In comments in Japan on Saturday, President Donald Trump appeared to be confounded by the terms school “busing,” as well as Western-style democratic “liberalism” that was attacked by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Asked at a news conference as the G-20 summit wrapped up about Putin’s attack on the principles that guide the world’s democracies, Trump apparently interpreted the Russian leader’s comments as criticism of “liberals” and he started to rant about California — Los Angeles and San Francisco in particular.
Trump also talked around two questions about the busing of children to help achieve racial integration in the U.S. He seemed to think the queries concerned what he referred to as the “primary method of getting people to schools.” He failed to address the issue of busing children to other districts that began in the 1970s to desegregate American classrooms and that sparked major local controversies.
NBC News’ Kristen Welker asked if he believed busing was a “viable way of integrating schools.”
“Well, it has been something that they’ve done for a long period of time,” Trump vaguely responded. “I mean, you know, there aren’t that many ways you’re going to get people to schools. So this is something that’s been done ... it is certainly a primary method of getting people to schools.”
The busing issue had been spotlighted by a heated disagreement back-and-forth between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris of California at Thursday’s debate among 10 Democratic presidential hopefuls. As a senator from Delaware, Biden opposed federally mandated busing while Harris pointed out that she was a beneficiary of busing as a child.
Asked to comment on that disagreement, Trump responded with a mysterious reference to a “certain policy” that “I will tell you in about four weeks.” It’s “going to be very interesting and very surprising, I think, to a lot of people,” he added. He offered no other details.
Putin has disparaged Western democratic values such as multiculturalism and social tolerance in an interview with The Financial Times, saying these tenets were no longer accepted by most people, and had “outlived their purpose.” He also attacked gender nonconformity. And he praised Trump for responding to voters who reject those values.
Trump apparently thought Putin was talking about California Democrats.
Putin “sees what’s going on — I guess if you look at what’s happening in Los Angeles, where it’s so sad to look, and what’s happening in San Francisco and a couple of other cities, which are run by an extraordinary group of liberal people,” he said at his news conference. “I don’t know what they’re thinking.”
Lawyer George Conway, an often harsh critic of Trump despite being the husband of senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, called his answers “completely bizarre,” and wondered if the president was “breathtakingly ignorant” or if his comments were a sign of “cognitive decline.”
The Washington Post headlined that Trump’s “apparent ignorance of basic political terms” was on display overseas.
British politician Boris Johnson, a frequent Trump ally who may become the U.K.’s next prime minister, called Putin “totally wrong ” in his assessment. “Our values, freedom and democracy, the rule of law, free speech, those things are imperishable and they will succeed,” he said.
The outgoing prime minister, Theresa May, responded with a statement saying that the U.K. “would continue to unequivocally defend liberal democracy and protect the human rights and equality of all groups, including LGBT people.”