Bill O’Reilly opens the interview by buttering Trump up, saying Gorsuch “roll-out” went “very smooth”. Trump talks over him to agree/insist “Yes, it did. Yes, it did.” I think O’Reilly understood he needed to nod to Trump’s dream world in order to start the interview on a good footing. The importance of establishing frame when dealing with Trump cannot be underestimated.
With this goodwill established, O’Reilly pivots to the Muslim travel ban, contrasting it as “less smooth”. Trump responds by repeating the figure of “109 people” out of “hundreds of thousands of travelers”. Now, this was put out by the White House as a preliminary figure early on in the ban’s enforcement. Even if there was a point at which it was ever accurate (and that is not clear), it was very quickly obsolete.
Figuring out exact numbers for who was affected by the ban would be tricky, because you’ve got the people who were detained, you have people who were prevented from boarding flights, and you’ve got people who canceled their plans before they got to the airport or checked in for their flights.
Trump says that “all that happened” to the “109 people” is they were “vetted very carefully”. No part of this is true. People were denied medicine or access to healthcare, forced to surrender their visas (some of which were physically cancelled; we’re told that they’ll be reissued, but the former holders must actually apply for this), deported, turned away at the airport, etc. People who sold everything they owned for a plane ticket wound up stranded in limbo.
The “vetting process”, by all accounts, consisted of “bad cop” intimidation tactics, grilling on social media usage, and questions about their opinions on Donald Trump personally. What value or security this added to the already extreme vetting process that the refugees, travelers, and residents had gone through to get to this point is not clear.
Bill O’Reilly closes this topic by asking Trump if he would do anything different. Trump demures; O’Reilly presses him (at least to a point) by bringing up the apparent fact that some of Trump’s people didn’t know what was going on. Trump rebuts, “That’s not what General Kelly said.” It’s true that General (now Secretary) Kelly of the DHS did come out and do some damage control, pushing back on the reports that there was no coordination or advance warning and DHS was operating in the dark. But it’s also true that this transparently was damage control; it was a case of “Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?” Kelly is clearly a very loyal man who prizes the appearance of an orderly implementation over his own integrity. Trump closes his invocation of John Kelly by attributing the figure of only 109 people affected overall to him.
O’Reilly then (somewhat mercifully) closes the segment, turning to Iran.
O’Reilly’s question is if Trump thinks that our country is on a collision course with Iran. Trump’s response, naturally, is an utter non sequitur. He immediately begins talking about how it’s the worst deal he’s ever seen, a terrible deal. There is no specification of what deal this might be, but O’Reilly is clearly used to Trump’s “conversation” style, as he prompts Trump to clarify.
Trump, of course, is talking about what he and other Republicans categorized as a “ransom”: a cash delivery we made to Iran under the Obama administration. As Trump tells it: there was no reason for the deal, and we have nothing to show for it, so it shouldn’t have been made.
Well, here’s the thing, babies: this “deal” was actually a debt the United States owed to Iran. Iran’s government, pre-revolution, paid us $400 million for some fighter jets. When a popular revolution deposed the CIA-installed puppet government that had bought those jets, the U.S. canceled the deal but kept the money. Iran quite understandably felt the money should be returned, and sought a judgment against the United States. We owed them the original $400 million plus interest, which over the course of three and a half decades added up to $1.3 billion dollars. That plus the initial $0.4 billion payment adds up to the $1.7 billion “deal” that Trump is talking about.
So, basically, the situation is this: for better or worse, we walked away from a contract after they gave us their end of the deal, wihtout holding up our end. We were sued and agreed to make good on the debt.
Of course Donald Trump sees this as a “bad deal”. He breaks contracts all the time. If there is nothing for him in keeping his end of a bargain, he won’t keep it. And if he’s sued, he’ll drown the plaintiff in paperwork and ignore the judgment until the other party agrees to take whatever he feels like just to get something back. I threaded on this the other day, on how he’s trying to apply this “principle” (for lack of a better word) to international diplomacy and how it’s not going well for him.
Now, we paid back the principle (the initial $400 million payment, which was actually frozen in a trust this whole time) and agreed to pay the interest, as part of a negotiated settlement that avoids ten billion dollars in punitive damages Iran had sought. Donald Trump is talking about “possibly tearing up” this settlement because he doesn’t see what the benefit of paying $1.7 billion dollars that we owe instead of facing a damaging arbitration process.
You can read more about the specifics of the deal (and holes in the theory that it was a “ransom” paid) on Snopes.
Trump refers to Iran as “the number one terrorist state” and says they’re “sending weapons and money everywhere”. Well, I don’t know much about that. It’s possible he’s caught one or two more daily intelligence briefings than I have. I’ll take his word for it.
“Sanctions,” O’Reilly says. It’s a statement. It has the feel of a lifeline. “You’re going to start with that?”
There’s nothing really substantive about Trump’s plans for Iran, though, because he is holding to the line that it’s “stupid” to tell people what you’re going to do. It’s clear he views the entire conflict as an appendage-measuring contest, and he believes Iran does, too.
Then they come on to the segment that circulated as a teaser: the Putin question. I think many more people saw this on social media or read about it than watched the interview: O’Reilly asks Trump if he respects Putin, Trump affirms that he does. O’Reilly says, with a credible level of exasperation, “WHY?” Trump’s answer, par for course, is rambling and without substance: Putin’s a leader, Trump respects a lot of people, the fight against ISIS is like super hard you guys, etc. O’Reilly interjects, “He’s a killer, though! He’s a killer!”
And Trump’s response, my hand to gosh, is “Lotta killers. Gotta lotta killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?”
A lot of people with rosy glasses that are half full on the left-wing side of the aisle saw this as a valid critique of our government’s excesses rather than an attempt to excuse Putin’s brutal and self-serving murderous tendencies, but let’s be honest: O’Reilly is talking about Putin’s habit of assassinating critics, rivals, and even allies who know too much and can do too little, and Donald Trump is shrugging and saying that he’s pretty sure everybody does that kind of thing. Everyone makes mistakes! He brings up the Iraq War as an example of a mistake that killed a lot of people, and he’s not wrong there, but it’s changing the subject from “you admire a bloodthirsty autocrat, should we be worried?” to “Donald Trump was always totes right about the Iraq War, you guys. Ask Sean Hannity!”
I think that’s the point where Bill O’Reilly, God bless a piece of him, just gives up. He stops making any pretense of trying to hold Donald Trump to answering any questions. He brings up the call to Mexico. He asks point blank if it’s true that Donald Trump said he would send troops across the border to clean up the “bad hombres”. Donald Trump digresses into what was clearly a very well-rehearsed, well-scripted answer that both neatly sidesteps the yes/no and gives an alternate explanation for the reported remark: he was offering help, which President Peña Nieto was receptive to. Does he consider Mexico a corrupt country? He loves the people, he gets along great with their president. What sort of tariff might pay for the wall? It’s an unfair situation, allthe jobs and plants, but Trump has personally turned it all around already.
Sidenote here: it has been reported that Trump, the Great Negotiator, agreed to completely stop talking about who will pay for the wall in public.
When Trump is bragging about all the companies that he has supposedly talked into bringing jobs back, O’Reilly characterizes it as Trump intimidating them. Trump disagrees, saying they’re just doing what’s right. O’Reilly is kind of beside himself at this. The idea of a president strongarming businesses into making decisions that fit his agenda is the sort of thing that should get any so-called conservative’s ire up. Bill O’Reilly makes an attempt here, but his heart’s not in it.
On domestic affairs, O’Reilly mentions that he just got back from California, whose legislature is voting to become a “sanctuary state”. O’Reilly says that this sets California and the United States on a collision course (isn’t that pretty much what the San Andreas fault is?). He really seems to like that phrase.
Trump immediately starts talking about defunding the entire state of California. O’Reilly seems a bit incredulous; perhaps he is aware that the “coastal elite” states like California actually fund the federal government and pay for the federal spending in Trump’s “real America”. California pays the federal government $1 for the privilege of getting 70 cents back. Trump certainly doesn’t seem to know this; to hear him talk about California’s out of control lifestyle, he thinks the rest of the country is paying it welfare. O’Reilly presses: “So defunding is your weapon of choice?” Trump is sticking to not committing to any specific action: “It’s a weapon. Look, I don’t want to defund anybody!”
Buddy, you brought it up.
Again, O’Reilly has no stomach for pressing Trump. He moves on, and with obvious trepidation and more than a bit of hedging, asks if Donald Trump might not have something of a strained relationship with factual things that can be backed up. This segment is basically like someone talking to Donald Trump’s Twitter. O’Reilly says that “some people” are saying it’s irresponsible for Donald Trump to claim that millions of people voted illegally wihtout any data to back them up. Donald’s first response, right out of the gate, is, “Well, you know, many people have come out and said that I’m right.”
He’s not wrong there. Many people who heard it from him or read on their uncle’s Facebook page (who heard it from him) have said he’s right, because the thing he’s saying backs up their worldview. Donald Trump’s alternate reality take on this sort of thing exists in a feedback loop with his audience, where they say a thing and he picks it up which proves it’s true to them, and he says a thing and they pick it up, which proves it’s right to him. It’s like Beavis and Butthead copying off each other on a test neither of them studied for.
Now, there’s a new wrinkle to Donald’s discourse here. He says, “It doesn’t have to do with the vote, though that is the end result. It has to do with the registration.” He talks about how the voter registration rolls have dead people, people who’ve moved, etc. Which, they do. Clearly someone close to Trump has tried to explain this to him, and made a lot of headway. But he’s still convinced that this backs him up, somehow, in his contention that there are millions of illegal votes.
O’Reilly lets Donald go through his spiel, and then says, “So, you think you’re going to be proven correct in that statement.”
And Donald says, and I kid you not, he says: “Well, I think I already have. A lot of people have come out and said that I am correct.”
Now, O’Reilly does the bravest thing of his career here, in that he contradicts Donald Trump and tries to explain the concept of “proof” to him: “The data has to show that three million ‘illegals’ voted.”
And Trump says, “Look, forget that! Forget all of that!” How many times did his advisors tell him that, I wonder? “Just take a look at the registration!” He then explains he’s setting up a commission headed by Mike Pence.
O’Reilly says, “Good, let’s get to the bottom of this.” and moves on to a real softball: can we expect a tax cut this year? Yes, Trump says, and probably before the end of the year.
Can we expect a new healthcare plan this year? Yes, well, no, Obamacare is a disaster, maybe, but definitely by the end of next year. It’s complicated, Trump says, but “You have to remember: Obamacare doesn’t work.”
Last question is a soft one, though O’Reilly does slip in a reference to one of the worrying factoids of Trump’s life (that he only gets four hours of sleep a night): does Donald ever have a moment, say when his head hits the pillow, where he can’t believe he’s really the president of the United States?
Donald Trump, to his credit, has the good grace to look directly at the camera like a character on The Office for a moment when Bill O’Reilly asks that. His answer isn’t that interesting or that convincing. From there the interview turns into a discussion of the then-upcoming game, which is now over.. It’s only interesting because when O’Reilly tells his subject that Fox Sports is demanding he gets a Super Bowl prediction from him, Trump insists that he doesn’t like to make predictions. This is funny since I can remember him crowing on Twitter about a few things he supposedly predicted. When the Pulse shooting happened, wasn’t he talking about how many people had congratulated him for predicting it?
I think what he meant was he doesn’t like saying a hard number for something that will be settled one way or the other within a few hours, as opposed to predictions that amount to “Somewhere in a nation of three hundred million people, something bad will happen, mark my words.”
Anyway. That was the Bill O’Reilly interview of Donald Trump. It’ll probably be a lot more entertaining when Alec Baldwin does it.
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