President Donald Trump has largely avoided subjecting himself to the scrutiny of a one-on-one interviews with actual journalists. There’s a good reason for this. We caught a glimpse of it last month when Chris Wallace of Fox News dismantled Trump’s argument that Joe Biden wants to defund the police. But we saw the complete picture on Monday night when with the help of a few color-coordinated charts the president hopelessly stumbled and bumbled his way through a train wreck of an interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios, which aired on HBO.
While most interviewers nod along as Trump bullshits his way from topic to topic, Swan took a novel approach. Whenever the president lied or said something that didn’t make sense, Swan simply asked him to explain. Because the president didn’t have the luxury of calling on another reporter, he was forced to at least attempt to clarify his nonsensical arguments, like why the percentage of the American population that has died due to COVID-19 complications isn’t really that important. He could not do this, of course, and the result was one of the most incoherent, depressing, and flat-out embarrassing interviews of Trump’s presidency.
I mean, just watch this:
.@jonathanvswan: “Oh, you’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of population. That’s where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.”@realdonaldtrump: “You can’t do that.”
Swan: “Why can’t I do that?” pic.twitter.com/MStySfkV39
— Axios (@axios) August 4, 2020
Trump genuinely seems to think at the top of this clip that he’s about to put the idea that he’s mismanaged the pandemic to rest by showing Swan a few charts his aides printed out for him. As Swan soon realizes, Trump is touting that the death rate by the case is lower than in other countries. Far more pertinent, obviously, is the percentage of the American population Trump has let die from COVID-19, as Swan quickly points out.
“You can’t do that?” Trump says.
“Why can’t I do that?” Swan asks.
“You have to go by… you have to go by…” Trump begins before shuffling some papers and trailing off.
The back-and-forth — and the paper rustling — continues as a visibly confused Trump grasps for some sort of toe hold to counter Swan’s extremely basic follow-up questions about why he thinks it’s not really a big deal that over 1,000 American are dying every day from the coronavirus. In the end, the president’s only recourse is to lie or cast doubt on empirical data. When Swan points out that only 300 people in South Korea have died, out of a population of over 50 million, Trump says, “You don’t know that,” implying the nation is lying about its death rate.
At other points in the interview, Swan barely had to do anything to lead Trump into a damning statement. When Swan asks Trump about how the late Rep. John Lewis will be remembered, maybe the fattest softball question a reporter could ask of a president, Trump said, “I don’t know,” before griping that Lewis didn’t attend his inauguration. When Swan asked if Trump found Lewis impressive, Trump couldn’t say, once again complaining that he should have come to his inauguration.
.@jonathanvswan: "How do you think history will remember John Lewis?"
— Axios (@axios) August 4, 2020
It might be time to do away with the idea that President Trump is a master media tactician and fully embrace the idea that he is an abject moron who stumbled ass-backwards into the White House.