I take it all back. I regularly mock British politicians for their lies and hypocrisy, not least Boris Johnson, the UK’s Donald Trump-lite, who only last Friday had hit a new low for cronyism, corruption and nepotism with his appointments to the House of Lords.
But all this was amateur hour compared with Donald Trump’s interview with Axios’s Australian political correspondent, Jonathan Swan, that was broadcast on HBO on Monday evening.
Here we had the US president in not just a stream but a full torrent of subconsciousness. Incoherent, deluded, out of his depth. An object lesson in unchecked, X-rated narcissism. The only wonder was that Swan managed to keep a reasonably straight face throughout the best part of 40 minutes.
Swan began by asking whether the president’s positive thinking had necessarily been the right approach to the coronavirus when the US death toll was now 145,000 and rising.
Cue a long rant from Trump about how there had been nothing like this since the 1917 flu pandemic – actually it was 1918 – how he wouldn’t forget that China had brought the virus to the US – in reality it also arrived from Europe – and how there had been 12,000 people at his rally in Tulsa and not the 6,000 that the Fake News media had reported. All the more people to hear his positive message that the virus was near enough under control and that face masks were for lefty wimps.
“We’ve tested more people than anyone had thought of,” Trump continued. “Sixty million. There are some people who are saying we have tested too much.”
“Who?” Swan asked reasonably.
“Read the manuals. Read the books.”
Trump ignored that question and Swan didn’t press him for an answer. The lie spoke for itself. No scientist has yet advocated less testing as a solution; still less has anyone written a book about it.
Things rapidly became even more surreal. First Trump insisted that children with runny noses were now testing positive and that the only reason the US was showing more cases was because of its level of testing. Brilliant. Obviously the way to beat the virus is to do no tests whatsoever. That way no one would ever die of it.
“When I took over, we didn’t have a test,” Trump said. Swan’s logic that the reason there was no test a year or so ago was because the virus did not yet exist rather passed the president by. Trump then tried to claim the virus was under control.
“How? A thousand Americans are dying a day,” Swan insisted, trying to keep the interview more or less on track.
“They are dying. That’s true. And it is what it is.” You win some, you lose some.
At this point, Swan tried to wrap up this part of the interview, more than happy he already had ratings gold, only for Trump to reach over to the table for a few sheets of paper. “Let’s look at some charts,” the president said. Be my guest, thought Swan, fairly certain it was odds on that The Donald would be holding them the wrong way up.
“Right here, we’re lower in various categories. The world.” Trump had started, so he’d finish.
“The world?” Swan thought it wise to check that the president knew that the USA was actually part of the world and not some parallel universe.
Now Swan got it. The president was trying to measure deaths by number of cases diagnosed rather than per capita of population.
“You can’t do that,” Trump insisted.
“Why not?” Swan asked. Almost every other country had.
Because you couldn’t. That’s why. Swan pointed out that South Korea had a death toll of just 300 out of a population of 52 million. Donald gave him one of his “Fake News” death stares. The Koreans couldn’t be trusted, he said, but he wasn’t going to say that because the US was friends with them.
The rest of the interview was every bit as much a car crash. The president hadn’t seen any intelligence that the Russians were paying the Taliban to kill US military in Afghanistan. Even though it had been covered by virtually every media outlet. “Why can’t we talk about China?” He couldn’t even do the maths to work out that there were as many US personnel in Afghanistan now as in 2016.
Asked why he had said that he might not accept the results of this November’s presidential election, Trump said that Hillary Clinton had not accepted the 2016 result.
“Er … she conceded on the night,” Swan interrupted.
Yeah but no but yeah but she had grumbled. Besides, it was different this time round as there was a newfangled phenomenon of postal voting that was wide open to corruption.
“But postal votes have been used since the civil war,” Swan observed. Trump merely blanked him.
Swan changed the subject. Ghislaine Maxwell. “I wish her well,” Trump said.
“You wish an alleged child sex trafficker well?”
Donald nodded. He was feeling benevolent as her boyfriend, Jeffrey Epstein, had either committed suicide or been killed in prison. He wasn’t that bothered which.
Nor was he too concerned about the veteran civil rights activist, John Lewis, who had recently died. Mainly because he had snubbed an invitation to his presidential inauguration. No slight, however small, ever gets forgotten by this president.
Swan dabbed his brow and brought the interview to a close. Though in reality it had been less an interview and more an on-screen breakdown.
A collector’s item. But not for those of a nervous disposition.