President Trump's Axios on HBO interview has left at least one commentator worried that the president genuinely doesn't understand the severity of the pandemic. While discussing the coronavirus with interviewer Jonathan Swan, Trump insisted the pandemic was under control and displayed graphs that he said showed the US is "lowest in the world" in some categories. When Swan realized Trump was talking about deaths as a proportion of cases, he pointed out that the US is doing much worse than many other countries, including South Korea and Germany in deaths as a proportion of population. "You can't do that," Trump told Swan. "Why can't I do that?" Swan responded. The fact that Trump focused only on the single metric that shows the US doing well is "nonsensical" and raises many concerns, writes Philip Bump at the Washington Post.
"Was it simply that, after months of doing almost no interviews besides overtly friendly ones on Fox News, he was unprepared to be challenged on basic points?" Bump asks. "Or, more alarmingly, was it that he didn’t actually understand the scope of the pandemic that his team insists is the central focus of his time?" Other reactions:
- "Cluelessness." Swan exposed Trump's "cluelessness" about the pandemic in one of the most "incoherent, depressing, and flat-out embarrassing interviews" of his presidency, writes Ryan Bort at Rolling Stone. Unable to answer "extremely basic follow-up questions," Trump's "only recourse is to lie or cast doubt on empirical data," he writes. 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."
- Three worst moments. Inae Oh at Mother Jones singles out the three worst moments from the interview. The first was the "You can't do that" response, the second was Trump's remark that he "doesn't know" late civil rights leader John Lewis, and the third was his doubling down on warm wishes for Ghislaine Maxwell, even after Swan pointed out that she is in jail accused of child sex trafficking. "Yeah, I wish her well. I’d wish you well. I wish a lot of people well," Trump said.
- Swan's interviewing style praised. Oliver Darcy at CNN praises Swan for pushing back against many of Trump's assertions, including his claim that "some people" have said there can be too much coronavirus testing. Many TV anchors have "accepted Trump's blathering," but "it took Swan—a print journalist—to meaningfully question the President and not let misinformation and nonsensical statements slide into the interview unchecked," he writes. "The results were astonishing to watch."
- Criticism from conservatives. Guy Benson at Townhall says Trump could have praised America's health care system or targeted China's "bogus figures" in answer to the mortality question, but he was "woefully underprepared" for the entirely predictable line of questioning. He also takes issue with another Trump statement on the pandemic. "Even a sub-average politician should have the awareness to realize, 'it is what it is' isn't the sort of tautological cliche that fits the moment," Benson writes.
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