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A Small Yet Soul-Crushing Illustration of Donald Trump’s Utter Economic Illiteracy

The full transcript of Donald Trump's Wall Street Journal interview, which leaked to Politico, is enough to make anyone spiral into despair—like most performances from our president, it's full of moments that illustrate his tenuous grasp of reality. As Slate's official economics correspondent, though, there was one section that left me especially crestfallen—in just one short paragraph of word salad, he delivers a subtle but telling demonstration of his total ignorance on how economies work.

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Here's the passage. Trump is trying to explain that he thinks the United States is growing too slowly compared with the rest of the world, and therefore we need to cut our corporate tax rate to 15 percent. I've bolded the key part.

So I’ll call, like, major—major countries, and I’ll be dealing with the prime minister or the president. And I’ll say, how are you doing? Oh, don’t know, don’t know, not well, Mr. President, not well. I said, well, what’s the problem? Oh, GDP 9 percent, not well. And I’m saying to myself, here we are at like 1 percent, dying, and they’re at 9 percent and they’re unhappy. So, you know, and these are like countries, you know, fairly large, like 300 million people. You know, a lot of people say—they say, well, but the United States is large. And then you call places like Malaysia, Indonesia, and you say, you know, how many people do you have? And it’s pretty amazing how many people they have. So China’s going to be at 7 or 8 percent, and they have a billion-five, right? So we should do really well.
But in order to do that – you know, it’s tax reform, but it’s a big tax cut. But it’s simplification, it’s reform, and it’s a big tax cut, 15 –

At some point, it appears Donald Trump heard somebody say that the United States cannot grow as fast as China or Malaysia because we have a “large” economy. No doubt, what they meant is that the U.S. is a highly developed, rich nation and therefore can't expand as quickly as developing countries that can still reap large gains from taking basic steps to improve their living standards. But Trump did not understand it that way. He apparently thought that when whoever he was listening to said “large,” they were talking about population. Therefore, in his mind, if China grows at nearly 7 percent per year with its 1.4 billion people, the U.S. should be able to do it too.

This is the man who millions of voters are relying on to bring back jobs. Bottoms up.

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