Back in February 2016, candidate Donald Trump promised not to have state dinners until the United States no longer ran a trade deficit at a campaign event in New Hampshire.
Like many of his other promises, that one didn’t take long to break, as President Donald Trump is set to host French President Emanuel Macron for the administration’s first State Dinner at the White House Tuesday night.
On February 8, 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump spoke to voters in Salem, New Hampshire ahead of the state’s presidential primary. He had lost Iowa to Ted Cruz and was looking for a win in the northeast to bolster his candidacy. After a question from a voter about Benghazi, Trump pivoted to how well he would actually get along with other countries, specifically, China, on trade.
Trump then inveighed against a $500 billion trade deficit with China (which is actually $375 billion), and then put the blame on the stupidity of America’s leaders, before asserting that things would be different if he was elected:
And then Obama gives a big party, a state dinner, for the head of China, they probably don’t even talk about it. It’s just insane. It’s going to be different, folks. It’s going to be different. We’re not going to have state dinners. I’ll have state dinners: when we break even, I’ll have a state dinner, and when we start making money I’ll have a double state dinner.
He said plainly that a Trump administration would not have state dinners, and that promise he made to the voters in New Hampshire will be broken on Tuesday evening. No matter how charitably one takes Trump’s assertion — if the promise just pertained to state dinners with countries with whom we have trade deficits — it would still be broken with Tuesday’s dinner, because the United States has trade deficits with France, and with China for good measure.
America’s annual trade deficit with China has grown steadily over the last several decades, reaching $375 billion (not $500 billion) in 2017, and $65 billion in the first two months of 2018. The United States had a $15.3 billion trade deficit with France in 2017, according to the Census, and in the first two months of 2018, has already racked up $2.5 billion more.
It’s not even clear if the topic of America’s trade deficit with France will come up during the visit. The White House said last week that “France remains a major destination for U.S. exports and a source of foreign investment in the United States,” though it was “hard to say” if there would be trade announcements following the state visit.
He’ll host the French delegation and 150 guests with a meal of greens from the White House garden, Rack of Spring Lamb, Carolina Gold Rice Jambalaya, and Nectarine Tart all on fine china and paired with American wines cultivated with French inspiration — while smelling the bouquets of thousands of flowers and listening to a performance by the Washington National Opera. The White House dubbed Tuesday’s state dinner the “crown jewel of the visit.”
A separate promise candidate Trump made in 2016 was to serve Chinese president Xi Jinping a McDonald’s “double, probably a double size Big Mac” and accost him about devaluing the Chinese currency. Trump has yet to extend the invitation to Beijing for a state dinner at the White House to check the veracity of that promise, but he did attend a fancy state dinner during his visit to China last November.
In a break from tradition, members of the media and members of Congress from the opposing party will not be invited to the French state dinner.
This will be Trump’s first state dinner at the White House, though other countries (such as China, Korean, and Japan) have hosted him for state dinners of their own. The Obama administration hosted 14 state dinners in eight years, but Barack Obama did not promise to plan state dinners in synchrony with the U.S. trade deficit.
In what may be one of the most carbon-friendly acts of the current administration, the Trumps and the Macrons will plant a tree on the White House grounds Monday afternoon, in commemoration of Earth Day. The Trump administration famously became literally the only country to reject the Paris climate agreement after Syria joined last year. The White House said last week that the climate deal was not on the agenda for the visit, “unless it’s brought up by President Macron.”