Trump’s Washington Post interview shows a presidency that’s beyond satire

Go from the gut, and bring a rake.

I happen to be among the minority of policy analysts who thinks there is some merit to Donald Trump’s argument that the Fed is a bit too eager to raise interest rates, and if he ever wants to give me a call I could walk him through some arguments in favor of this position. That way, the next time he’s asked about this by reporters he could say something that makes some kind of sense.

Instead, speaking to Phil Rucker and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post in an interview published Tuesday evening, Trump simply said: “I’m not happy with the Fed. They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”

This is more or less a Stephen Colbert comedy routine satirizing George W. Bush, which in turn is a reminder that reality has fundamentally outpaced satire in the Trump era.

The entire interview is littered with pronouncements that are bizarre (“oceans are small”), nonsensical (“we lose $800 billion a year on trade”), or so incoherent that when he comes out and just tells a lie (like that in the past there were many articles worrying about global freezing) it comes almost as a relief.

To offer untrue factual assertions to support a policy position that’s backed up by fossil fuel interests is a refreshingly banal way to conduct politics compared to some of the madness that’s going on.

Trump doesn’t believe the CIA on Khashoggi because of oil

Obviously the historical roots of the US-Saudi alliance lie in the geopolitical significance of Saudi oil reserves, and that significance has often led US officials over the years to downplay Saudi human rights abuses. Today, with US oil production soaring, this aspect of the relationship is less relevant than it’s ever been. Yet here’s Trump all but chanting “blood for oil!” as his battle cry when asked about the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi:

RUCKER: And why have you taken [Mohammed bin Salman’s] denials for ordering the killing of our colleague, Jamal Khashoggi —

TRUMP: I haven’t taken anything.

RUCKER: — over the evidence that the intelligence community has gathered?

TRUMP: Phil, I haven’t done that. If you look at my statement, it’s maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. But he denies it. And people around him deny it. And the CIA did not say affirmatively he did it, either, by the way. I’m not saying that they’re saying he didn’t do it, but they didn’t say it affirmatively. I’m saying this: We have $52-a-barrel oil right now and I called them about three months ago, before this whole thing happened with Khashoggi, and I let him have it about oil. We were up to $82 — probably two and a half months ago — we were up to $82 a barrel and it was going up to $100 and that would’ve been like a massive tax increase and I didn’t want that. And I called them and they let the oil start flowing and we’re at $52.

Here’s the thing about the Saudis and oil sales. They sell oil on the global market because they get money in exchange. It’s not a favor they are doing for us, and we don’t need to kiss their butts to get them to sell oil. People disagree about the appropriate US policy toward Venezuela, but everyone understands we don’t need to say nice things about Maduro to beg him to keep the oil flowing — he needs to keep the oil flowing because he needs the money.

Yet Trump is so in the tank for the House of Saud that he thinks the Saudis are doing us a favor when they sell us oil, and doing us another favor when they buy our military equipment.

We have an ally that’s investing billions and billions of dollars in our country. They could very easily invest $110 billion, $450 billion overall over a period of time, fairly short period of time. $110 billion in military. Russia and China would love to have those orders and they’ll get them if we don’t. They’ll have no choice, but they’ll get them if we don’t. So I take everything into consideration, and again, he totally denies it, and he denied it to me on three different occasions, on three different calls, and a lot of other people deny it, too. Did he do it? As I said, maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, but in the meantime Saudi Arabia’s spending billions and billions of dollars in the United States, and I want them to spend it here.

Many observers have remarked over the past several weeks on the extraordinary crassness of this calculus that it’s okay for the Saudis to murder a US resident who is a father to US citizens because the Saudis give us money.

But it’s also just incredibly shoddy economics.

Something something liquidity

Speaking of shoddy economics, this is Trump’s answer to a question about whether it’s appropriate for him to blame the Fed for the GM layoffs announced this week:

And I’m not blaming anybody, but I’m just telling you I think that the Fed is way off-base with what they’re doing, number one. Number two, a positive note, we’re doing very well on trade, we’re doing very well — our companies are very strong. Don’t forget we’re still up from when I came in 38 percent or something. You know, it’s a tremendous — it’s not like we’re up — and we’re much stronger. And we’re much more liquid. And the banks are now much more liquid during my tenure. And I’m not doing – I’m not playing by the same rules as Obama. Obama had zero interest to worry about; we’re paying interest, a lot of interest. He wasn’t paying down — we’re talking about $50 billion lots of different times, paying down and knocking out liquidity. Well, Obama didn’t do that. And just so you understand, I’m playing a normalization economy whereas he’s playing a free economy. It’s easy to make money when you’re paying no interest. It’s easy to make money when you’re not doing any pay-downs, so you can’t — and despite that, the numbers we have are phenomenal numbers.

I have basically no idea what Trump is talking about here, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t either.

Among other things, the idea that the goal of federal policy should be to “make money” is so childish as to be hardly even worth discussing. This whole word salad appears to be an intricate network of misunderstandings that follow from that core premise. The good news is it’s not clear that Trump can actually do any harm here.

Trump talks nonsense on climate — in a very normal Republican way

Where Trump is causing massive, ongoing harm is in his efforts to undermine both national and global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. Trump is an unusual figure in many ways, and certainly deviates from standard GOP procedure on a range of topics.

Yet embarrassingly for Republicans, one topic on which this is not true is climate change where his views, though patently ridiculous, are uniformly embraced by his party. Here he explains why he disagrees with government scientists about the issue:

One of the problems that a lot of people like myself — we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers. You look at our air and our water and it’s right now at a record clean. But when you look at China and you look at parts of Asia and when you look at South America, and when you look at many other places in this world, including Russia, including – just many other places — the air is incredibly dirty. And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over. I mean, we take thousands of tons of garbage off our beaches all the time that comes over from Asia. It just flows right down the Pacific, it flows, and we say where does this come from. And it takes many people to start off with.

This is true enough as far as it goes. Air pollution is a global problem, and while the US is a major contributor to climate pollution, we are not the only culprit or necessarily even the biggest culprit. The international cooperation problem is a hard one to solve, but nothing in this answer even remotely begins to justify his administration’s policy course of doing less than nothing to reduce emissions.

Rather than even attempt to justify his approach, Trump simply counterpunches to offer the theory that wildfires are caused not by hot dry weather but by a paucity of rakes:

Josh, you go to other places where they have denser trees — it’s more dense, where the trees are more flammable — they don’t have forest fires like this, because they maintain. And it was very interesting, I was watching the firemen and they’re raking brush — you know the tumbleweed and brush and all this stuff that’s growing underneath. It’s on fire and they’re raking it working so hard, and they’re raking all this stuff. If that was raked in the beginning, there’d be nothing to catch on fire. It’s very interesting to see. A lot of the trees, they took tremendous burn at the bottom, but they didn’t catch on fire. The bottom is all burned but they didn’t catch on fire because they sucked the water, they’re wet. You need forest management, and they don’t have it.

In an earlier iteration of this argument, Trump said specifically that it was Finland where they rake their way to freedom from forest fires which prompted everyone from the President of Finland on down to explain that’s not how it works. Rather, Finland is on the whole much colder and wetter than the western United States (there are not a lot of wildfire problems in cold, wet New England either) which helps keep fires under control. But climate change is making the American west even hotter and drier. That’s the whole point.

Trump has thoroughly corrupted the government

Congressional Republicans, of course, support Trump not in spite of these loopy views on environmental regulation but because of them — views that have become dogma throughout their party.

What they put up with is things like the installation of intellectual lightweight and petty scam artist Matthew Whitaker to run the Justice Department.

RUCKER: I know we’re short on time, but we would just love to get your thoughts on the Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker over at the Justice Department.

TRUMP: He’s a fine person.

RUCKER: Has he been fully briefed on the Mueller investigation, the status of that?

TRUMP: That I don’t know.

RUCKER: And has he talked to you about it?

TRUMP: I can tell you that Matt Whitaker is a respected man. He’s doing an excellent job. We’re looking at possible attorney generals right now. And within — I will tell you, within the Justice Department he is a highly respected person, and he’s doing a very good job. I also think he’s a very good person. I think he’s a very good person. And he had a reputation for being, I think he was six years in Iowa as the U.S. attorney. He had a reputation for being very strong, very smart, very good.

There is, of course, absolutely no emergency that necessitated an interim appointment at DOJ without a replacement attorney general lined up. And if there is to be an acting attorney general, there is no earthly reason it shouldn’t be the No. 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or number anything appointee in the Justice Department. There was no reason to pick Whitaker other than the wholly inappropriate reason that he is deemed more likely to meddle with the Mueller investigation than any other candidate.

But as a society, we’ve grown numb to the casually inappropriate way that Trump conducts himself in office and the entire Republican Party has lined up behind the view that this is an okay way to do the job.

Speaking of which here, earlier in his discussion of the Saudi situation, is Trump explaining that he’s not taking Saudi bribe money:

But they’ve been a great ally. Without them, Israel would be in a lot more trouble. We need to have a counterbalance to Iran. I know him. I know him well, the Crown Prince. And, by the way, never did business with them, never intend to do business with them. I couldn’t care less. This is a very important job that I’m doing right now. The last thing I care about is doing business with people. I only do business for us. Somebody said, well, maybe they’re an investor in one of his jobs. The answer is no. But I just feel that it’s very, very important to maintain that relationship.

Trump is not, of course, prepared to demonstrate that his hands are clean by releasing tax returns or any other personal financial information. He just has this huge network of opaque business interests that he has repeatedly broken promises to provide transparency about and he wants us to just trust that there’s nothing shady happening there. His reasons for wanting to keep it all totally secret are completely above board.

Trust him. Or trust your gut.