On Thursday, the New York Times published another rare sit-down interview with President Donald Trump. Social media, as is its wont, exploded into multiparty conflict about which part was most devastating for the Republic.
The answer, of course, is that the President of the United States is staggeringly ignorant and a pathological liar, but easy answers are neither fun nor a good cudgel with which to batter other political enemies, so the debate naturally moved down a tier, into the realm of accomplices and abettors.
Unsurprisingly, the New York Times came in for a lot of abuse. Having covered itself in the opposite of glory when reporting on James Comey, Hillary Clinton and her emails during the campaign, the Times has become the knee-jerk villain for a lot of #resistance tweeters whose online comportment is functionally indistinct from meme-slinging MAGA clones and 2010’s #TeaPartyAttackTeam hashtag warriors. Unsurprisingly, countless people spent the night yelling at Maggie Haberman, a Times reporter who didn’t even write the article.
Being mad at the Times is a proud tradition, of course. It would have been nice if Michael S. Schmidt, the Times reporter who caught the last-minute interview, had ticked off every wishlist of pushback against the president. But no one’s brain is that multifaceted at the drop of a hat, and the Times is not wrong to err on the side of protecting Trump’s atavistic-media-brain compulsion to take it seriously enough to indulge these periodic confessional moments.
At this point, it’s natural to imagine how the Times would have handled Hillary Clinton if she gave a similar interview, and it’s fair to say that their reporters would have probably seemed on the verge of apoplexy. But the Times and other journalists press candidates like Clinton because they expect them to be smart and have something to say. Trump skates away on the softest bigotry of the lowest expectations: There’s less urgency to asking a follow-up question of someone blending lies with total cluelessness.
This greater latitude for being a moron presents a double standard that journalism needs to work on: You shouldn’t be able to get away with being an idiot by being so much of an idiot that challenging you becomes functionally worthless as a news-gathering tool. Representatives whose thoughts are as impossible to engage as quicksand shouldn’t be able to escape scrutiny via incompetence and mendacity just because engaging them approaches total futility.
So, yes, Schmidt left many follow-up questions on the table; he left most of them, if we’re being honest. He rarely tried to push a knife into any one of the many soft spots in the softest presidential brain in history. At the same time, he also didn’t really need to.
The entire interview should be read to be believed, but in the interest of time, you should read one passage:
TRUMP: So now I have associations, I have private insurance companies coming and will sell private health care plans to people through associations. That’s gonna be millions and millions of people. People have no idea how big that is. And by the way, and for that, we’ve ended across state lines. So we have competition. You know for that I’m allowed to [inaudible] state lines. So that’s all done.
Now I’ve ended the individual mandate. And the other thing I wish you’d tell people. So when I do this, and we’ve got health care, you know, McCain did his vote. … But what we have. I had a hundred congressmen that said no and I was able to talk them into it. They’re great people.
Two things: No. 1, I have unbelievably great relationships with 97 percent of the Republican congressmen and senators. I love them and they love me. That’s No. 1. And No. 2, I know more about the big bills. … [Inaudible.] … Than any president that’s ever been in office. Whether it’s health care and taxes. Especially taxes. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have persuaded a hundred. … You ask Mark Meadows [inaudible]. … I couldn’t have persuaded a hundred congressmen to go along with the bill. The first bill, you know, that was ultimately, shockingly rejected.
I’ll tell you something [inaudible]. … Put me on the defense, I was a great student and all this stuff. Oh, he doesn’t know the details, these are sick people.
So, the taxes. … [Inaudible.] … The tax cut will be, the tax bill, prediction, will be far bigger than anyone imagines. Expensing will be perhaps the greatest of all provisions. Where you can do something, you can buy something. … Piece of equipment. … You can do lots of different things, and you can write it off and expense it in one year. That will be one of the great stimuli in history. You watch. That’ll be one of the big. … People don’t even talk about expensing, what’s the word “expensing.” [Inaudible.] One year expensing. Watch the money coming back into the country, it’ll be more money than people anticipate.
But Michael, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.
Now here’s the good news. We’ve created associations, millions of people are joining associations. Millions. That were formerly in Obamacare or didn’t have insurance. Or didn’t have health care. Millions of people. That’s gonna be a big bill, you watch. It could be as high as 50 percent of the people. You watch. So that’s a big thing. And the individual mandate. So now you have associations, and people don’t even talk about the associations. That could be half the people are going to be joining up. … With private [inaudible]. So now you have associations and the individual mandate.
I believe that because of the individual mandate and the associations, the Democrats will and certainly should come to me and see if they can do a really great health care plan for the remaining people. [Inaudible.]
Trump’s monologue possesses nearly zero informational value for anyone other than a psychologist or neurologist. It is an ecstasy of stupidity, disoriented and disorienting confabulation and intentionally self-serving lies punctuated by disengagement, lost trains of thought, random interjections and a view from another planet. If this is how a loved one answered a question about their job, you’d drive them to the hospital.
If Michael S. Schmidt had set out to write the most #resistance-pleasing hit piece, he would have needed to leave the reader with three conclusions:
- The president doesn’t have the first clue what he’s talking about.
- The president tries to paper over this stunning lack of knowledge by lying, when he isn’t lying cynically.
- The president probably has worms in his brain.
If that’s what you wanted, you got all three. Each offers sufficient pretext for demanding his removal from office. And while, in the meantime, the Times and many other outlets need to get better and can get better at trying to wrest some sort of intellectual accountability from the things the president says without shame or connective tissue, what those writers and the republic ultimately don’t need is more Daily Show-zinger press policing.
What they need is enough pressure applied to members of the House of Representatives to push for impeachment proceedings, so someone can finally ask them a question that servicing the access needs of their day-to-day White House beat prevents them from answering now, unprompted: “Without revealing off-the-record conversations, do you believe that the President of the United States is demented?”