Donald Trump sat for a one-hour Fox News interview with Chris Wallace on Sunday, and if you think this sentence is boring to read, try writing it for a living, again. Trump doing Fox News is the news equivalent of “Sun Rises in East”; the man hasn’t given an interview to a non-Fox station since God was in short pants, for a whole galaxy of deeply cowardly reasons. Nothing ever comes of these safe-space chats, and I assumed Sunday would be no different.
I was wrong.
First of all, Chris Wallace came to play on Sunday. A pathetically small but slowly growing cohort of Republicans is finally pushing back on this wrecking ball presidency, and for an hour on Sunday, Wallace was their voice. Trump, who clearly expected to be served a series of questions on his favorite color, was not prepared to get fact-checked on the fly once he started in with the boilerplate bullshit that is his daily meat and mead. By the time it was over, Trump had delivered what may come to be seen as the worst media avail of his entire presidency to date, and friends, that is truly saying something.
He was angry. He was sweaty. He was defensive, surprised at having to do more than merely unspool another long narrative on his seamless record of greatness. “Trump’s interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace was a painful affair from start to finish,” reports The Washington Post. “Wallace is always a good and tough interviewer, unlike the Fox opinion hosts Trump frequents, and he is always prepared, but this was on another level.”
At one point, Trump had to ask White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany while still on camera, “Can you please get me the mortality rates?” because Wallace wasn’t going to let him get away with another of his “Everything is the best” riffs that serve as his stand-in for actual dialogue. “It’s not true, sir,” Wallace pressed on the issue of rising COVID deaths nationwide. “We had — we had 900 deaths on a single day.”
Remember when George H.W. Bush got tagged for not knowing how much a gallon of milk cost? How very quaint that was. Here was this wretch, perspiring through his pancake makeup, unable to immediately recall how many people had died under his watch. Wallace, for his part, waited like an infinitely patient Siamese cat, tail twitching, until Trump was able to cough up the wrong numbers explained incorrectly. Not long after, Trump called Wallace “fake news.” It was like that.
From the issue of the Confederate flag — “They love their flag” — to Black Lives Matter — “[T]he whole thing with cancel culture, we can’t cancel our whole history” — Trump retreated to the safe ground of white nationalism and grievance politics. Saving his most grotesque answers for the subject of COVID-19 disappearing, Trump said,
I will be right eventually. You know I said, “It’s going to disappear.” I’ll say it again. It’s going to disappear, and I’ll be right… You know why? Because I’ve been right probably more than anybody else.
“Trump defends bungled handling of coronavirus with falsehoods and dubious claims” reads a Washington Post headline on the interview. That, right there, is professional patty-cake on an all-world level. He lied and bullshitted Wallace for an hour with sweat sheeting down his face. He was the guiltiest man in America, and it showed.
But it wasn’t until Trump said he would not accept the result of the upcoming presidential election that my ears really perked up. “When Wallace asked Trump whether he considers himself a ‘good’ or ‘gracious’ loser, the president replied that he doesn’t like to lose,” reports the Post. “Then he added, ‘You don’t know until you see. It depends. I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election. I really do.’” Wallace pressed, “Are you suggesting that you might not accept the results of the election?” Trump replied, “No, I have to see.”
There is history here. “If all this sounds unduly paranoid to you,” I wrote in March of 2019, “I invite you to close your eyes and think back on everything that has happened since that golden escalator ride nearly four long years ago. Ask yourself: Did you expect Donald Trump to win the presidency? At any point, even for a moment, has Donald Trump once put the best interests of the country before his own? Does a man who cages children to score points with his base have a moral center that can be trusted? Do you really think he is incapable of tearing the country to pieces in order to hold on to what he thinks belongs to him?”
I am not alone in my concern. “The closer defeat looms, the more desperate the death throes of a deranged administration,” writes David K. Shipler for Washington Monthly. “It lunges for levers of power and propaganda. It undermines institutions that stand above politics. It smears physicians who work for the public’s health. It attempts to conceal pandemic data, Soviet-style. It issues absurd decrees to local school boards to open in the fall or else. It dispatches unidentified federal forces to kidnap peaceful protesters. It flails out against measures to ease voting. And these are only the omens. A final spasm — if it is final — seems likely.”
There are, of course, remedies to such a last-gasp flail by Trump should he suffer defeat in November. “The American people will decide this election,” the Biden campaign responded after Trump’s statement on Sunday. “And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
Fair enough, that, but the damage this man can do if he leaves claw marks in the door frames on the way out of the West Wing will last far beyond his tenure. Just ask Portland if you doubt it. The rill of time between November and January will be one of the most dangerous phases this nation has ever passed through if he loses, and with an unchecked pandemic on top of it all. The time to prepare is now.