Axios National Political Correspondent, Jonathan Swan, interviewed President Donald Trump on Tuesday, July 28th, 2020, about a number of topics including the coronavirus pandemic, federal agents in Portland, mail-in voting, and allegations of Russian bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan. The interview aired on HBO the following Monday, August 3rd, 2020.
You can watch the full interview here.
Near the end of the interview Swan turned to the protests that have swept the country and asked the president about the Black Lives Matter movement:
Swan: “Have you ever met with a Black Lives Matter activist to hear them out, hear their arguments?”
Trump: “Well Black Lives Matter started off, to me, very badly because it was ‘Pigs in a Blanket, Burn ’em Like Bacon’, that was my first – the first time I ever heard of Black Lives Matter, that was three or four years ago.”
For reference, that is the President of the United States saying in a 2020 interview that he only became aware of the Black Lives Matter movement three or four years ago, so 2016 at the earliest. According to various sources, including their own website, the movement was founded on July 13, 2013, after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman.
In 2014 Ferguson exploded with unrest after the murder of Michael Brown (18) and later that year Tamir Rice (12) was shot dead while playing with a toy gun. In 2015, Walter Scott was shot and Sandra Bland was founded hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas. These are only a few of the prominent cases that have gained media attention, even though there are likely dozens if not hundreds or more of similar cases around the nation that have not gotten the spotlight they deserve. Yet according to President Trump he was still ignorant to the Black Lives Matter movement before 2016.
Swan: “Would you meet with a Black Lives Matter activist?”
Trump: “I would, but I think right now…”
Swan: “Why haven’t you?”
Trump: “Nobody’s asked for a meeting.”
Swan: “Do you believe that many police treat black people differently from white people?”
Trump: “Well I hope not, I hope not.”
Swan: “You’ve seen the statistics?”
Trump: “The knee on the neck was a disgrace, okay?”
Swan: “I’m talking about, what does systemic racism mean to you?”
President Trump responded, “does anybody really answer that question accurately” and when pressed for a “cold-hearted analysis” rather than his hope, added, “I have seen where there is a difference, and I don’t want there to be a difference.” So it is possible to get the president to break through some of his own rhetoric to admit to basic facts, it simply takes lots and lots of very simple follow-up questions.
Swan: “Why do you think black men are two and a half times more likely to be killed by police than white men?”
Trump: “That I don’t know.”
Swan: “Why? You must have thought about it.”
The president reaffirmed that he didn’t know why that was the case and tried to turn the topic to the numerous white people that are also killed by the police. He then tried to cite his achievements for black Americans by pointing to economic and jobs numbers, as well as securing funding for HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). Unfortunately, he ended that thought with this:
Trump: “I did more for the black community than anybody, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln.”
Swan understandably pressed the president on this point, yet Trump was adamant that he has done more than even Lyndon Johnson, who oversaw the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
President Trump was then asked how he thinks history will view the legacy of the late John Lewis:
Trump: “I don’t know, I don’t know John Lewis. He chose not to come to my inauguration. I never met John Lewis I don’t believe.”
Yet again, we see simplicity and ignorance on display in the highest elected office in the United States of America. The president has made it undeniably clear time and time again that his views of people are solely based on what they have done for him, can do for him, or have said about him. Everything in his world revolves around him, and if that isn’t a dangerous characteristic to have as president then what is?
Swan: “Do you find him impressive?”
Trump: “I can’t say one way or the other. He didn’t come to my inauguration, he didn’t come to my State of the Union speeches, and that’s okay, that’s his right, and again nobody has done more for black Americans than I have.”
To even make such a claim one must first be profoundly ignorant to our nation’s history and political legacy. However, to center all of the successes of black Americans on the actions of a white male is beyond mere ignorance or stupidity, it is racist to the core. Whether that racism is intentional or so ingrained that it is second-nature is unclear.
At the very least the president noted that he would have no objections to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama being renamed as the John Lewis Bridge to honor his legacy. However, this is a move that John Lewis himself disagreed with. In an editorial by Reps. Terri Sewell (AL-07) and John Lewis (GA-05), they defended keeping the bridge named after Edmund Pettus:
“The Edmund Pettus Bridge is an iconic symbol of the struggle for voting rights in America, and its name is as significant as its imposing structure. The historical irony is an integral part of the complicated history of Selma — a city known for its pivotal role in the Civil War and the civil rights movement…
…The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 was born from the injustices suffered on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and the Bridge itself represents the portal to which America marched towards a brighter, more unified future. The name of the Bridge will forever be associated with “Blood Sunday” and the marches from Selma to Montgomery, not the man for whom it was named…
…We must resist the temptation to revise history. The Edmund Pettus name represents the truth of the American story. You can change the name but you cannot change the facts of history. As Americans we need to learn the unvarnished truth about what happened in Selma. In the end, it is the lessons learned from our past that will instruct our future. We should never forget that ordinary people can collectively achieve social change through the discipline and philosophy of nonviolence.”