The New York Times published a far-ranging and, in places, incomprehensible Oval Office interview with Donald Trump. It’s rambling and strange. As a result, there can be no definitive interpretation — like a Rorschach test, you see in President Trump’s words whatever you want to see.
Here’s one interpretation — what I think I heard. These are representative excerpts. Trump’s words are in italics, my translation follows.
Hi, fellas, how you doing?
I’m about to start speaking in stream of consciousness mixing on- and off-the-record comments, so get your notebooks and recorders ready and prepare for a wild ride.
It’s a tough — you know, health care. Look, Hillary Clinton worked eight years in the White House with her husband as president and having majorities and couldn’t get it done. . . . Obama worked so hard. They had 60 in the Senate. They had big majorities and had the White House. I mean, ended up giving away the state of Nebraska. They owned the state of Nebraska. Right. Gave it away. Their best senator did one of the greatest deals in the history of politics. What happened to him?
It is tough. It’s a very narrow path, winding this way. You think you have it, and then you lose four on the other side because you gave. It is a brutal process. And it was for Democrats, in all fairness.
Every other president failed at this, but I didn’t realize that health care was going to be hard. Now I see how it works. If I trade Nebraska would you do this? Let’s throw in Nevada and Maine. That ought to win over those Senators. But if I sell them, who’s buying? Putin, maybe?
[On the Affordable Care Act:] As [voters] get something, it gets tougher [to change it]. Because politically, you can’t give it away. So pre-existing conditions are a tough deal. Because you are basically saying from the moment the insurance, you’re 21 years old, you start working and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance, and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan. Here’s something where you walk up and say, “I want my insurance.” It’s a very tough deal, but it is something that we’re doing a good job of.
Insurance costs $12 a year and gives you a nice plan at age 70. I know I saw that somewhere. Oh yeah, on cable TV. It’s the Gerber life insurance plan. If they can do that, Congress can work out the details on health care.
[T]hey’ll vote on this, and we’ll see. We have some meetings scheduled today. I think we have six people who are really sort of O.K. They are all good people. We don’t have bad people. I know the bad people. Believe me, do I know bad people.
And we have a very good group of people, and I think they want to get there. So we’ll see what happens. But it’s tough.
Nice Senate you’ve got there. Would be a shame if something happened to it. I know some bad people, you know.
The Paris Accord — I wasn’t going to get along with France for a little while, because people forget, because it is a very unfair agreement to us. China doesn’t get [garbled] until 2030. Russia goes back to 1994 as a standard — a much, much lower standard. India has things that are [garbled]. I want to do the same thing as everyone else. We can’t do that? We can’t do that? That’s O.K. Let me get out. Frankly, the people that like me, love that I got out.
Because I don’t like the deal that China and Russian and India got, I’m withdrawing from this voluntary agreement. I’ll be long gone by the time Florida is underwater.
People don’t realize [French President Emmanuel Macron] loves holding my hand. And that’s good, as far as that goes.
I mean, really. He’s a very good person. And a tough guy, but look, he has to be. I think he is going to be a terrific president of France. But he does love holding my hand.
I said Macron’s wife was in great shape. But Macron is actually the cutie in that marriage.
[W]e went to Napoleon’s tomb . . . . Well, Napoleon finished a little bit bad. But I asked that. So I asked the president, so what about Napoleon? He said: “No, no, no. What he did was incredible. He designed Paris.” . . . The street grid, the way they work, you know, the spokes. He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather?
I’ve confused Napoleon, who tried to conquer Russia, with Loius-Napoleon, who commissioned the street layout of Paris. I took six months of Napoleon’s march through Russia and condensed it to one night of “extracurricular activities.” Don’t worry, when Macron reads this, he’ll be impressed that I retained anything.
So, [at the G-20 dinner], I was seated next to the wife of Prime Minister Abe [Shinzo Abe of Japan], who I think is a terrific guy, and she’s a terrific woman, but doesn’t speak English.
She didn’t say a word to me, but it turns out she speaks English quite well. I wonder why she didn’t say anything?
So the meal was going, and toward dessert I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about — things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.
The Russians are obsessed with adoption. Something to do with severe sanctions they want lifted. Keeps coming up. Huh.
You know, [Obama] can talk tough all he wants, in the meantime he talked tough to North Korea. And he didn’t actually. He didn’t talk tough to North Korea. You know, we have a big problem with North Korea. Big. Big, big. You look at all of the things, you look at the line in the sand. The red line in the sand in Syria. He didn’t do the shot. I did the shot. Had he done that shot, he wouldn’t have had — had he done something dramatic, because if you remember, they had a tremendous gas attack after he made that statement. Much bigger than the one they had with me.
Obama talks. I bomb people. Wish I could bomb North Korea like I did in Syria.
Well, Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else. . . . So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have — which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, “Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.” It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president. So he recuses himself.
In business, people do what you tell them to do. Why doesn’t the Justice Department work like that? I thought I was in charge!
[If special counsel Robert Mueller looks into my company’s finances], I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia. [Would I fire Mueller?] I can’t, I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Don’t fuck with me. I’m the President.
The danger of vague statements
President Trump contradicts his past statements all the time.
He contradicts his staff. (Press critic Jay Rosen says “There is no White House, there is only Trump.”)
He appears confused about what health insurance is and how the Justice Department works.
If you believe in Trump, you can interpret these statements differently from the way I have. In fact, these statements are subject to lots of interpretations, because they are so confusing.’
Even threats don’t work if you’re not consistent about who you’re threatening and what for.
Clarity is important in a president. We don’t actually know what this one thinks. And that’s a problem.