More heat than light: the Axios interview of Trump

August 4, 2020 • 11:15 am

Here’s a 38-minute interview of Trump by Jonathan Swan, an Australian journalist who works for the American news site Axios. You’re not going to learn anything new about policy or politics from this interview, but you will see what a blustering narcissist Trump is. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

It starts off antagonistically and then the mutual rancor gets worse, but that’s what one expects when a responsible journalist tries to pin Trump down about some of his lies. I can’t fault Swan for asking any of the questions save one (see below).

Here are the program notes from Axios.

In this episode of “Axios on HBO”, President Trump discusses his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the upcoming election and much more with National Political Correspondent Jonathan Swan.

The interview was filmed on Tuesday, July 28 and aired Monday, Aug. 3 on HBO.

The antagonism starts off when Swan asks Trump about the pandemic, and Trump unleashes an almost Joyce-ian mind-dump about how great he’s done in stemming it. According to Trump, he’s done nothing wrong; indeed: the U.S. has done better than any other country! Trump says he’s saved millions of lives by closing the economy, though most of those decisions were made by state governors.

What struck me most about the pandemic segment is Trump’s amazing ability to convince himself that he’s the best in every way, and was the best leader in the world to handle the pandemic. (Swan gets visibly upset even this early in the interview.) Further, Trump makes the bizarre statement that “it’s possible to test [for cornavirus] too much”!  Why is that?, I wondered. Well, it appears that Trump is disturbed by too many cases of the virus, and testing simply reveals those cases. I can’t imagine any other reason why we shouldn’t ramp up testing to the maximum extent possible to stem the epidemic.

Swan and Trump then get into a dust-up about statistics, with Trump handing Swan graphs showing that the U.S. has a low rate of deaths per case, with Swan arguing that’s what’s important is American deaths per capita. The first is attributable to better medical care in the U.S., the second to mismanagement, people’s unwillingness to take safety precautions, and so on. I’m on Swan’s side here, since he’s arguing about Trump’s mismanagement, not about the quality of medical care, which Trump has nothing to do with (and indeed, tried to subvert with his hydroxychloroquine nonsense).

The discussion then moves to the claim that Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill American soldiers. Trump sidesteps that one, saying it was a “fake issue,” and one that never crossed his desk (I believe that’s a lie). And Trump says he never brought it up in his discussions with Putin.

Swan asks Trump, at 20:24, whether he’ll accept the result of the 2020 election (if he loses, presumably). Trump blathers and blusters, saying incorrectly that Hillary Clinton didn’t accept the results of the 2016 election. He then goes off on mail-in voting, implying that it will come with massive corruption. All in all, one gets the impression that Trump is unwilling to say he’ll accept the election results, and I’m envisioning a Presidential perp walk out of the White House should he lose and contest the results.

The one issue that I thought was petty was Swan’s bringing up Trump’s statement that he “wished Ghislaine Maxwell well.” Yes, it wasn’t a great thing to say, but it could be perceived, as Trump argues, as a form of saying “best of luck” or “may you get justice.” At any rate, this is one awkward and unnecessary question in an otherwise wide-ranging interview.

Finally, Swan brings up Portland and racism. Here Trump gives no quarter, defending the presence of Homeland Security troops, unmarked vans, unmarked uniforms, and people taken into custody without being informed why. Here he plays to his base, saying that the violence was solely due to the demonstrators (he says they were “Antifa”) and that he was merely defending the courthouse. The rest he calls “fake news”, including that purveyed by NBC and Lester Holt.

Trump winds up saying that he’s done fantastic things for African-Americans, and in fact did more for blacks that any President save Abraham Lincoln! That immediately brings up, as it did for Swan, the issue of LBJ, who got the Civil Rights and Voting Acts through and passed. How could Trump match that? Well, he says he did, but of course he’s not convincing.

Trump winds up damning John Lewis with faint praise, saying twice that Lewis didn’t come to his Inauguration or State of the Union messages. He’s almost unwilling to say that Lewis was any kind of civil rights icon at all, since there were others who promoted civil rights.

It’s impossible for me to watch this and not feel physical revulsion at the man and his fulminating narcissism. And I’m completely puzzled about how anybody could watch this and still think Trump is an acceptable President, much less a good one. But large segments of the country do—so divided are we. Fortunately, those segments don’t seem large enough to re-elect this maniac in November.

h/t: Simon

144 thoughts on “More heat than light: the Axios interview of Trump

  1. I admire you for being able to sit through this mess – his nonsensical approach to COVID statistics was all I could take. I do differ a bit regarding the Ghislaine Maxwell question, however. Given Trump’s (and Barr’s) history with Stone, Arpaiao, Flynn et al., I think (and former US Attorney Preet Bharara does as well) that “I wish her well” could be code for “Stay quiet and you’ll be taken care of.” By any rational standards, a pardon, either before trial or after conviction (should it occur) would be grotesque, but this is Trump we are talking about.

  2. It seems clear that Trump’s staff prepares graphs for him that: can be understood by a 1st grader, and presnt a rosy picture of pandemic response in USA. To me, that is the most frightening. This man is an imbecile.

    Combine that with his obvious mental pathology (personality disorder with incipient dementia), we are truly doomed if he is re-elected.

    1. It seems clear that Trump’s staff prepares graphs for him that: can be understood by a 1st grader, and presnt a rosy picture of pandemic response in USA.

      Even so, it did not appear that Trump had an adequate grasp of what the graphs purportedly showed to discuss them cogently with Swan.

      Clearly, the great man is not one for meticulous preparation.

  3. Did you see the one bar graph with the bright colors and only four bars? One step above Crayola.

    It’s been said he doesn’t pay attention, that he gets bored quickly in breefings and that they dummy things down for him. Very believable.

    1. One step above Crayola, one step below the dementia test (which Trump is so proud of passing!) that required he distinguish lion from camel from rhinoceros.

      1. What with all the graphs, charts and props—the more recent being two large trucks— I think it’s just a “shiny” to distract. Not us. Him.

  4. Remember the ‘good old days’ when statements that Trump was a narcissist were commonly said with caveats about how it’s technically not right to make that kind of diagnosis thru watching the man on television? I used to do that — defend the possibility that he might not technically be a narcissist.
    Those days are long gone. The man’s a complete narcissist. A toxic narcissist.

    1. I will not watch any Trump interview or news conference. What would I gain by listening to the incoherent ramblings, interspersed with an unending flow of lies, of a highly mentally ill person? Anything of significance that he says can be summarized in a one minute news report.

      1. What would I gain by listening to the incoherent ramblings, interspersed with an unending flow of lies, of a highly mentally ill person?

        Insight into the man who is daily entrusted with this nation’s nuclear launch codes.

        1. That is a great article but also very long. The damage done in total is still to be determined.

    2. I don’t think we should make it about what particular mental defect he suffers from as that gives him an out. He needs to go down for the mess he’s made of everything.

      On a related note, the smarter people that used to vote Republican are having a debate as to whether to only vote out Trump and his closest GOP enablers or “Burn it all down”, punishing the GOP and Trump’s voters so this can never happen again. I prefer the latter, of course. Anyone who helped Trump cheat should not be in government.

      1. I would be interested in learning more about that debate, and yes – burn it all down. What was not surprising was how quickly so many people in the GOP sold out our laws and norms for governing, all to thwart the Democrats at any cost.

        1. This is what some of the founders worried about. Would party politics derail the ability of the government to function? Right from the start. In Washington’s cabinet, Jefferson, Adams, and others began squabbling over core issues, and the battle has ebbed and flowed ever since.

        2. One place where I’ve been reading about this debate is The Bulwark, a free newsletter that has some interesting stuff. Here’s a search on there for “Burn it down” that nets a few articles:

          One I particularly liked was about Peggy Noonan’s soft take on the issue. She was Reagan’s speech writer, I believe, and has been on Bill Maher’s show a few times. She wants to get rid of Trump but goes soft on his GOP enablers. Bulwark’s Charles Sykes goes after her on it.

    3. As a voter, you need to make these sorts of judgments. The physical and mental shortcomings of politicians are seldom disclosed to the public.

    4. His neice published her book. She’s a Ph.D. psychologist. She has had a lifetime of personal interaction with Donald Trump. She can confidently publish a diagnosis. She says he is a narcissist (malignant) and has other personality disorder/pathology.

      Many psychiatrists have gone on record to say that there is enough video available of Trump in a wide variety of settings (formal interviews, legal depositions, and public statements) to effectivley dispense with the “no diagnosis without a personal examination” rule.

      There is nothing that would show up in a psychiatric examination that has not already been revealed in all that public exposure. There is sufficient evidence of pathology.

      1. Absolutely! Besides, it’s not as if mental health professionals have definitive tests for these things anyway, even though they will pretend that they do. (Ok, mental health professionals, I have my helmet on.)

      2. The author of the article I linked above argues that interviewing psychopaths in the same situation as Trump (i.e. when there is a tonne of other material available) actually muddies the waters because psychopaths can be very good at presenting a fake facade.

  5. I very rarely listen to him, but I made myself sit through this as I could make it fit between a couple of meetings. I’m amazed at his ability to not only not answer questions, but not even let the interviewer get a question out. It’s not like he skillfully steers the question to where he wants it (as a good politician would) he just goes off at tangents and avoids specifics. He also seems to lack any sort of understanding of numbers and how they work! Soooo irritating.

    1. Trump’s lawyer when he was young was Roy Cohn, a master of obfuscation, deflection, and aggressive misdirection, and it shows in Trump’s style of reply to any interview even remotely critical or accusatory. I think the only way to get Trump to abide by the traditional rules of an interview is for them to be court-ordered.

      1. “I think the only way to get Trump to abide by the traditional rules of an interview . . . .”

        I think that also true of at least a few interviewers.

  6. This is probably the first “real” interview this guy has given in the past three years. By real I mean a competent news person who knows what he is doing and also how to handle this crazy person. Almost nobody, even the best interviewers can deal with him. He will not shut up, he will not stop lying and just making up stuff and changing the subject. Every trained person in mental health has discovered the same thing. He is a sociopath and worse. He is not fit to manage a lemonade stand, not to mention the country. If you do not see within 5 minutes of this video that you are seeing a very dangerous person, then you might need a check up yourself. The idea that he will actually do a debate with Biden is a joke. I would say it won’t happen.

    1. I think Trump may debate Biden because it may be his only shot. After all, Trump doesn’t lack self confidence and pulls no punches. Biden, on the other hand, could easily have a bad night and stumble. Of course, the reverse is perhaps just as likely. But if you are desperate and have no other options, you roll the dice.

      1. However, don’t overlook what a coward this guy is. There is nothing he has done that comes up good in a debate. I think if he does go for it, he gets murdered. All he has is lying.

    2. “He [Trump] is a sociopath and worse.”

      No doubt. But I wonder if he is also an extreme example of the “What I Say, Goes”/”My Bat, My Ball, My Ballpark – I Win” world view which I perceive is, for better or worse, part and parcel of being the head of a non-democratic private tyranny. (Re: “Neutron Jack” Welch and “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap, fast food tyrant/employee-disparager Andrew Puzder, Trump’s at-one-time nominee for labor secretary, IIRC)

      Trump chafes at having his overbearing, dictatorial, authoritarian private tyrant inclinations constrained by the U.S. Constitution and the two other branches of government.

      1. I’m sure it’s the other way around. Psychopathic personalities are “My ballpark” mentalities from the time they are teens. They gravitate toward running businesses since that’s the type of personality that thrives in a dictatorial setting. They rise to the top because they are ruthless, with no scruples at all. Such a person can’t be any other way. They are born that way.

        1. “They gravitate toward running businesses since that’s the type of personality that thrives in a dictatorial setting.”

          I never found running a company as much of a dictatorial setting. You really can’t dictate that much. The focus is getting stuff done while keeping everyone happy. After all, every employee can leave. The ones you might want to boss around are exactly the ones you fear losing. I suppose things are different in a company where employees are lucky to have a job and can’t practically leave. I’m thinking servers in restaurants and retail people.

          1. It’s not the running of the company that matches the psychopathic personality so much as the climb through the field of rivals to get their.
            But of course a smart psychopath develops good interpersonal skills in order to maneuver his way up the ladder. tRump in particular had much of the work done for him by his father when he inherited the top position.

            1. You must have had a bad experience with the corporate ladder. I have met a few people that might have had some psychopathy but that’s not the norm and I suspect such people generally don’t do well. No one wants to work for them.

          2. “I never found running a company as much of a dictatorial setting. You really can’t dictate that much.”

            If one is a decent human being, who does not view other flesh-and-blood human beings as merely and solely human “resources” and “capital,” one won’t.

            1. My point wasn’t that a dictatorial CEO would lose their employees or otherwise be a fail in running their company. There’s huge difference between running a company and running a country. Dictators who run countries, and sufficiently control their governments, are free to do as they please. CEOs, on the other hand, have to answer to customers, the press, the market, directors, stockholders, lawsuits, and employees that can leave whenever they want. They are more like mayors of small towns in that they have a lot of parties they must accommodate.

    3. What is there to “debate?” Just another opportunity for Trump to do his same old stick, with no controls or limits placed on him. None that’s he’d follow, anyway.

  7. WEIT reader Dominic (who now posts as “uninterestingthings aka Dominic”) sent me the full version of this interview with Trump earlier, but I only managed to watch the first few minutes before it became too painful.

    As PCC(E) rightly observes above, “You’re not going to learn anything new about policy or politics from this interview, but you will see what a blustering narcissist Trump is. But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

      1. Yes, Swan did the best job of handling the total nut case we call Trump that anyone has. He alone has done a good job on Trump.

        1. The best at least since Chris Matthews’s Q&A with Trump during the 2016 campaign — the one that revealed, among other things, that Trump had never devoted so much as a moment’s cognition to the issue of abortion.

          Matthews was able to do an effective interview because he had gone to school on the recording of an earlier interview of Trump done by conservative Milwaukee radio host (and current tv commentator) never-Trumper Charlie Sykes.

          The key is not to follow Trump down the rabbit holes embedded in his non-stop chatter, but to insist upon an answer to the question actually posed.

  8. I almost completely agree with you but have a couple of things to say:

    What struck me most about the pandemic segment is Trump’s amazing ability to convince himself that he’s the best in every way, and was the best leader in the world to handle the pandemic.

    I don’t think he really believes he’s the best. He’s conscious of the lies he’s telling as it takes some thought to choose the one COVID statistic where he comes out ahead, ignoring all the more relevant ones. If he really believed he was doing a good job, he wouldn’t have any problem with the statistics that his interviewer wants to talk about.

    The one issue that I thought was petty was Swan’s bringing up Trump’s statement that he “wished Ghislaine Maxwell well.”

    I think this was a reasonable question. After all, Swan couldn’t be sure Trump would dismiss it as easily as he did. In the past, he’s doubled down to protect his friends. I could easily imagine him going into a rant about how her prosecutions is “so unfair”. He also may have some legal exposure here so he might have wanted to ensure Maxwell stayed silent with an implicit promise of a pardon. Swan had to ask, IMHO.

    1. I have to think that there are many people who have been and continue to work full time trying to connect Trump with Epstein’s crimes. If there was a way to connect them even tenuously, we would likely be hearing about it.

      1. Yes, and we’d then be frustrated that the revelation makes no difference to his followers. Starting his political career with “I’m a scumbag and I’m running for President” may have been his one and only genius move.

        1. Don’t forget the part about, “…and the media, financially successful, and the educated, hate my guts”.

      2. “If there was a way to connect them even tenuously, we would likely be hearing about it.”

        The justice system doesn’t work like you think it does.

  9. I caught a few moments of this while picking up takeout – I think they were arguing because Trump said Obama didn’t leave him any Covid-19 tests? Maybe I misheard, but I think that was the point of contention? Being totally serious when I say I had a surreal moment where I really thought I was watching a Sarah Cooper sketch, like – “Oh, they’re doing this so that now she can show up and say it with the funny faces and the props, I can’t wait! Where is she? I love it when they do these bits!”. Sometimes I almost forget that the sound bites she uses come from real life.

    1. There was a section on that. Trump claimed that when he came into office there was no test. Swan pointed out that when Trump came into office there was no virus. This happened a couple of times.

      1. This is the kind of thing that tells me that Trump knows very well that he’s telling lies. He realizes that all he has to do to fool his followers is to blame Obama for something and make it sound relevant to the issue at hand. It doesn’t matter if the interviewer challenges the claim as his followers will assume that the interviewer is lying and Trump is telling the truth. It’s in their bylaws.

        1. I seriously wonder about this. I think Trump just bullshits his way through life, through everything. I think, in the moment the crap comes out of his mouth, he believes it (as much as he believes anything).

          This is why his ridiculous (literally worthy of ridicule) utterances cause him to go off in a new direction that he then carries on enthusiastically (disinfectants, UV light!). And why he then will double-down on virtually everything — until he loses his cowardly nerve and backs down.

          But you are right about Trump’s followers. They prove over and over again the 5th Avenue Effect.

          1. I disagree. He doubles down because he always wants his followers to believe that he is earnest and honest in his beliefs. That’s why he will never apologize or admit he made a mistake. He knows he needs to be seen to believe wholeheartedly everything he says in order to force listeners to make a choice between him and his questioner. He’s very good at it. While phrases like “people are saying” sound ridiculous to a critical thinker that is used to his BS, his followers undoubtedly imagine he’s talking about something held by him and his advisers with which his enemies disagree. It’s all about once on the team, stay on the team.

            1. The reason he is good at it is that he believes it in the moment. It is not a strategy he employs, it is just who he is. He is the quintessential bullshitter. Consistency is unnecessary except that whatever flows from his mouth must either be self praise or something to demean someone else so he looks good. I don’t think he consciously tailors his word salad with his followers in mind. He’s too self-centered for that.

              1. “I don’t think he consciously tailors his word salad with his followers in mind. He’s too self-centered for that.”

                He is self-centered but he cares for his followers to the extent that they follow him and believe him. What good is adulation without adulators? As you say, he does believe what he’s saying in the moment but that’s just part of his skill. He still knows that he’s a bullshitter and that what he’s saying isn’t true. I think we all have said things we don’t believe but believed what we said at the time. The difference is that we regret doing so but Trump doesn’t.

              2. I don’t think that’s right, Paul. In any case, I know that you can’t know it to be the case (that he knows that he’s a bullshitter and that what he’s saying isn’t true). True and false are meaningless to bullshitters. Appearing sincere is everything, so the best bullshitters believe what they say whether or not it is different than something they said previously.

                I’ll end with a quote from Harry Frankfurt from On Bullshit.

                “These “anti-realist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself.”

              3. That’s a nice quote. Let me point out, though, that one can agree with that and still maintain that the bullshitter knows what he’s saying is not true. The quote is telling us that truth is not the bullshitter’s goal, which of course is the case.

              4. @Jeremy… not sure who you are addressing. In any case, we’re talking bullshit here, which is a special form of lying. Is he good at it? Depends on how you measure “good”. He’s certainly prolific! And he has a solid following of cultists. He bullshitted his way into the presidency. Those are some measures you might use.

      1. That’s a great piece, from the end of May. I like this line: “With anyone else, we would assume he was drunk when he said that. His sobriety is indistinguishable from alcoholic stupor.”

          1. It appears to be psychopathology, which is largely inherited and untreatable. It would be nice if we had an accurate physical test for it, not just a psychological test. That way you could eliminate such cases from taking over the White House.

    1. That’s fine, but the base won’t be able to drag him across the goal line, not even close, At most, it’s what, 40% of the US electorate.

      Trump is the only incumbent US president of my lifetime who (despite winning the last election by minus 3 million votes) has done nothing — hasn’t even tried! — to expand his appeal beyond the base that voted for him the first time.

      1. The big reason he has more than a handful of supporters is tribalism, it seems. Not much you can do about it. But, yes, at this point, it looks like he will go down in the agony of defeat.

      2. tRump’s failure to even attempt to broaden his appeal to more voters after his accidental EC win was a monumental error. Unbelievable. Proof that the man is either completely stupid or was too narcissistic to try. I think it is too late now. The closer the election gets, the crazier tRump gets. My only fear is some enormous Biden gaffe, or perhaps a Republican-engineered October crisis.

        1. Everything he does seems to indicate he doesn’t want to win (in contradiction to what he says).
          Enormous Biden gaffe isn’t in the cards…he can’t say anything that over-arches Trump. Media might try at the “gaffe horse-race” but it’s just not gonna work this time around. I also don’t think a “Republican-engineered October crises” has any reality in a country reeling from a pandemic that will stay with us through November.
          I’ve said this before, but Covid-19 is somewhat of a “gift” to world leaders. Biden wouldn’t have a chance if Trump actually spent a minimal time on facts, his own political powers and action. He failed on every level and continues to do so. It cost lives, it cost political capital, and he can’t get it back. What an idiot. His pathologies might have been an asset in certain places, but this presidency + pandemic has proven to overwhelm a narcissistic personality such as his.

          1. The only kind of gaffe that might impact Biden would be one that scares centrists into thinking he’ll implement a socialist or far-left agenda. A lot of his support depends on them seeing him as a Democrat that an anti-Trump Republican can be happy with. I’m not suggesting he’ll make such a gaffe or be unable to beat Trump regardless, just that making one is not outside the realm of possibility.

  10. Yes, the Kool Aid drinkers on the Trump side will support him regardless. Data are not only not required, they are very unwelcome.

    All criticism (including simply quoting him) is damned as fake news.

    One person, with whom I have a professional relationship that I am loath to trash, posted something on FB to other day. This is what we are up against:

    If the market crashes, COVID scomes back, cities burn, police are defunded, and murder hornets sting me in the ass, I’m still voting Trump.

    As I am always saying: Thank you for proving the 5th Avenue Effect.

    1. Covid comes back? When did it leave? And his delusion is proven by actually thinking that it will leave. Not in this country and not by November.

      1. Exactly. But you are thinking person who uses facts and logic.

        At a recent funeral event, someone brought up that, “I think the virus will be cleared up on November 4. This has been politicized.”

        This from someone with a a PhD in hard science!

        If it hadn’t been a funeral (the nerve to talk divisive politics at a funeral! But that’s Trumpistan) my responses would have been: “Indeed, you are politicizing it right now.” And, “exactly what data are you basing that statement on?”

  11. I was expecting an evisceration scene but alas it din’t come. Swan is good at the bemused double-take though but.
    I wonder if Trump has ever really come out badly in the substance of any interview. It is almost a certainty that he makes up stats for he rarely gives precise numbers. Andrew Neil would give the Trumpster enough rope to hang himself, unveil his bullshit detector & pounce with well-researched data.

    1. Which is why Boris Johnson skipped the interview with Andrew Neil during the 2019 general election. Still, Neil’s just lost his TV show on the BBC so he’s available to talk to Trump!

    2. He needs to be interviewed by a David Frost type…don’t know who that is nowadays. Though Swan did better than the first time he interviewed him, where he acted like and excited fan boy. But I think that first interview is what made Trump agree to this one.

      1. David Frost basically had one good round in his 12-session bout with Nixon, the one in which he got Nixon to admit to participating in the Watergate cover-up. But Frost was essentially a lightweight, entertainment type. He got the interview because his backers offered Nixon, who was looking to make a big-dollar score, the fattest payday (and because Nixon thought he could “handle” a lightweight like Frost, which he succeeded in doing through most of the interview).

        There was an early effort to have the interview on CBS, and conducted by Mike Wallace — who would’ve eaten Nixon alive — but CBS (per network policy) refused to give with the gelt, so Nixon went looking for a softer target.

        1. Thanks for the analysis. As you noted, I was referring to the Nixon interview. Yes, Mike Wallace would be even better (concerning Trump).

          1. The problem with asking Trump what he knew and when he knew it is that he didn’t know anything in the first place. “Not guilty, your Honour, on the grounds of diminished capability.” At least Nixon was competent.

  12. Louis Menand reviews Larry Tye’s new biography, “Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy” (Houghton Miflin Harcourt) in the August 3&10 2020 The New Yorker.

    Menand writes “As for Tye’s McCarthy-Trump comparison? He more than makes the case. The likeness is uncanny.”

    Tye draws no lessons for today of McCarthy’s career but, as if we needed it, Menand writes “Our demagogue is far more dangerous…ours is the President, and he has henchman running the State Department and the Justice Department who are dedicated to clearing a legal path for him to eliminate whoever stands in his way.”

    I learned several things I didn’t know about McCarthy and the hearings–the unwitting role of President Truman, “the celebrated denoument, the absence of senatorial courage. The personal similarities/behaviors between Trump and McCarthy are staggering.

    Menand describes both as “one-trick ponies. (Trump) says the same things on every issue and in response to every crisis.”

    It is a good read, especially if you had forgotten the details or in my case never knew them.

  13. The one issue that I thought was petty was Swan’s bringing up Trump’s statement that he “wished Ghislaine Maxwell well.”

    I saw Trump’s statement about Ghislaine Maxwell broadcast live when he made it, and I’m in general agreement with your take regarding the questions about it being petty. Nevertheless, I think there are two reasons why Trump’s statement has drawn more scrutiny than perhaps was warranted.

    First, it’s just a weird thing for a sitting US president to say about an accused sex trafficker. Like much else regarding Donald Trump’s tenure in office, I can’t imagine any of his predecessors saying anything like it.

    Second, Trump at one time had a close relationship with the man Maxwell stands accused of procuring underage women for, Jeffrey Epstein, during a time when Epstein was committing crimes involving those women. And there seems to have been something at least a bit sketchy about the Trump-Epstein relationship. There is a documented instance, for example, of Trump’s having held a party at Mar-a-Lago at which Epstein and a gaggle of Playmate calendar models were (to the calendar models’ surprise) the only invited guests. Trump also made contemporaneous statements about Epstein, including at least one to the effect that he and Epstein shared a taste for attractive women and that “Jeffrey likes them young.” There has also been widespread speculation regarding the materials (including computer drives, videotapes, and photographs) seized from a safe in Epsstein’s NY home at the time of his arrest on the federal charges for which he was being held at the time of his death — and speculation as to whether Maxwell might have information damaging to Trump were she to end up cooperating with the feds herself.

    Trump has a documented history of dangling (and, in some instances, providing) favorable presidential treatment to those who are in a position to cooperate against him in criminal investigations — salient examples being Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, and Paul Manafort (as to the latter two, even after they had entered written cooperation agreements with prosecutors). I think there was understandable (if, as yet, inadequately predicated) concern that Trump might be engaging in similar conduct to dissuade cooperation against him by “wishing well” to accused sex-trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell.

    1. This is what I’ve been thinking too. Given the rumors about possible unsavory connections between Trump, Epstein, and Maxwell, there is good reason to be disturbed by his recent well-wishing for Maxwell.

      1. There’s also the claim that Bill Clinton and Allen Dershowitz have been to Epstein’s island. Of course, those are rumors and even if they are true, it doesn’t mean they were involved in any criminality.

    1. Pretty good piece. Sometimes it takes an outsider’s distance to get a clear view of American spectacle. That’s been true since the days of Tocqueville.

      1. Wishing I was an outsider. I have looked into moving outside the US but it isn’t so easy any more. Can’t even visit during the pandemic. I probably could move to the UK since I was born there. Perhaps I will if Trump wins a second term.

        1. I live a couple hours from Vancouver B.C. If Trump wins a second term, I’ll be seriously thinking about moving around there (I don’t want to leave North America’s Northwest). I’ve looked into it, resources help. My grandmother was born there, but that doesn’t matter…dammit.

          1. I think I looked at Canada and you have to buy your way in, right? I think that’s what you meant by “resources”. I’m retired so they’ll regard me as a burden rather than an asset. I hear that living there part time is much easier.

            While I say all this, I must remind myself that nothing has really changed for me because of Trump and is probably not likely to even if he wins a second term. Even if I lived in Canada full time, Trump’s presence would still “derange” me. There’s less COVID there right now so there’s that.

          2. We are seriously thinking about CA or France if the USA doubles-down on the Orange Abscess.

            Though I doubt we’d pull, the trigger. We want to be around to vote against the GOP for our kids’ sake.

  14. “…low rate of deaths per case, with Swan arguing that’s what’s important is American deaths per capita. The first is attributable to better medical care in the U.S….”

    If that were really the attributable case (using Worldometer numbers), then the US medical care, 3% death rate per case, compared to France’s, 16% deaths/case, would seem to be more than 5 times better than France’s. The comparison is all over the map when you look at others to compare–UK almost as bad, Brazil just as ‘good’ as US. Note that life expectancy is much better in France than in US. That has something to do with the medical systems, don’t you think?

    I suspect “better medical care in US” would be more accurate if “for quite wealthy USians” were added to it.

    It is obvious that the count of cases is enormously false everywhere, and not for ‘evil’ reasons. If I’d got it, stayed home, got better, how could I be counted? Once you’re sick, not sure what, and you’ve stayed away from everybody except partner at home (since February!–and maybe even her if you can after getting sick), and don’t bother the doctor when it never gets bad, you’re not counted.

    I guess we already were clear on that anyway from a few months ago here. Only deaths, not cases, as reported, has any possible significance, except perhaps comparing cases one day or week…to the next, and only within one particular country.

    Even deaths is going to be seriously undercounted, but they probably do say something in comparing countries, where it should be per population of course.

    An opportunity for me to sound like bragging, but not really if you read all:

    I had predicted here in late March, very early for covid in North America, that US would hit around 500 deaths per million population on August 1. It was in fact 477. So about 158,000 deaths as opposed to about 166,000.

    However all my others were not so good, some really bad predictions. Both Italy and Spain hit 500 much earlier, both about 100 more by Aug.1–
    that Canada would be about 3 times better than US in deaths/million, but it was exactly 2 times better…
    That UK would be only about ⅔ of US, but it was way more.

    So the US guess/prediction was mostly luck. I couldn’t imagine the Mass Murderer donald (his niece even calls him that in print) regime would be nearly as bad as it has been. But maybe that was compensated by the sacrifices of nurses and other frontliners, not really the medical system as a whole, which is simply awful IMO.

    In the end, to repeat myself from a few months ago, the really meaningful numbers will be the excess deaths, measuring deaths which wouldn’t have happened without covid (not attempting the medical question of exactly when to assign covid as the immediate cause), as compared to expected deaths statistically.

    1. A couple of minor points to add- Obesity is a comorbidity of many diseases, especially Covid.
      I also keep seeing line of people waiting hours in line to be tested, even though few have symptoms. That seems absurd to me.
      The accuracy of the more commonly used tests is a huge issue as well.
      Dr. Blancke keeps coming back from hospital meetings disgusted after being told that the tests they are mostly using can be expected to have a false positive rate of up to 50%.

      The idea of fighting a pandemic when carriers are often asymptomatic, and testing takes days, but yields little useful information is sort of unprecedented.

      Also, we have a system where there is a big financial incentive for hospitals to identify patients as covid-positive. If any other country has such a complication, I am unaware of it.

      M current belief is that we have no real idea of how many cases we have had, or what the fatality rate is here or anywhere else.
      What data we have suggests that we are doing fairly well compared to other countries, considering the tools we have to work with. Our case fatality rate is between those of Japan and Denmark.

      I also think you are absolutely right about excess deaths being a key metric. Not just as a way to clear gunshot and auto accident victims from the covid death roles, but also to consider deaths induced by covid prevention measures.

      1. “M current belief is that we have no real idea … what the fatality rate is here or anywhere else.”

        ‘Fatality rate’ can mean several different things, but you give no reason to believe what you say here re deaths. Probably it is underestimated no matter what is meant, either my ‘deaths that wouldn’t have happened with no covid’, or ‘actual morbidity of the virus’, or something in between. But it very much looks like, from shorter time spans and examination of statistically expected deaths, that the first one is anywhere from accurate to 30% or 40% underestimate, depending on the country. It is easy to find this from people who actually know what they are talking about. And US total deaths are likely now between 200,000 and 240,000 in that earlier sense of mine.

        “Our case fatality rate is between those of Japan and Denmark.”

        You seem to fail to understand my main point: that using numbers involving case counts to compare countries is meaningless, as is any number dependent on case counts, except maybe the trend within a single country of that number, assuming the method of counting stays the same there. And that trend is by far the worst in the western world for US right now over the last 6 or 8 weeks.

        “What data we have suggests that we are doing fairly well compared to other countries, considering the tools we have to work with.”

        If you think that US being 6th worst among western countries in deaths/population, having had far more time to prepare than these countries, very quickly now catching and surpassing all six of them, then maybe Mass Murderer donald has a spot for you in his PR regime, at least until it gets the boot in early November. “data we have” is just glib talk; show some numbers and justify them or that’s just how little it contributes to any understanding.

        I was perfectly clear at the beginning that it was not Swan I disagreed with. It was the statement that the quality of the US medical system had a lot to do with its essentially meaningless deaths per case number.

        1. Among my many typos was “case fatality rate”, which should have been “case-fatality ratio” which was the term used in the Johns Hopkins article I referenced. Actually, “observed case-fatality ratio”.

          But I absolutely agree that we cannot compare infection rates or outcomes in places where the methodology for determining those stats is different.

          Also, our domestic stats would likely be very different had we actually tried to protect people in nursing homes instead of mandating that covid patients be sent there.

          1. Whether “case fatality rate” or “case-fatality ratio”, it still depends on the virtually useless case count, useful possibly only comparing week-to-week changes in a single country, not in the way you vaguely alluded to using it.

    1. Unless Trump can stick a Trump golf course on it, nothing of the great outdoors holds even the slightest interest for him.

  15. Walking by the TV a couple hours ago, almost sure I heard Trump say “underlining” instead of “underlying”, twice. Maybe I misheard.

    1. He doesn’t know how to pronounce “Yosemite” either. Twice, he said Yos-sem-ite. Don’t know how to do the pronunciation via wordpress. But it’s Yosemite as in Yoesemitee. Trump pronounced it Yosemite as in Yoesemite. How does a US President not know how to pronounce this National Park? And also, if he actually hadn’t heard of it, wouldn’t he be briefed? Why so dumb? And why has so dumb become a Presidential virtue for so many millions? Who are these Americans?

          1. Not at all. I thought that was what he was going for, as none of it makes sense anyway. You just try and guess.

        1. “wouldn’t he be briefed?
          No. He does not listen to briefings.”

          I gather that the only (de-?)briefings he pays attention to are those involving beguiling females.

          1. Good question. Anyone know if he even had a school experience or friends even? Maybe just tutors who were not authorized to give wedgies.

      1. ‘He doesn’t know how to pronounce “Yosemite” either.’

        Has anyone heard Trump pronounce “nuclear”?

        1. I think he actually pronounces nuclear better than Dubya, but that’s about it. I think even Jimmy Carter, who was a nuclear engineer, said nucular. Is it a Southern thing?

      2. And he’s probably not even heard of Yosemite Sam…One of my Canadian students once said Yo-semite, but Sam mighta been after his time and he might not have known about the NP.

        1. Yo=Semite=Sam. I laugh easier these days ’cause everything is so dumb. But that red-haired dude has to have a Bugs Bunny rhyme. Yo Semite Hafenpfeffer? My brain is done for the night.

      3. Trump doesn’t read his briefings or listen to verbal ones. Hey, he’s a very stable genius (everyone says so) so he already knows everything — who needs a briefing, FFS?!

  16. The Maxwell question was good when you put it beside the John Lewis question.

    He wishes the child sex trafficker the best and
    has nothing good to say about John Lewis.

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