Never Mind Email, Donald Trump Is Terrible At Using The Phone

Recent phone calls highlight the president-elect's diplomatic shortcomings

Dec 03, 2016 at 2:17 PM ET

President-elect Donald Trump at one time repeatedly lambasted Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server during her stint as secretary of state, but he isn’t exactly nailing communications either. A recent series of phone calls to foreign leaders shows that Trump has not mastered the art of the diplomatic phone call quite yet.

Most recently, on Friday, Trump took a phone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, angering officials in China and fumbling years of diplomatic practice on the part of the United States, specifically its “one China principle,” which acknowledges that there is only one state called China despite the existence of two governments that claim to represent China. Trump, however claimed on Twitter that, “The President of Taiwan CALLED ME,” and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi blamed Taiwan for the conversation. “This is just the Taiwan side engaging in a petty action, and cannot change the ‘one China’ structure already formed by the international community,” Wang said Saturday, according to Reuters. However, Alex Huang, a spokesman for Tsai, also told Reuters: “Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact.

Trump also spoke with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday. Trump reportedly told Duterte that he’s conducting his brutal anti-drug crackdown “the right way,” and Duterte said that Trump was “quite sensitive” to “our worry about drugs.” Never mind that both the United States and the United Nations have spoken out against Duterte’s war on drugs, which has already claimed over 3,000 lives since he took office on June 30.

But Trump’s Friday calls are just two in a series of telephoned missteps the president-elect has taken so far. In early November, Trump extended a bizarrely unpresidential invitation to the U.S. to British Prime Minister Theresa May. In a conversation that was supposed to reassure the “special relationship” between the U.K. and the U.S., Trump told May, “If you travel to the U.S. you should let me know,” seemingly unaware that May can only come visit on Trump’s request. When asked about the exchange, May’s spokesperson told the Guardian, “The invitation from the president-elect was a very warm invitation to come as soon as possible.” Right.

Later that month, on November 14, Trump reportedly used a congratulatory call from Argentine President Mauricio Macri to talk about one of his business holdings in the country, asking the president to assist with a permit issue that is holding up one of his projects. According to Talking Points Memo, Jorge Lanata, a prominent Argentine journalist, was quoted in the local daily La Nacion as saying, “Macri called him. This still hasn’t emerged but Trump asked for them to authorize a building he’s constructing in Buenos Aires, it wasn’t just a geopolitical chat.” Macri’s people, for their part, flatly denied that the topic of the tower was breached.

On Wednesday, November 30, Pakistan’s Press Information Bureau released a readout of a phone call the Monday before between Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and Trump. The transcript is bizarre, to say the least. Here’s a sample: “Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif called President-elect USA Donald Trump and felicitated him on his victory. President Trump said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif you have a very good reputation. You are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way. I am looking forward to see you soon.” It must be noted that Trump’s feelings toward Pakistan haven’t always been this warm. In a tweet from December 2011, Trump explicitly stated that “Pakistan is not our friend.” Furthermore, Trump is navigating a fine balance with India, a country he called “best friends” with the U.S. in October. India and Pakistan aren’t exactly on good terms, and his phone call could have an acute impact on global stability.

Since Trump is the first American president that will have had no political or military experience prior to taking office, perhaps he should be cut some slack for his less-than-stellar phone performances thus far. Or he should, you know, start preparing himself better for the monumental task he’s about to take on.