So, yeah. That phone call.
Yesterday morning, I posted this about the problems Trump faces as the type of person who makes crazy threats, and gets into trouble because, while he might be able to extract some concessions by making threats that no sane actor could credibly make, he is not smart enough to understand when other actors are actually capable of conceding. I posted it in the context of healthcare, but that Nieto phone call was just perfect.
Here's a link to the transcript, which the Washington Post acquired. Cue the conspiracy theories about Jeff Bezos. Short version: Trump almost started to understand that Nieto wasn't going to pay for that fucking wall Trump had been promising, but Trump really wanted Nieto to stop saying that Mexico wouldn't pay because it made Trump look like an idiot. (OK, technically, Trump's idiocy is what makes Trump look like an idiot, but Nieto was shining a light on it.)
This really does connect to Schelling and the "Political science and craziness" series, though. The basic problem from Part V in the series was that crazy actors get into trouble when they make demands that can't be fulfilled. They lock themselves into commitments that are self-destructive by demanding things that cannot be granted, backed up by threats that they feel compelled to carry out, even when doing so is harmful to themselves.
Trump's promise to make Mexico pay for a wall was, as I have noted many times, the dumbest campaign promise in history. I truly don't know of a dumber promise. The "something terrific" to replace Obamacare was less stupid because it is, actually, possible to design a better healthcare system. Trump couldn't do it, but someone intelligent could, so that was a less stupid promise. Maybe someone can scour a history book and find something dumber, but if we limit the field of possibilities to promises made by major party nominees and evaluate stupidity by historical context, I doubt that anything can top Trump's promise to make Mexico pay for the wall.
What made it so imbecilic was that a US president has no power whatsoever to force Mexico to cough up the money, and a Mexican president has no incentive whatsoever to do so. Anyone who believed the promise... well, this is why I wrote that extended series called, "Assessing democracy..." back around December and January. Regardless, Trump made a promise that he couldn't possibly back up.
And now we know that Trump actually kind of knows it. One of the ongoing mysteries of Donald J. Trump has always been whether or not his bullshit bluster is because he has such an oversized ego that he really thinks he can do anything, or whether he understands that he is just a lying sack of shit, promising stuff he know he can't deliver.
On the wall, we have our answer. He didn't even try to put pressure on Nieto to cough up any money. Instead, he practically begged Nieto to stop saying publicly that Mexico wouldn't pay, just because every time Nieto does, it embarrasses Trump. Trump went out on a limb. And he can't figure out a way to climb back.
There are a few passages, though, that I find fascinatingly revealing about Trump's mentality here. First:
"But the fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to say Mexico pay for the wall- I have to. I have been talking about it for a two year period..."
From there, Trump goes on to blather about his idiotic, mercantilist interpretation of trade, demonstrating that he has never read any Adam Smith or learned anything about capitalist economic theory, so all trade is about winners and losers. (If you were a mercantilist in the 1600s, you get a pass. If you are a mercantilist in 2017, go play with crayons, you defective nitwit.) But did you notice something? Aside from the Schelling aspect of Trump having locked himself into his own position, untenable tough it is, you can go to the full transcript, and Trump explains why Trump can't back away from the "Mexico will pay" numb-skullery, but he never says why Nieto is in a bind.
Why? Trump has no conception that other people exist.
Nieto isn't actually in a bind. Trump is. He can't back away from a central campaign promise, but he also can't make it happen. That's a bind. Nieto? Nope. No bind. He has no incentive to give Trump the money. But, he also has no incentive to... um... no, that's really it. There's just no bind. All of his incentives run in one direction. Trump doesn't have him in a bind. Trump made the dumbest campaign promise ever. He has no power to fulfill it. Nieto has no reason to give Trump any money, and no reason to pretend like he ever might, and Trump can't wrap his little Trump-brain around that because it would require thinking about a situation from a non-Trump perspective, and in the Trump-o-centric universe, there is no other perspective.
Next, let's focus on the fact that Trump admits that the wall is insignificant to him, in policy terms. "Believe it or not, this is the least important thing we are talking about, but politically, this might be the most important to talk about." Translation: this is a joke of an issue, but I need to cover my ass by begging you to stop saying out loud what everyone with a brain already knew anyway. It shouldn't actually be a surprise that Trump is a con artist. He is an obvious con artist, and a bad liar. In the Assessing democracy series, I addressed the difference between obvious scams, like the Nigerian Prince email scam, and elaborate ones, like a fun one from Neil Gaiman's American Gods (the book-- it didn't make it into the show). Based on the comparison, I argued in a later post that Trump's lies are more akin to the Nigerian Prince scam-- blindingly obvious to anyone with a brain. (Insert Adlai Stevenson quote here). So, what about those voters who fell for the Nigerian Prince scam candidacy of Donald Trump? Surely there will be hell to pay when they find out that Trump isn't even really trying to get Mexico to pay, right?
Who's gonna tell them? If you go over to the Fox website, their headline for the story is "MEGA-LEAK." All-caps. Why? Emphasize the leak, not the underlying nature of how weak, stupid and dishonest the call reveals Trump to be. The substance won't make it to the fuckwits who care about the wall, so no, that won't matter. Still, we shouldn't be surprised that Trump cares more about how Nieto is making him look than about the policy.
And according to Schelling, that may be more important anyway! Trump's inability to back up his demands does demonstrate his weakness. Trump really is weak, and having been revealed as weak makes it harder for him to get what he wants later. This actually matters in terms of future policy. The call reveals Trump to be a pathetic weakling. Trump's inability to get Mexico to pay reveals him to be a pathetic weakling. Nieto calling him on his bullshit reveals him to be a pathetic weakling. That actually matters because nobody around the world takes Trump seriously. Why do you think Kim Jong Un keeps conducting missile tests? The fact that the US President is seen as an incompetent fuckwit actually does hurt us in terms of international relations. Trump isn't wrong to fear the consequences of this.
Nieto just has no reason to give a shit, and Trump is too fucking stupid to understand that.
Next, don't you just love how Trump puts his request as a "recommendation?" He says, "So, what I would like to recommend is- if we are going to have continued dialogue- we will work out the wall. They are going to say, 'who is going to pay for the wall, Mr. President?' to both of us, and we should both say, "we will work it out.'"
There are two interesting things going on here. First, Trump thinks that this is some kind of a compromise. Like, I demand that you give me $10,000 just 'cuz I say so. You tell me to go fuck myself. I say, fine, let's compromise. Just give me $5,000. C'mon. That's meeting in the middle! Don't you believe in compromise?! I told my buddies that I'd make you give me money, so I have to have you give me money! This is the world, according to Donald J. Trump. He seriously thinks that this proposal involves them both making reasonable concessions. This is why he thinks that he is a deal-making prodigy. Really.
Second, I love that he puts this as a recommendation. He's begging Nieto to stop calling him on his bullshit publicly, and he has the chutzpah to act like it's a recommendation. Why? Because "I cannot live with that." Tough shit, asshole. You're the one who made the promise that you knew you couldn't fulfill. The really funny thing is that I actually know someone who pulls this exact same shit-- "recommendations" that are really requests, buried among heaps of lies. This is Trump attempting to be authoritative, and frustrated that it isn't working. You make a "recommendation" to someone with whom you have a hierarchical relationship, and Trump was trying to assert dominance. Why? Because for Trump, everything is about dominance.
And he doesn't get why it doesn't work here.
Trump is assuredly pissed that this phone transcript came out. If you go back to your Schelling, the worst thing for your bargaining position is to be shown as unable to carry out threats. The phone call reveals that even Trump knew he had nothing when it came to the wall. Trump is a joke, internationally. What the call reveals is that even Trump knows that he's basically trying to bluff his way through things. That's why nobody in the international arena took him seriously before, and they certainly aren't taking him seriously now.
Unfortunately, that means he really wants to puff up his chest. That may involve unnecessary military action. I'm still warning about that...