Three Important Moments in Trump’s Interview with the New York Times

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Trump Cabinet Update

Secretary of State – A great deal of speculation continues about this key position. Fortunately, it looks like the John Bolton possibility has fallen by the wayside. Now things seem to be between Giuliani and Romney. Inside sources are saying that for Romney to be offered the position he needs to apologize for the scathing speech he gave about Trump back during the GOP primaries. [1] Although it’s a nice thought that Trump would build a ‘Team of Rivals’, it’s a long way off for now.

Attorney General – Jeff Sessions seems to be the leading choice for this position. He was the first senator to endorse Trump, so it isn’t surprising he’s up for some cabinet post. The awful thing here is that Sessions was up for a federal judgeship 30 years ago, but was denied the post because of concerns about his racism. There was testimony that he called assistant US attorneys who were black ‘Boy’, thought the NAACP and ACLU were un-american, and joked that he thought KKK members were, “OK, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.” [2] It was unacceptable for a federal judge in the 80s, but it may be acceptable for Attorney General in the Trump administration.

Secretary of Education – This one is a done deal, it’s Betsy DeVos. Now, I will say that she has a long record of supporting Arts Education in schools, so major positive points there. There is a glaring flaw though. She has spent her entire career fighting to undermine public education through voucher systems and school choice. There are ways that system can be used for good, but given that Trump just settled one of the fraud lawsuits about his own university for 25 million dollars, we can guess what a voucher system might look like under Trump. Michigan has around 80% of its charter schools run by private companies. [3] This is an issue that deserves more attention than just this paragraph, but if you’d like to see more examples of how this system has worked so far in this country, I’d invite you to watch the segment John Oliver did in August on charter schools. Overall it’s just strange to have a secretary of education who didn’t attend public schools herself, didn’t send their children to public school, and has never worked in a public school.

Before the Meeting

Because we can’t have a news story about Trump without a bizarre series of events that include twitter, I relay the following. There was plenty of anticipation for the meeting between Trump and the NYT staff, but then the President-elect tweeted this:

This was news to the NYT who hadn’t changed any conditions of the meeting, and hadn’t been contacted about the cancellation. They found out along with the rest of us when Trump tweeted the above. When the Times told Trump nothing had changed then the meeting was back on as planned. The question remained though, why did Trump think something was being changed?

According to three sources who talked to the NYT, it was RNC Chair and soon to be Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Supposedly he thought Trump wasn’t ready for the interview and instead of telling him that, attempted to sabotage the whole thing. [4] As these sources have remained anonymous, it’s impossible to know. I’ve seen other people suggest it wasn’t Priebus, but instead it was members of Trump’s staff who don’t like Priebus since he’s such a key member of the establishment and this was their attempt to undermine his authority. Again, tough to say anything for certain other than somehow Trump thought things were changed, ranted on twitter, and then upon finding out they weren’t, put everything was back on.

The Interview

It was an hour long interview and you can read the entire transcript here, but there were three things that really jumped out at me.

“The Times is a great, great American jewel,” and “Well, I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.”

Both of those were comments Trump made about the NYT after calling them failing earlier that exact same day. During the campaign he repeatedly called them liars, threatened them with litigation, and his supporters even invoked the term ‘Lugenpresse’ to refer to them. [5] Now they’re a jewel he has great respect for? I don’t see how he can possibly ump back and forth between those two opposed stances so readily.

I want to get back to the term Lugenpresse though. It was often invoked during Hitler’s rise to power and many people have pointed that fact out in tying Trump’s ‘Alt-Right’ supporters to the Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist groups that all seem to share so much of the same ideology. Trump had comments about the Alt-Right directly:

“I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group…It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why.”
To start with, they are indeed quite energized. Richard Spencer led an Alt-Right conference in DC this past week. It should be noted that Spencer was the man who coined the term Alt-Right, so if anyone has the right to claim what the Alt-Right is and isn’t, it’s him. So what did he do at this conference? According to the NYT: “He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the ‘children of the sun,’ a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were ‘awakening to their own identity.’ [6] This was followed by the full room of people giving the one armed Nazi salute to Spencer. When asked about this, Spencer defended it by saying the salutes were, “clearly done in a spirit of irony and exuberance.” [7] Again, this is the man who coined the term Alt-Right and he’s completely fine with his followers being so excited about everything they just can’t help but give the Nazi salute to him.
It’s not hard to figure out why they feel so energized. The appointment of Steve Bannon I talked about in my last post played a huge role in the Alt-Right’s excitement. Bannon is proud of the fact the Breitbart has been a platform for Alt-Right views, but claims that it’s ok because he doesn’t think things like antisemitism are really a part of the Alt-Right. I go back to the fact that the guy who invented the term seems to think those things belong, but there are also plenty of instances of antisemitism that have been posted as endorsed articles on Breitbart like calling Republican strategist Bill Kristol a ‘Renegade Jew’ [8]
If Trump didn’t want these people to feel like Neo-Nazism and White Supremacy were mainstream ideas gaining momentum in this country, he shouldn’t have given their mouthpiece a cabinet post. I don’t know if Trump is ignorant to the fact that he has done this or maliciously lying about the fact that he knows he’s done this. I also don’t know which paints a bleaker picture for the next four years. There was something else said in the interview that makes the next four years much murkier though.
In response to whether or not he would appoint the special prosecutor for Clinton he promise during the campaign:
“Well, there was a report that somebody said that I’m not enthused about it. Look, I want to move forward, I don’t want to move back. And I don’t want to hurt the Clintons. I really don’t….Yeah, look, you know we’ll have people that do things but my inclination would be, for whatever power I have on the matter, is to say let’s go forward. This has been looked at for so long. Ad nauseam. Let’s go forward. And you know, you could also make the case that some good work was done in the foundation and they could have made mistakes”
So no movement to indite Clinton for either the emails or the Foundation. This obviously goes against one of Trump’s direct promises during the campaign. Merchandise was sold saying “Hillary for Prison”, chants of “Lock Her Up!” were common at his rallies, and Chris Christie had his big speech at the RNC getting the attendees to shout “Guilty” as he read through a list of accusations against Clinton. Some of his supporters obviously feel betrayed on this point. [9]
If he sticks to this idea that he won’t push for anything to happen to Clinton though, it will be an incredibly blatant lie. It got me thinking about all the promises he made (Defeating ISIS, building the wall, imposing term limits on Congress, that he would release his taxes, the list goes on) and how he’s going to handle these in four years. I know we don’t want to think about 2020 yet, but Trump is going to have to run a reelection campaign and how does he handle some of these things he unequivocally said he would do, but now seems to be backing away from. I see four options.
1. He claims he never promised thing X despite all evidence to the contrary.
2. He claims he actually did thing X despite all evidence to the contrary.
3. He claims he would have done thing X but was stopped by the establishment.
4. He admits he didn’t do thing X and apologizes. (Look, it’s theoretically possible and I’m being thorough)
It was surprising for me to see him back away so quickly from going after Clinton, but I imagine it will be even more surprising for me in four years to watch him answer questions about it. For now though, it leaves us back in the position of not really knowing which campaign promises he was sarcastic about and which ones he was not that sarcastic about. I guess we have four years to find out.

One thought on “Three Important Moments in Trump’s Interview with the New York Times

    Douglas Perkins said:
    November 30, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    I just contributed to the ACLU. Thanks for the motivation!

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