Donald Trump deserves credit for sitting for an interview on Monday with the Washington Post editorial board, “people who have mercilessly attacked him,” according to one of its members, columnist Ruth Marcus. It takes a big man. (More on his size to follow.)
What struck me about the transcript was no single piece of news, because there wasn’t a major breakthrough, but rather what emerged from the whole: a vexing personality and policy profile. (Read the full transcript here.)
Trump has a Clinton-sized victim’s complex
“I’ve been treated very, very badly by The Washington Post,” he whined. “I’ve had stories written about me—by your newspaper and by others—that are so false, that are written with such hatred—I’m not a bad person.” When you read the transcript, you’ll notice that Trump conflates criticism with inaccuracy. Surrounded by yes-men and yes-woman his entire professional life, born into great wealth and ego, Trump doesn’t seem to accept the criticism that comes with public life. If a journalist reports something negative about him, it must be wrong.
President Trump would seek to shield himself against criticism
He told the newspaper that ousted Richard Nixon he would loosen libel laws. Trump would make it easier to punish journalists who malign him. As Marcus wrote, today’s legal standards for the media are designed to protect the First Amendment from an invasion of libel lawyers. “Erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate,” Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote in a landmark 1964 case, and “must be protected if the freedoms of expression are to have the ‘breathing space’ that they ‘need … to survive.’”
Trump’s policies are neither left nor right—nor even center
Among the ways Trump is disrupting politics is his upending of the red and blue policy boxes. He spoke against nation building and NATO, countering decades of Republican doctrine, and called for investment in infrastructure and inner-city economic zones, two traditionally Democratic issues. Trump is a populist at a time when populism may be the strongest force in U.S. politics. Across the spectrum, from Trump to the socialist Bernie Sanders, voters are demanding new leadership that prioritize domestic concerns over international affairs; they want to curb special interests and corporate welfare; they support privacy protections against snooping governments and businesses; and they want to shrink the size and power of big financial institutions. Trump’s issue set appeals to both Democratic and Republican voters who are unhappy with their own parties.
Racial issues are a blind spot—at best
Trump repeatedly professed ignorance about racial disparities in law enforcement and sentencing policies. “I’ve never seen anything like that—you know, I feel strongly about law enforcement.” It’s one thing to favor the perspectives of police over the concerns of minorities; it’s another to pretend race isn’t even an issue. He was asked a second time, “Do you believe there are disparities in law enforcement?” Trump replied, “I’ve read where there are and I’ve read where there aren’t. I mean, I’ve read both. And, you know, I have no opinion on that.” After that profile in courage, Trump changed the subject.
Trump struggles with the truth
The board repeatedly asked why he condones violence at his rallies. Trump has offered to pay the legal bills of supporters who attack protesters. He has spoken explicitly about how he’d like to see protesters manhandled and hurt. And yet, he said, “We don’t condone violence at all.” Late in the interview, Trump said in quick succession that Hispanic voters love him; he has only criticized Hillary Clinton once; and “I am the least racist person that you will ever meet.” His first two statements are patently false. The third is as credible as an orange comb-over.
Trump may be the most insecure person in politics, which is saying something
“I went to a great school,” he said. “I was a good student and all. I am an intelligent person. My uncle, I would say my uncle was one of the brilliant people. He was at MIT for 35 years. As a great scientist and engineer, actually more than anything else. Dr. John Trump, a great guy. I’m an intelligent person.” What kind of person says these things? What kind of president would he be? Perhaps a man so obsessed with proving himself—to others and to himself—shouldn’t be given the nuclear codes. A back-and-forth about the size of his hands (read: his penis size) is more than 600 words! “I buy a slightly smaller than large glove, okay?”
Slightly smaller than large? I would argue that Trump has made the 2016 presidential campaign much smaller than usual—meaner and more vacuous, even dangerous. But it takes a big man to admit he’s not large.