Trump’s Time Interview Shows How Little He Values Words

On March 23, Time published a sprawling interview with President Trump – one that served as a reminder of Trump’s pointed, but sometimes scattered, rhetoric and word choice.  

The interview was about Trump’s complicated relationship with “the truth,” and included the full transcript of Time Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer’s unedited interview with the president.

Both the article and the transcript shed light on Trump’s explanations of debunked claims he has made, and how haphazard his words are when transcribed sans editing.

“Presidents usually choose their words carefully, the result of personal discipline and careful vetting by White House staff. President Trump is an exception,” wrote the New York Times’ Michael D. Shear in his analysis of Trump’s Time interview.

Trump, as Shear puts it, “veers from topic to topic, praising himself and dismissing his critics in language that sometimes is hard to follow.”

Since the beginning of his presidential campaign, Trump has made a concerted effort to come off as the rare politician who tells it like it is, employing language he believes will connect him most with the public. Until recently, he made a strict point to shy away from teleprompters to avoid sounding overly polished.

He uses the same tactic on Twitter, not taking down tweets that contain spelling or grammar mistakes. For example, the tweet where Trump misspelled the word “tap” is still readily available.

In other tweets, Trump put wiretapping in quotes, which, when asked about the wiretapping accusations in the Time interview, allowed him to explain that wiretapping is different than “wire tapping.”

“Now remember this,” he told Scherer. “When I said wiretapping, it was in quotes. Because a wiretapping is, you know today it is different than wire tapping. It is just a good description. But wiretapping was in quotes.”

Scherer pointed out to Trump that “traditionally people in your position in the Oval Office have not said things unless they can verify they are true.” Trump used a similar logic to his “wire tapping” defense to shirk responsibility for some of the things he says.

“Well, I’m not, well, I think, I’m not saying, I’m quoting, Michael, I’m quoting highly respected people and sources from major television networks,” the president said, referring to the likes of Fox News anchor Bret Baier and recently suspended legal analyst Andrew Napolitano.

Scherer expressed concern about what Trump’s unconventional uses of language could mean for his credibility when presented with a national security threat: “Will the world have time or patience to consider which words he has put air quotes around?”

Trump doubled down on his cavalier verbiage when explaining why he was correct about the immigration issues facing Sweden, even though he referred to a specific event that never happened:

“No I am saying I was right. I am talking about Sweden. I’m talking about what Sweden has done to themselves is very sad, that is what I am talking about. That is what I am talking about. You can phrase it any way you want.”

Further in the interview, Trump maintained that he has earned the right to tell reporters and the public, “you can phrase it any way you want,” and get away with it.

“Hey look, in the meantime, I guess, I can’t be doing so badly, because I’m president, and you’re not,” he told Scherer before promptly ending the interview.

It is interviews like this that make it impossible to tell whether it is more prudent to take Trump literally or seriously – or if it’s important to consider both views in making sense of Trump’s public comments. As long as he continues to treat his words like an afterthought to accomplishing his overall agenda, that question may never be sufficiently answered.

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