By Julian Borger

Leaked Trump transcripts show his incoherent, ill-informed narcissism

August 6, 2017

One of the most significant aspects of the published transcripts of Donald Trump’s conversations with his Mexican and Australian counterparts is the fact they were leaked.

Private discussions between world leaders are kept secret so they can speak their minds and establish trust. The leaks will make it harder for the U.S. to carry out high-level diplomacy and resolve serious crises, not just under Trump but potentially far beyond his presidency.

The publication of transcripts by the Washington Post is the latest of many signs that established norms are breaking down inside the administration, with far-reaching and unpredictable implications.

Such documents should have been very closely held, accessible to only a few senior officials. Their publication reflects the intensity of the war inside the White House between rival factions – and a reminder that, for all his well-advertised toughness, the new chief of staff, John Kelly, is going to find it very hard to impose discipline on an institution that is dysfunctional from the top down.

It is quite possible that the leaker was motivated by anxiety about the national security implications of Trump’s erratic leadership – that the leak is a cry for help from inside the administration.
The transcripts of his conversations with Enrique Peña Nieto and Malcolm Turnbull show the president to be no more coherent in private than he is public: ill-informed – even about a major attack on U.S. soil – and narcissistic to the point of absurdity.

“I am the world’s greatest person,” he tells Turnbull, and boasts to his fellow world leaders about the size of the crowds who turn out to hear him speak. Maintaining his image as a strong leader in the eyes of his supporters emerges, again and again in the course of the conversations, as an overarching priority – over and above the maintenance of strong relations with allied countries.

The transcripts serve as a reminder that being “nice” to Trump counts for more than long-term strategic alliances. At one point in his castigation of Turnbull, he compared him unfavorably with Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump had recently spoken.

“Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous,” Trump said shortly before ending the call abruptly. In private as in public, Trump’s praise for the Russian president is an unshakeable constant.

Perhaps the least surprising upshot of the release of the transcripts is the confirmation that the president and his administration deliberately misled the public about them. When the Washington Post published an account of the Turnbull conversation in early February, Trump tweeted that it had been a “very civil conversation that fake news media lied about”.

The emergence of the facts
As has happened repeatedly over the course of the administration, the emergence of the facts has upheld the news reports, and shown the denials to be fake. Trump repeatedly tries to coach Peña Nieto on how to mislead the press, urging him to stop repeating Mexico’s refusal to pay for Trump’s proposed border wall.

The wall and its supposed Mexican funding was a mainstay of Trump campaign speeches. In private, Trump tells the Mexican leader to stop reminding voters of a promise the new president cannot fulfil. He argues the wall and its financing is “the least important thing that we are talking about” and says he is in a “political bind” because he had “been talking about it for a two-year period”.

Similar themes recur in the Turnbull conversation. Here, the divisive issue is an agreement that the Obama administration struck with Australia to consider accepting 1,250 refugees, mostly from Muslim countries, being detained by Australia on Pacific islands after trying to enter the country by boat. In return, Australia would host Latin American migrants.

The leak of conversations between the U.S. president and the leaders of Mexico and Australia may well be a cry for help from within the administration.
Trump is furious that abiding by the agreement could harm his image among his voters, just after he had signed his first abortive executive order cutting the acceptance of refugees from Syria and suspending travel from a list of seven mainly Muslim countries.

“This is going to kill me. I am the world’s greatest person that does not want to let people into the country,” Trump says. “It makes me look so bad, and I have only been here a week.”

The fact that the refugees in question are from Muslim countries is the key for Trump. “I hate taking these people. I guarantee you they are bad,” he said.

Turnbull pleads with him to stick to the agreement for the sake of the bilateral relationship and in the end, Trump agrees he does not have much choice, but does so with little grace, aiming a personal slight at the Australian, saying he had “brokered many a stupid deal in business”.

For all Turnbull’s attempts to smooth over their differences, Trump is clearly in a foul temper by the end of the discussion, and broader bilateral issues are shelved. When Turnbull asks to discuss Syria and North Korea – two global crises in which their two countries are strategic partners – Trump is not interested and ends the call.

(Source: The Guardian)

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