“Why,” President Donald Trump asked rhetorically during a sit-down with Fox News propaganda broadcaster Sean Hannity Thursday night, “didn’t somebody call the FBI 36 years ago?”
He was referring to Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in the 1980s, when both were in high school. Any number of old geezers could easily fail to grasp the dynamics of sexual assault that would lead a 15-year-old girl to be reluctant to report a crime perpetrated by an older boy in her community. But the truly Trumpian coup de grace is that the current president doesn’t seem to understand what the FBI is or what it does.
A normal interviewer might have pressed Trump on some of this, but Hannity is not a normal interviewer. Indeed, through significant stretches of the interview, he can’t actually be bothered to formulate questions of any kind, instead simply issuing supportive statements like “better news with Kim Jong Un. He is not firing rockets over Japan.” To this, Trump sagely replies, “Honestly, Korea, North Korea, South Korea, things are working out very nicely.”
In truth, of course, nothing is working out. The North Koreans have already tested their rockets, so they aren’t firing more. Sanctions enforcement is unraveling because of a combination of Trump’s trade war with China and premature declaration of victory on the Korean nuclear issue.
But even in the absence of concrete policy achievements, Trump does have a good economy to point to. Thus, the rather pathetic trajectory of the interview moves away from any discussion of real things. It instead leads to Trump and Hannity joining forces to block an economic cataclysm that will allegedly be unleashed by a totally fake version of the congressional Democrats.
Trump, as usual, doesn’t know what he’s talking about
Trump is not conversant in the main issues of American public policy and doesn’t bother studying for interviews, so every time he does one, he ends up spouting risible nonsense.
Here, for example, is the president explaining his trade policy: “It is time to take a stand on China. It has been a long time they have been hurting us. Our farmers are great and starting to do very well again. It is very interesting, but we are putting very, very heavy sanctions and other things on various countries. And we are getting along with some countries. We have been ripped off, Sean, by the world. All of these countries, for years and years, we can’t do it anymore.”
Farmers are, of course, hurting quite badly from the disruption of trade with China. Indeed, the US Department of Agriculture reports that this year farm income “is forecast to decline $11.4 billion (14.8 percent) from 2017.”
And the tariffs Trump is putting on imports from China (and on steel and aluminum from much of the world) aren’t sanctions. And more broadly, the whole reason a disruption of trade with China hurts farmers is that the trading relationship isn’t a case of anybody ripping anybody off — it’s a whole series of mutually beneficial exchanges.
Trump also reminds us that his southern border wall is “going to have lots of doors. People are going to come in, but they are going to come in through merit.” He doesn’t seem to know that the “merit” immigration plan he’s endorsed would cut legal immigration in half and leave native-born Americans poorer. Rather, he thinks “they’re going to come in because we have companies moving in from all over the world, they are coming back to the United States United States. The biggest companies, Foxconn, the biggest companies are coming back.”
Foxconn is a Taiwanese company that certainly isn’t coming back to America. It is raking in subsidies to the tune of $200,000 per job created, which seems like a stiff price to pay.
Trump explains that he fixed NAFTA, though he doesn’t seem to have any information about what provisions of the deal are changing: “Good for Mexico, good for us, everybody is happy. NAFTA was a disaster. We lost thousands of plans, millions of jobs, NAFTA was a disaster. We have renegotiated it.”
The impact of NAFTA on jobs is, of course, disputed but even the high-end estimate from the NAFTA critics at the Economic Policy Institute charges that 682,900 jobs were lost not “millions.”
Trump is, in general, not really a specifics guy. His main message is that everyone has to vote Republican, but he doesn’t know why.
Trump can’t defend the Republican agenda
If Republicans do well in the midterms, holding a House majority and gaining a Senate seat or two, they are going to try to govern the country. They will make another stab at repealing the Affordable Care Act, enact a new round of tax cuts, and move to cut safety-net programs like SNAP.
There’s a problem with this program of cutting taxes for the rich in order to cut useful programs for the rest is: It’s unpopular. So when Hannity asks Trump to explain why people should vote Republican, Trump can’t bother to cite any of their actual policy agenda:
HANNITY: What do you say to those people that love you but maybe aren’t so hot on the Republican House or Senate member?
TRUMP: You have to go out and vote. We need more Republicans. We will get everything we want, but we need more Republicans. Want to protect your Second Amendment, everything, protect all of the great success that you have had over the last little more than a year and a half, think of it, we are coming up — can you believe it — on two years.
Another tactic is to make up fake positions and attribute them to his opponents, as when Trump says, “The Democrats, they want open borders, people coming in, that means crime.”
Last but by no means least, Trump observes that “the stock market today hit the highest level in its history” and then says a Democratic Congress will crash the market for no reason: “401(k)s are up, 57 percent in a short period of time. If the Democrats get in, those numbers will be cut in half. You will see bad things.”
Why does Trump have so little actual information about anything that’s actually happening? Well, as he explains at the end as Hannity as wrapping up the segment and throwing to Laura Ingraham, “Laura, I love your show, I watch it all the time. And you know what, you are special. You really are.”
And it’s true. Trump is not just a beneficiary of Fox’s friendly coverage; he’s a genuinely enthusiastic consumer who believes highly biased cable news broadcasts are a good way to get information about American politics and public policy. And it shows.