New York Times’s Interview of Donald Trump (7/19/2017)

The New York Times published excerpts from an interview they had with Trump yesterday. I’m not sure if you guys read the New York Times, or if you have read this interview, but if you haven’t, I think this interview is worth reading. (Actually, Trump has given a series of these interviews, and they’re all worth reading.) I say that for a couple of reasons: 1) they give a lot of insight into Trump, especially how he thinks; 2) if you’re concerned about liberal bias, I think bias is less of a factor in interviews, because Trump’s words, which he controls, is the substance of these interviews. (To be fair, the times has printed excerpts, so bias can play a factor there, and it’s something to keep in mind. Still, readers get a largely unfiltered view of Trump in these interviews.)

In this post, I want to jot down some of my thoughts and reactions. (For what it’s worth, I’d recommend reading the interview before you read my comments or anyone else’s.)

Several things stand out:

1. The interview reinforces my impression that Trump really doesn’t understand or respect the rule of law or constitutional system of government–including conceptually and the key principles. He doesn’t get it, and/or he has a completely different view/approach to government–specifically, his understanding and thinking is like that of a dictator or king.

2. The problem may be a deterioration of his cognitive functions. What I’m about to say will sound like snark, but I don’t mean in that way at all–I’m trying to be descriptive. The interview reminded me of visiting lonely, elderly individuals in a care home, or lonely, eccentric individuals who have lived alone. In talking to these individuals I have in mind, there’s a point where I realize that there is little sense in having a rational discussion with this person, primarily because their sense of reality and their ability to think rationally is so deficient. When they say something that sounds crazy to me, I don’t react or try to reason with them. I just try to listen. Trump reminds me of those individuals.
In case it’s not obvious, this is really bad–it’s crazy, if my impression is accurate. I don’t know if Trump is mentally ill in a clinical sense, just as I don’t know if the people I mentioned are clinically, mentally ill. But does it really matter? I have strong sense that something isn’t right–that their sense of reality and ability to reason is highly impaired. If Trump is in this situation, that’s highly worrisome.

3. Trump isn’t the only one that reminded me of these situations. The journalists conducting the interview also reminded me of these situations. I’ve heard a few criticisms of the journalists–specifically that they’re not asking tough questions. I agree, the journalists are not really challenging Trump. Indeed, during the campaign, I got frustrated by one of these interviews (I think I may have written about this on the site.), but I believe I also wondered if the journalists did this to continue getting access to Trump. After this recent interview, I’m more convinced this is the case.

Here’s what I think is happening. Like me, when I’m talking to the lonely, elderly person in a nursing home, the journalists realize that there’s no point in having a rational discussion with Trump–there’s no point in vigorously correcting him or deeply probing his understanding on policy. Trump knows so little, and his mind is not functioning properly. So trying to gain more clarity and understanding on Trump’s policy position is almost pointless.

However, what can be learned is Trump’s state of mind and his attitude on different topics. That have a lot of value. Additionally, and this is important, Trump seems happy to talk and talk at length. By not asking challenging questions, my sense is that Trump perceives that the journalists largely share his views, that they think he is reasonable; and maybe he thinks they like him. The journalists are basically listening to Trump, and in situations like that, people in general will talk. I think this is even more true for those individuals I mentioned above. And I suspect that is happening here.

Why is this important? This explanation is important because what Trump says is ultimately damaging, damning to himself. Why is he continuing to do these interviews when this is the case, especially when he refers to them as “fake news” and “dishonest?” It doesn’t make sense. I believe what I’ve written above provides an explanation. For one thing, he seems completely unaware that a) what he’s saying is either wrong, ignorant, and/or incoherent, and b) he doesn’t realize that this makes him look bad. This is remarkable, by itself, if this reading is correct. Second, there is not only the dynamic of wanting to talk to those that listen to you (genuinely and without judgment), but this is even more true if you want the respect of those that are listening to you. To this last point, some have speculated that Trump is a guy from Queens, and he wants respect from the New York Times. This seems plausible to me, and if it’s true, it would explain why he keeps doing the interviews, even if they end up making him look bad. It also explains why the New York Times journalists are conducting the interviews in the way the way that they have.


To summarize, I think there are a few reasons I think this interview is important to read:

First, and maybe most importantly, the interview raises serious questions about whether Trump is mentally capable to doing the job. I can’t be the only one who thinks this–people in Congress must also wonder about this as well.

Second, Trump’s understanding and thinking is more like a dictator than an executive of a constitutional government. This fits with his praise for other dictators and his attraction to Putin. It also sheds light on why he seems to get along with those type of leaders rather than our allies.

Commentary on the interview

(Note: I’ve read the first op-ed, and I agree with Sargent’s points. The rest I haven’t at the time of this writing.)

From WaPo: Trump’s Deeply Worrisome New York Times Interview Reveals a Lawless President

From The President Vs. Federal Law Enforcement: Trump Attacks Everyone

From The Trump Interview and DOJ

From New York Magazine: Donald Trump: L’etat C’est Moi

From Talking Points Memo: The Times Interview Annotated

Edit More commentary

From Lawfareblog: Considering Trump’s Legal Position (and Problems) After the New York Times Interview (I read this one.)

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