During a morning exchange with a visiting Chinese trade delegation on Friday, Donald Trump suffered a bit of an ego meltdown over a disagreement in terms with his US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. The two, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, were hosting the visiting Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, that nation’s top negotiator. The two countries have been working toward trade agreements from some time, with varying levels of success.
But this particular exchange was marked by another instance of Trump insisting on defining things that already exist and have definitions by new terms according to whether or not he understands what they mean. That is not, of course, how Trump would characterize it, but in practice, it’s been exactly that: If he doesn’t like the name of something, he simply calls it by a new name and insists it’s something entirely different.
The perfect recent example is when, during talks with Canada and Mexico, he persuaded the two countries to begin referring to the updated NAFTA agreement as the “US-Mexico-Canada Agreement,” or USMCA (although Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau still uses NAFTA instead). There is almost no substantive change to the agreement, but Trump really wanted something new with his imprimatur on it, like if he started calling donuts “candy bagels” and claimed he invented them.
This time the disagreement was over the term “Memorandum of Understanding,” a phrase used to describe the numerous drafts between China and the US on tariffs, agriculture, intellectual property rights and various other areas of trade that contain legal language but are not, quote-unquote, trade agreements — which must be voted on by Congress.
Trump was quick to tell the attendant crowd of negotiators and press that the MO’s would be short term, saying, “I don’t like MOUs because they don’t mean anything. To me, they don’t mean anything.”
Lighthizer, afraid of giving the Chinese the impression that the agreements that have been hammered out so far are essentially meaningless, stepped over the President’s explanation to offer his own:
An MOU is a binding agreement between two people. It’s detailed. It covers everything in great detail. It’s a legal term. It’s a contract.”
That didn’t work for Trump, who does not like being corrected. The Chinese Vice Premier audibly laughed as Trump once again interjected: “By the way, I disagree. The real question is, Bob, how long will it take to put that into a final binding contract?”
The Trade Rep scrambled to fall on his own sword for Trump:
From now on we’re not using the word memorandum of understanding anymore. We’re going to use the term trade agreement. We’ll have the same document. It’s going to be called a trade agreement.”
“Good, because they’re called candy bagels,” the President said. No, he didn’t say that, but he would have if they’d been talking donuts.
Featured image via screen capture