The Trump story that takes the biscuit – until the next one that takes it…

I’m going to sound callous but I do believe that perhaps the only plus point of a Trump Presidency is its comedy value. Viewing figures for the US late night shows are booming.

I thought we had reached the pinnacle of Trump comedy with the story of how he appeared, in front of a cross-party gathering of Congressional leaders at the White House, to base his call for an investigation into voter fraud on a conversation with German golfer Bernard Langer.

But yesterday there came a story which really takes the biscuit. At 3am one morning, local time, President Trump phoned his national security adviser to ask whether a strong or weak dollar was best for the American economy.

This raises so many questions.

Why ask such a question at 3am?

Donald Trump has said:

I’m, like, a really smart person.

So why does this super-smart businessman not know the answer to a question that any teenage economics student could answer?

Yes, it’s a good conversation starter, but at 3am?

And why call your National Security Adviser, an expert in military intelligence, with this question, when your cabinet is chock-full of millionaire/billionaire businessmen?

Why not just Google it?

Did he just want to keep his National Security Adviser on his toes?

And how did we find out this story? Could it be that, as reported, White House insiders are so concerned about the Presidents behaviour that they leaking like sieves?

I’m looking forward to the next cycle of US late shows to see how they cover this!

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • So what’s the answer?

  • Little Jackie Paper 9th Feb '17 - 11:10am

    Indeed the UK should be thinking about that question. Sterling has been a toilet paper currency for too long.

  • I hope someone explained to him that there is no such things as a strong dollar or a weak dollar as the US dollar became a fiat currency with the end of Bretton Woods in 1971.

    The conversation belongs to the 1960s, which is probably the last time Trump looked at a newspaper. That is the only explanation I can think of, but it is, alarmingly, plausible.

  • Paul Murray 9th Feb '17 - 12:09pm

    “There is no off position on the genius switch” – David Letterman.

  • 1. Is this story true.?

    2 If it is true, what if he had other reasons for asking a dumb question.?

    3. What if at 3am he phoned a dozen of his officials with different but equally dumb questions.?

    4 What if after asking a dozen different dumb questions to a dozen bleary eyed officials at 3am, only one dumb question surfaced in the media.?

    His business expertise, is I believe, in construction. So he would understand the technique of Drain dye Leak Detection. You choose one of several (inert) coloured dyes and pour it into a flow of water at source. Then you wait and watch to see where that coloured dye turns up down the line,… and hey presto,… you found the leak.

    Maybe its the ones who think they’re smart, who need to re-calibrate their aptitude of thinking things through.?

  • I would point out that Trump is making decisions that are unwise (often dangerous) but to assume stupidity on the back of them is not a great idea. Stories like this are lapped up by his enemies but may not register with his supporters. GWB used the Hillbilly affectation to give him a certain appeal to part of the US voting demographic (how much was affectation and how much reality is open for debate but at least some was deliberate).

    These things are fun to laugh at for a minute but it looks like too many people are starting to assume he is making mistakes but this may not be the case, that was the assumption during the primaries and the election, that didn’t really work out.

    There is a serious business of opposing bad ideas and no one should fall in to the trap of just assuming the opponent is an idiot or that name calling is effective.

  • clive english 9th Feb '17 - 1:01pm

    actually the timing was odd, but is it really that dumb a question. Really?

  • This is so apt. I’m expecting to get shock fatigue with Trump, but I just haven’t got there yet. Maybe one day

  • paul barker 9th Feb '17 - 1:14pm

    I think J Dunn & Psi have a point, its safer to think of Trump as Evil/Mad rather than stupid. There is a long tradition in The US of intelligent people pretending to be stupid, its didnt begin with Reagan.
    On the Big Question, there is no “Right” answer, it all depends which Economic problems are more pressing at any one time, if you have High Unemployment, a Weak currency is best, if High Inflation, a Strong one.

  • Given Lib Dem Voice endless defence of Nick Clegg and his answer to the question – “will trebling tuition fees instead of abolishing them make my party more or less popular” .. it’s a bit rich to see them criticise Trump for asking stupid questions.

  • Michael Cole 9th Feb '17 - 1:33pm

    David: “So what’s the answer?”

    The exchange rate of any currency can not be defined as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for the economy. It is in fact an adjustment mechanism reflecting the balance of payments in a particular currency and the confidence of depositers have in it. In other words it is a price. The abandonment of this flexible mechanism by some of the weaker EU economies is the major reason why the euro has become so problematic.

    Politicians (Harold Wilson and many others since) have fallaciously justified a fall in the value of the £ as being good for the economy because ‘…it makes our exports more competitive’. While this may be superficially true it is actually a symptom of failure.

    I would think that Bernhard Langer probably understands this better than Donald J Trump 🙂

  • Nicholas Cunningham 9th Feb '17 - 2:13pm

    People ask if Trump question was dumb, the answer depends on what are your expectations of your Nation’s leader I suppose. After all, he supposedly is a wise businessman, makes financial deals in the billions and you would of thought the question would be a simple one for someone on top of his brief. Most leaders taking office, their first actions and meetings would be about the economy, wouldn’t they. The economy will define any presidency or premiership, just as May will find out, it’s the one perception that politicians go to great lengths to cultivate, thriving, healthy, in fine fettle and the currency is central but also one they can’t fully control. So, was he dumb to ask, yes, I think so if he actually asked the question in the first place.

  • “So what’s the answer?” It depends on the circumstances. Stable currencies are best for international trade in order that the parties to transactions can plan ahead without having to spend too much on currency hedging. Unfortunately there is an whole industry using derivatives to speculate on exchange rates, far greater than that needed to serve the needs of trade, which acts as a highly destabilising influence.

  • paul barker

    “its safer to think of Trump as Evil/Mad rather than stupid”

    The one point I make about that point is that Evil/Mad assumptions (even if they are right) tend to lead people in to a false sense of security when making arguments against someone and their policies. There has been a significant growth in Hyperbole and name calling, which appeals very strongly to the faithful but can make it harder to cut through with those who need to be converted.

    If you hate your enemy it clouds your judgement. When thinking about defeating someone (which I hope is everyone’s priority), it is best to think of an opponent as someone who has very different objectives to us but is also clever and cunning. That way we don’t get caught off guard. I’m still trying to work out if there is method behind the chaotic image Trump is projecting, it may just be just how he works, but there is speculation about if it is a technique (of unproven effectiveness).

  • John Payne

    “Unfortunately there is an whole industry using derivatives to speculate on exchange rates, far greater than that needed to serve the needs of trade, which acts as a highly destabilising influence.”

    Though they are fighting against Governments and central banks, the greatest currency manipulators of all.

  • Psi, Yes especially the US, At least with governments it is difficult to hide what they are doing.

  • Surely, the fact that there are different answers to the question, depending on what you are looking at, as people have said here, is what makes it a stupid question for someone, especially someone versed in international business (unless, of course, he is trying to elicit the strengths and weaknesses of his economic adviser in order to tell him / her “You’re fired!” and raise the ratings of something or other.)

  • P’raps he wants to offer the post to Arnie Schwarzenegger?

  • Graham Evans 9th Feb '17 - 5:22pm

    There’s a very good article in Vox which deals with the issue of whether a strong dollar is good or bad for the US. “Here’s a quick answer to a question that’s been bothering Donald Trump: If you want to improve living standards for most Americans, a strong dollar is better. But if you want to deliver on your campaign promises to the Midwest, you probably want a weaker one.”

  • Bill le Breton 9th Feb '17 - 6:06pm

    Weak or strong dollar? A key question and one that is the subject of much debate.

    Now of course even a stopped clock can be right twice a day, and perhaps his clock is stuck at 3.00, but it is just possible that President Trump is about to solve the problem of cross border corporate taxation, and those pesky things called tax havens, by initiating a fiscal revolution: viz destination-based cash flow taxation.

    Apple and Amazon won’t pay taxes in some tax haven. They will pay takes where they sell their products.

    This will be advantageous to countries like the US and the UK which run trade deficits.

    Perhaps when Trump asked that question he actually had in mind the effects of introducing this scheme – which in a recent tweet he said he’d announce in two or three week’s time.

    Stand by your beds.

  • Evil has to be taken seriously. I’d like to think that there is an alternative breed of Southern US evangelical Christians who (as opposed to the ones who put him in the White House) believe that Trump represents evil forces and so they pray for him…

  • Bill le Breton 9th Feb '17 - 6:58pm

    “A strong dollar (or anything)” will not improve living standards for ‘most Americans’ if it leads to reductions in nominal growth. Just as the post Brexit depreciation has protected living standards by boosting nominal growth in the UK.

  • @Paul Walter
    “I said a teenage economics student would know the answer.”

    What is the answer then?

    The value of a currency is simply a price – it is an indicator of perceived strength of an economy compared to another – the value of a currency isn’t an instrument of government control on the economy. The collapse in the value of the pound following the EU referendum is an indicator of lower investor expectations in the future performance of our economy. Those expectations haven’t risen since the collapse.

    So, what the heck is Trump talking about? And what would an A-level economics student say? What is a strong dollar? Or a weak one? What’s he talking about? Please tell us, Paul Walter.

  • Let’s be frank here,… Trump is not your regular guy. But he hasn’t yet ‘broken any pots in the kitchen’, and for sure,..hasn’t drone obliterated an innocent wedding party in Pakistan, in the way Obama did with regular abandon.

    His core voters see him as trying to fulfill his campaign promises, [which in itself, is a novel concept] , against every attempt to block him by the [now rejected], liberal Clinton~esk establishment. So from his voters perspective,.. What’s not to like.?
    He’s their hero,… he’s their Don Quixote, tilting at the hysterical frantic waving of elite liberal windmills. If he doesn’t achieve what he said he would in 4 years, they will simply add another 4 years to his term, in order to fight the soft headed liberals standing in his way, and get the job, as promised,.. done.

    We’re very much, in a new political paradigm for sure, and for some, it’s clearly going to be some time before they get used to it. So,…. yes, let’s be vigilant of any downside,.. but let’s all stop screaming like hysterical schoolgirls, because he’s an insomniac that can’t nap beyond 3am?

    If he spends the next 4 years complainining about ‘rough towels’ on Air Force One, but has a war-mongering body count less than Bush or Obama did,.. frankly that’s O.K by me. Get back to us when he tries to overthrow some sovereign country’s elected government that Washington particularly doesn’t like,… and we can then review the sending in, of men in white coats and a restraining vest.?

  • @Paul Walter
    OK, so your definition of a strong dollar equates to a rising value against another currency and vice versa for a weak dollar. You’ve described the effects of those movements in price, but what I think Trump is talking about is manipulating the value of the dollar to being above or below the market value in order to facilitate favourable economic conditions. It sounds rather anachronistic to me, but, then again, this is Trump – the man of tariffs and trade wars.

  • Nick Collins 11th Feb '17 - 10:01am

    Is it true that Trump interrupted a telephone conversation with Putin to ask an aide what the START treaty really was, before resuming the conversation and telling Putin that it was a “bad deal”, or is that another piece of fake news?

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