jobs, I’ve seen numbers that range from 6 million to, to smaller numbers. But it’s many millions of jobs, and it’s to countries all over. Mexico is really becoming the new China. And I have great issue with that.”
No opinion? China? Mexico?
He continued in that vein at length, bemoaning that “you’re losing Pfizer to Ireland,” until yet another attempt was made to get him back to the original question. He finally allowed that disparate treatment of African-Americans “would concern me” but said it could be solved, if it existed, by creating “incentives for companies to move in and create jobs.”
He was reminded that tax incentives and enterprise zones have been tried many times in the past. What would be different about his approach?
“I think what’s different is we have a very divided country,” Trump began. “And whether we like it or not, it’s divided as bad as I’ve ever seen it.” The rambling speech that followed ended with a pledge to be “a great cheerleader for the country.”
On foreign affairs, Trump was even more vague and vapid. Asked about the future of NATO, he was skeptical of the Cold War’s most vital alliance. He complained that we devote “hundreds of billions of dollars to supporting other countries that are, in theory, wealthier than we are.”
Called on that figure, he dialed it back to mere “billions.” His proposed solution was to “structure a much different deal … a much better deal.” I can’t help but imagine German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande being treated like minor partners in building some luxury condos or a new golf course.
Asked about Russian aggression in Ukraine, Trump said that “other people” should be doing more. Asked about China’s bullying actions in the South China Sea, he seemed to indicate he would be prepared to punish the Chinese with a trade war – but later took it back and said he wanted to be unpredictable.
I won’t even get into Trump’s lengthy defense of the size of his hands. Please read the transcript. Then decide whether it’s conceivable to put a man who knows so little in charge of so much.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.