Last week, Donald J. Trump sat down for an interview with The Economist, which sort of feels like a kindergartner being interviewed by the The Paris Review. The chat covered a variety of issues, from trade to taxes to health care to immigration, and included some delightfully surreal moments, such as when the president claimed to have invented the phrase “prime the pump.” Herewith, the highlights:
- Trumponomics, as it were, is about “self-respect” and winning: “. . . it really has to do with self-respect as a nation. It has to do with trade deals that have to be fair, and somewhat reciprocal, if not fully reciprocal. And I think that’s a word that you’re going to see a lot of, because we need reciprocality in terms of our trade deals . . . We always lose. But we’re not going to lose any more.”
- He appears unaware of the fact that his own aides opened a back channel to Justin Trudeau to convince him not to withdraw from NAFTA: “I was going to terminate NAFTA last week, I was all set, meaning the six-month termination. I was going to send them a letter, then after six months, it’s gone. But the word got out, they called and they said, we would really love to . . . they called separately but it was an amazing thing. They called separately 10 minutes apart. I just put down the phone with the president of Mexico when the prime minister of Canada called. And they both asked almost identical questions. ‘We would like to know if it would be possible to negotiate as opposed to a termination.’ And I said, ‘Yes, it is. Absolutely.’ So, so we did that and we’ll start.”
- He possibly had no idea how old China is, until president Xi Jinping gave him a history lesson; now, he’s really excited to show off that knowledge: “[Our] relationship with China is long. Of course by China standards, it’s very short [laughter], you know when I’m with [Xi Jinping], because he’s great, when I’m with him, he’s a great guy. He was telling me, you know they go back 8,000 years, we have 1776 is like modern history. They consider 1776 like yesterday and they, you know, go back a long time.”
- He’s totally flexible, but he won’t give any examples of said flexibility for publication: “Nobody, you know, I always use the word flexibility, I have flexibility. [Goes off the record.]”
- He thinks he coined the phrase “prime the pump,” which has in fact been used in economics since 1932, with the creation of President Herbert Hoover’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and, according to, Merriam Webster, has existed since the early 1800s. (This exchange really must be read in full):
The Economist: But beyond that it’s O.K. if the tax plan increases the deficit?
Trump: It is O.K., because it won’t increase it for long. You may have two years where you’ll . . . you understand the expression “prime the pump”?
The Economist: Yes.
Trump: We have to prime the pump.
The Economist: It’s very Keynesian.
Trump: We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world. Have you heard that expression before, for this particular type of an event?
The Economist: Priming the pump?
Trump: Yeah, have you heard it?
The Economist: Yes.
Trump: Have you heard that expression used before? Because I haven’t heard it. I mean, I just . . . I came up with it a couple of days ago, and I thought it was good. It’s what you have to do.
The Economist: It’s . . .
Trump: Yeah, what you have to do is you have to put something in before you can get something out.
- He thinks reporters are the only people who care about his tax returns, which he did “a good job” on, whatever that means: “I don’t know [if I’ll release my tax returns as part of a deal with Democrats]. That’s a very interesting question. I doubt it. I doubt it. Because they’re not going to . . . nobody cares about my tax return except for the reporters. Oh, at some point I’ll release them. Maybe I’ll release them after I’m finished because I’m very proud of them actually. I did a good job.” White House director of strategic communication Hope Hicks interjects: “Once the audit is over.” Trump continues, ignoring the talking point that was just handed to him: “I might release them after I’m out of office.”
CREDITS: Vanity Fair