During a White House meeting with Chinese officials Friday, Trump got into a bit of a disagreement with his current trade chief over the definition of a basic trade term, prompting Chinese Vice Premier Liu He to laugh aloud in the middle of the meeting, which was thankfully filmed.
When asked how long the memorandums of understanding (MOUs) would last in a trade agreement with the Chinese government, Donald Trump began to give a coherent answer before abruptly switching tracks to the topic of “I don’t like MOUs.” Why he feels he needs to express this is unclear, but it’s more than a little baffling because an MOU is simply a type of understanding between two or more parties, kind of like a “gentlemen’s agreement” but more formal and detailed.
“I don’t like MOUs because they don’t mean anything. To me they don’t mean anything. I think you’re better off just going into a document,” says Trump. Huh? Okay? Why should anyone care?
That’s when Trade Chief Robert Lighthizer jumped in, probably because he assumed Trump didn’t know what he was talking about and wanted to make sure no one became confused on the meaning of a common trade term.
Well, the Chinese official speaks English better than Trump.— Michael Schlitzer (@campagfan) February 23, 2019
“An MOU is a binding agreement between two people,” Lighthizer says. “It’s detailed. It covers everything in great detail. It’s a legal term. It’s a contract.”
What Lighthizer should have known is to not ever challenge the Great and Powerful Trump, for his ego cannot take it. Trump immediately doubles down, literally telling his trade chief that he disagrees with the basic and faction definition that Lighthizer just gave. This is the point in the video where you can hear Vice Premier Liu He laugh out loud.
But that’s only the beginning of the secondhand embarrassment. Unphased by having a top Chinese diplomat laugh at him on camera, Trump goes on to say a lot of nonsense and then not-so-subtly demand that Lighthizer agrees with him.
“I think that a Memorandum of Understanding is not a contract to the extent that we want,” he says. “We’re doing a Memorandum of Understanding that will be put into a final contract, I assume. But to me the final contract is really the thing, Bob, and I think you mean that too.”
Thoroughly rebuffed for the crime of pointing out Trump’s ignorance, Lighthizer immediately makes amends by just rejecting the existence of MOUs altogether, because Trump said so.
“From now on we’re not using the word memorandum of understanding anymore. We’re going to use the term trade agreement, all right?” he says. This makes Trump happy, and we can all move on with our lives having just once again proven to China that our Commander in Chief knows nothing about the things he claimed to be an expert on.
As usual, this hurts us more than it hurts him.