The Washington Post today published transcripts of President Trump's late-January calls with Mexican president Enrique Peña-Nieto and Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull.
Most press reports today focus on his statements to Peña-Nieto that make it clear the border wall is complete bullshit. But I think we already knew that; this just puts it in Trump's own words.
On the other hand, I found the Turnbull call fascinating because it's clear Trump doesn't understand the important nuance of Australia's policy against accepting refugees who arrive by boat. Turnbull tries repeatedly to get Trump to see the point, but all Trump cares about is that the Obama Administration agreed to take 1,250 refugees from Australia in exchange for an equal number of Central American refugees—a "bad deal," according to Trump.
It's hard to pull out a short bit of the exchange that shows the problem simply. The issue is, Australia does not, under any circumstance, admit refugees who arrive by boat:
TURNBULL: The only people that we do not take are people who come by boat. So we would rather take a not very attractive guy that help you out then to take a [Nobel] Peace Prize winner that comes by boat. That is the point.
TRUMP: What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats? No, I know, they come from certain regions. I get it.
TURNBULL: No, let me explain why. The problem with the boats it that you are basically outsourcing your immigration program to people smugglers and also you get thousands of people drowning at sea.
This is not hard to understand. Not hard at all.
But Trump "knows" that the only reason to prevent some people and not others from entering the country is because they're "bad hombres." ("Bad wallabies?") Because that's how he thinks. And he's incapable, even in a semi-private call with another world leader, of seeing another point of view.
Shortly after the part I quoted above, Trump completely loses his patience and essentially hangs up on Turnbull. From Trump's perspective, if he honors the deal, he'll "be seen as a weak and ineffective leader in my first week by these people." Never mind that, as Turnbull points out, there's really no downside: Trump can refuse to admit anyone, he can blame Obama, whatever.
After reading this, I wonder if Trump hung up on Turnbull because the Australian PM made an irrefutable point that undermined Trump's basic premises. Since Trump can never be wrong, Turnbull must be the problem.
We weren't wrong about Trump two years ago. He just doesn't have the stuff for this job. No surprise there. But it's interesting to see how he behaves one-on-one with his peers, and what his priorities are up close. It's sad, really.