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.