The Washington Post released the transcripts of a couple of phone calls Trump made the first week in office. Jonathan Chait at New York magazine went through the one with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and it’s fun — as well as scary — to read where Mr. Turnbull figures out that he’s talking to an idiot.
Australia has a policy of refusing to accept refugees who arrive by boat. The reason, as Turnbull patiently attempts to explain several times, is that it believes giving refuge to people who arrive by boat would encourage smuggling and create unsafe passage with a high risk of deaths at sea. But it had a large number of refugees who had arrived by sea, living in difficult conditions, whom Australia would not resettle (for fear of encouraging more boat trafficking) but whom it did not want to deport, either. The United States government agreed under President Obama to vet 1,250 of these refugees and accept as many of them as it deemed safe.
In the transcript, Trump is unable to absorb any of these facts. He calls the refugees “prisoners,” and repeatedly brings up the Cuban boatlift (in which Castro dumped criminals onto Florida). He is unable to absorb Turnbull’s explanation that they are economic refugees, not from conflict zones, and that the United States has the ability to turn away any of them it deems dangerous.
After Turnbull has told Trump several times that the refugees have been detained because they arrived by boat, and only for that reason, Trump’s question is, “But they are arrived on a boat?”
Soon after, Turnbull again reiterates that Australia’s policy is to detain any refugee who arrives by boat:
Turnbull: The only people that we do not take are people who come by boa[t]. So we would rather take a not very attractive guy that help you out then to take a Noble [sic] Peace Prize winner that comes by boat. That is the point.”
Trump: What is the thing with boats? Why do you discriminate against boats? No, I know, they come from certain regions. I get it.
No, you don’t get it at all! It’s not that they come from certain regions! It’s that they come by boat!
So Turnbull very patiently tries to explain again that the policy has nothing to do with what region the refugees come from:
Turnbull: No, let me explain why. The problem with the boats it that you are basically outsourcing your immigration program to people smugglers and also you get thousands of people drowning at sea.
At this point, Trump gives up asking about the policy and just starts venting about the terribleness of deals in general:
I do not know what he got out of it. We never get anything out of it — START Treaty, the Iran deal. I do not know where they find these people to make these stupid deals. I am going to get killed on this thing.
Shortly afterward, the call ends in brusque fashion, and Turnbull presumably begins drinking heavily.
And it’s back to work for the West Wing.