Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Fix | Analysis

Stop cherry-picking that Trump quote about Japanese cars. It's not what you think.

By Aaron Blake

November 6, 2017 at 7:51 AM

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump share toasts during an official dinner in Tokyo. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

President Trump has a way with words — literally — and his meandering, loose style of speaking can cause him problems. But he's getting too much guff for one particular quote in Japan this morning.

Appearing with U.S. and Japanese business leaders in Tokyo on Monday, Trump said something that seemed to suggest he didn't know Japanese auto manufacturers, in many cases, make their cars in the United States.

“Try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over,” Trump said. “Is that possible to ask? That's not rude. Is that rude? I don't think so.”

Plenty of snarky commenting ensued on social media. CNN ran a fact check declaring: “Trump asks Japan to build cars in the U.S. It already does.” The piece noted that an estimated 4 million Japanese cars were built in the United States in 2016, with 75 percent of Japanese vehicles sold here having been build in North America. Slate said this raised “questions about his familiarity with basic facts about the American economy.”

But this is completely unfair to Trump. A look at this fuller remarks makes clear he did know that Japanese cars are built in the United States. He even talked about it at-length and praised the manufacturers for the amount of jobs they've created here.

Here's the full context of Trump's remarks to leaders of Toyota and Mazda (emphasis added):

When you want to build your auto plants, you will have your approvals almost immediately. When you want to expand your plants, you will have your approvals almost immediately. And in the room, we have a couple of the great folks from two of the biggest auto companies in the world that are building new plants and doing expansions of other plants. And you know who you are, and I want to just thank you very much. I want to thank you.

I also want to recognize the business leaders in the room whose confidence in the United States — they've been creating jobs — you have such confidence in the United States, and you've been creating jobs for our country for a long, long time. Several Japanese automobile industry firms have been really doing a job. And we love it when you build cars — if you're a Japanese firm, we love it — try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over. Is that possible to ask? That's not rude. Is that rude? I don't think so. (Laughter.) If you could build them. But I must say, Toyota and Mazda — where are you? Are you here, anybody? Toyota? Mazda? I thought so. Oh, I thought that was you. That's big stuff. Congratulations. Come on, let me shake your hand. (Applause.) They're going to invest $1.6 billion in building a new manufacturing plant, which will create as many as 4,000 new jobs in the United States. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Trump has also tweeted about Toyota and Mazda building that plant. And he signed a letter applauding Toyota for its expansion in the United States.

Even if you isolate that one quote, it could be read simply as a plea for Japan to build more cars in the United States, which it seems is exactly what Trump meant.

Trump says plenty of things that are false or that belie a lack of familiarity with the subject at-hand. But spotlighting this quote as evidence of the latter is extremely uncharitable.


Aaron Blake is senior political reporter for The Fix.

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