During a trade meeting in Washington, DC, last month, Trump repeatedly asked Merkel what it would take for the US to be able to negotiate a trade deal with Germany as a response to the upcoming UK Brexit. Each time the US president posed the question, he received from the German chancellor the same polite reply: the US cannot make any form of a separate trade deal with Germany, as Berlin is a member of the European Union, an economic bloc.
But he must not have really gotten it, as Trump reportedly asked Merkel another 10 times during the course of the meeting, before finally seeming to understand.
After returning to Germany, Merkel reportedly informed her government that the US president and his administration had a profound ignorance of the nature of the EU and the trade protocols enshrined in the charter of the economic bloc.
Speaking to the Times of London, a senior German official documented the exchange between Merkel and Trump with mixed amounts of astonishment and humor.
"Ten times Trump asked [Merkel] if he could negotiate a trade deal with Germany," the official acknowledged. "Every time she replied ‘You can't do a trade deal with Germany, only with the EU.'"
"On the 11th refusal, Trump finally got the message. ‘Oh, we'll do a deal with Europe then,'" the German official recounted.
This is not the first time the German leader has had to explain things to her American colleague: in January, only days after Trump took office, it was reported that she had to explain to the US president his country's obligations under the Geneva refugee convention.
Merkel spoke with Trump by phone after the first of his soon-to-be blocked travel bans, to say she regretted his decision to attempt the ban and point out that "[t]he… refugee convention requires the international community to take in war refugees on humanitarian grounds. All signatory states are obligated to do. The German government explained this policy in their call yesterday," according to her spokesman.
According to a source in the White House, the Trump administration, following the meeting with Merkel, then realized that negotiating a new deal with the EU would have to take precedence over locking down a new trade arrangement with post-Brexit England, as reported by Business Insider.
The sudden about-face by the Trump administration with regard to the economic importance of the EU over the UK mirrors the warnings issued by former US President Barack Obama that the UK would be shoved to the "back of the [trade] queue" if London went through with Brexit.
At the joint press conference held during Merkel's March visit to the US, she pointedly took Trump to task for relegating most of his communiques to the one-sided format of social media, notably through his tweets, unambiguously stating, "It's much better to talk to one another than about one another."
Following Trump's reassertion during the press conference that "Germany has done very well in its trade deals with the US," many observers (including one hopes, some of those within his administration) did the equivalent of throwing up their hands in despair, wondering if the US president would ever understand how the world works.