Trump recalled how Trudeau claimed that the US had a trade surplus with Canada. 'Wrong, Justin, you do,'" Trump recounted saying. "I didn't even know. ... I had no idea. I just said, 'You're wrong,' You know why? Because we're so stupid. ... And I thought they were smart. I said, 'You're wrong, Justin.' He said, 'Nope, we have no trade deficit.' I said, 'Well, in that case, I feel differently,' I said, 'but I don't believe it.'"
"I didn't even know...I had no idea." (He really didn't have any idea since the US, as Trudeau rightly said, operates at a trade surplus with Canada.)
On one level, this is the least surprising revelation ever. Trump said more than 2,000 things that were either misleading or totally false in his first year as president. Even before winning the White House -- as a candidate for president and as a private citizen -- he repeatedly demonstrated his casual disregard for truth and facts, often preferring the story he told himself to the one that comported with actual reality.
Someone like Trump who is forever telling himself a story of his life -- a story in which he is always the hero -- isn't going to suddenly stop doing it just because he gets elected president. This is who Trump is. He could no more change it than make himself grow 5" taller by tomorrow.
And yet, despite the fact that no one should be surprised by the fact that Trump is winging it and making up facts to suit him, there are two things that should trouble anyone about this episode with Trudeau.
The first is the context. This isn't Trump at a campaign rally saying he had the best first year of any president. Or demanding that his press secretary say that his inauguration crowd was historically large. Those exaggerations and lies aren't great but they don't carry any huge impact on the world stage. This is the president of the United States dealing with another world leader on the crucial issue of trade.
Fibbing -- or knowingly playing fast and loose with the facts -- when talking to foreign leaders, however, has real world consequences, not the least of which is that they may view Trump (and the broader US) as unreliable. And if you can't trust what your allies are telling you, are they your allies anymore?
The second impact of Trump's comments to Trudeau is the seeming pride that Trump takes in either a) not knowing that we have a trade surplus with Canada or b) flat-out misleading Trudeau.
It's one thing to do it. But to brag about it? To see misleading -- whether willfully or unintentionally -- the prime minister of Canada about our trade status as a point of pride? Something you should share with party donors because you think it will impress them? That's some next level stuff. And you can be sure that every US ally (and enemy) is following this story and trying to calculate what it says about their relationship with America if Trump is willing to fudge facts with our neighbor to the north.
Trump's disdain for facts and truth has turned into a punchline for many people. An eyeroll moment. But, what Trump did with Trudeau -- and how he bragged later about what he did with Trudeau -- is a very dangerous thing. In international diplomacy, trust is a critical factor. Lose it and you may never get it back.
Trump seems wholly unaware of that danger. Or, more grimly, he is aware of it -- and simply doesn't care.