Ahead of Trump's factory tour today, I looked at the strange relationship that has developed between Tim Cook and Donald Trump over the past three years. Some of what emerged was a specific story that Trump would tell about Apple, meeting after meeting and meeting after meeting. The idea was that Trump had somehow made the company build a new factory in the United States, through a combination of tax cuts and trade policies, which were both very politically useful and also very much untrue.
Today, perhaps not surprisingly, he told the lie again.
"We see the beginning of a very powerful and important plant," Trump said at the factory. “Everyone who followed my campaign, I always want to talk about Apple, that I want to see Apple build facilities in the United States. And that's what happens. ”
This is not true for a couple of reasons ̵[ads1]1; one of them nitpicky and one of them much more serious. The nitpicky problem is that Apple doesn't actually build a manufacturing plant. The company is building a new campus in Austin, but it's miles from the factory and the jobs will be very similar to the kind of design and engineering work Apple does in Cupertino. Apple does not run its own production, and the Trump plant is owned by a contractor named Flex Ltd (formerly Flextronics).
But the bigger problem is that what Flex does is nothing new. This particular factory has been producing Mac Pros since 2013, when Cook first announced that they would mount them in the United States. That is before Trump took office. So the idea that we see the beginning of something, or that Trump has done something under the presidency to bring about this particular case of American production, just doesn't hold water.
Trump talks like Apple has created a brand new factory in Texas to build Mac Pros. If all you saw was a five-second clip on the news, that's probably the impression you'll get – but it's just not true.
People are often very worked up about whether a politician technically "lies" when they say something that is not true, or if they have just stumbled into untruth as if they happened to fall off a chair. But when you say the same fake thing over and over for a year and a half, it's hard to call it something else.
When I talked about it, Trump just posted the lie on Twitter:
Today, I opened a large Apple manufacturing plant in Texas that will bring high paying jobs back to America. Today, Nancy Pelosi closed Congress because she doesn't care about American workers!
– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 20, 2019
You can watch the footage of Trump's tour for yourself below.
Things actually get worse if you keep looking. Later in the video, Trump takes back the microphone for a quick page on how his customs policy has benefited the factory.
"The nice part is that he doesn't have to worry about tariffs," Trump says. "When you build it here, you don't have to worry about tariffs."
This is also not true.
In fact, Apple is currently paying tariffs on a number of Mac Pro parts, which must be imported from China to Texas before the final unit can be assembled. (Ten of Apple's requested tax exemptions were released earlier this year, but five others were denied, including cooling system fees, charging cables and various circuit boards.) Because Trump's current tariff is being imposed on components but not finished devices, Apple doesn't actually pay tariffs on iPhones and MacBooks gathered in China.
The net effect is a charge on electronics collected in the United States. It is more expensive to mount Mac Pros in the United States, not just because of labor and production costs, but explicitly because of the tariffs Trump has imposed on intermediates. Apple even flirted briefly with moving Mac Pro production back to China, as a way to drive home the cost of these tariffs, even though the company eventually backed down.
The structure of these taxes may change in the future, and a tariff for telephones and other electronics has already been formally proposed, although it is constantly being delayed. On the other hand, talks with China can be so productive that previous tariff rounds are lifted completely. With so much uncertainty, it is difficult for anyone to be sure of the best way to arrange a supply chain.
But the result is an alarming level of falsehood even by Trump's standards. He claimed to have brought Apple production to the United States while standing at a factory that had already built Apple products for six years, and one that had almost lost its gaming job – to no avail – because of Trump's trade policy.