Critic's Notebook: Donald Trump Tries (and Mostly Fails) to Appear Presidential in '60 Minutes' Interview
The president-elect (shudder) dialed down the rhetoric in an attempt to seem dignified in his first interview since the election, but there was no escaping it: Donald is Donald.
President-elect Donald Trump gave his first television interview since winning the election on Sunday night's 60 Minutes.
(That opening sentence took a half-dozen times to complete, because my spell-check kept automatically inserting the name "Hillary Clinton.")
The interview may have been broadcast a little too soon, since more than half the country hasn't yet gone through the five stages of grief (I personally don't plan on getting beyond "Anger"). I say more than half because Hillary actually won the popular vote by a small but significant and still-growing margin. Trump won the presidency only because of the archaic Electoral College, which he himself once decried in a tweet as "a disaster for a democracy."
In the interview, Trump said that he still the thought the political system was "rigged," which may be the only thing he and Democrats now agree on. But true to form, he instantly contradicted himself.
"I respect it. I do respect the system," he said of the electoral process that he's spent the last year and a half railing against.
The interview with Lesley Stahl was wide-ranging, covering myriad topics concerning both the campaign and his plans for the presidency. Trump was subdued, although slightly more animated than he seemed election night and in his meeting with President Obama, when he looked like a deer caught in the headlights.
Obama's strategy of playing nice with Trump already seemed to be paying off. After all, there's nothing that Trump responds to more than having his ego stroked.
"This was going to be a quick little chat, and it lasted about an hour and a half," Trump exulted, unaware that Obama probably left the whole day open, just in case. "I found him to be terrific, I found him to be very smart and very nice," Trump declared of the man whom he had previously described as "a disaster," "the founder of ISIS" and "the most ignorant president in our history."
"We had a very good chemistry going," Trump commented about Obama, whom he had never previously met. It sounded less like a peaceful transfer of power than a Tinder date. When Stahl asked him if he had felt any nervousness, Trump answered, "Zero, and that's a little bit strange," sounding uncharacteristically self-aware.
"On election night, I heard you went completely silent," Stahl gingerly commented. Trump replied, "I realized that this is a whole new life for me now." It's safe to say that millions of immigrants, African-Americans, Hispanics and gay and lesbian people are feeling the same way.
Asked if he regretted any of his inflammatory behavior during the campaign, Trump seemed poised to launch into a rendition of "My Way."
"Do I regret? I'm sitting here with you now, and I'm going to do a great job for the country," he told Stahl, in a textbook example of believing that the ends justify the means. "Sometimes you need a little rhetoric to get people motivated," he added, which is perhaps the closest thing he's ever come to an understatement.
"It's going to be America first!" Trump declared. Since he doesn't read books, he probably doesn't realize that was also the philosophy espoused by Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh.
Speaking about Hillary's phone call conceding the election, Trump said, "It was a lovely call … tougher for her than it would have been for me," which is certainly true since it's debatable whether he really wanted the job in the first place.
Among the topics discussed was immigration, with Trump saying that he would kick out "two or three million criminals" and describing the others as "terrific people." About his proposed border wall, he boasted, "I'm very good at this. It's called construction." That should serve as fair warning to any laborers who expect to get paid for their work on it.
Asked about the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned, he admitted that if it happens, some women seeking abortions will "have to go to another state," apparently unaware that not everyone owns a private jet.
Stahl pointed out the hypocrisy of Trump's transition team being filled with the very lobbyists he had spent the campaign lambasting.
"It's the only people they have down there," Trump told her about Washington, D.C. "The whole place is one big lobbyist."
Trump said he would "think about" the idea of appointing a special prosecutor to look into Bill and Hillary Clinton's possible crimes. "She did some bad things," he said, sounding almost pained, adding, "I don't want to hurt them." His decision will probably be based on how much he and Melania liked their wedding gift.
Asked whether he'll continue tweeting as president, Trump pointed out the obvious: "It's a modern form of communication."
"It's where it's at!" he declared, sounding like the hippie he never was. But as usual, it all came down to his ego. "I have 28 million people," he said about those following him on Facebook, Twitter, and "probably Instagram."
"I'm not saying I love it, but it does get the word out," he said, adding ominously, "I have a method of fighting back!" One irony is that the country probably elected Trump because he's someone they'd like to have a beer with, and he doesn't drink. That he delivers his rage-filled tweets in the middle of the night while stone cold sober is perhaps the scariest thing about him. At least Richard Nixon had the common decency to get roaring drunk before acting out.
Asked about the thousands of people protesting his election on city streets, Trump, sounding aggrieved, said, "It's only because they don't know me." He went on to describe them as "professional protestors," which, if true, would solve the unemployment problem all by itself.
"Don't be afraid, we are going to win our country back," he said, not realizing that's exactly what they're afraid of. When Stahl asked how he felt about the numerous acts of violence and racial and ethnic slurs attributed to his supporters, Trump claimed ignorance.
"I'm very surprised to hear it," he said, from the bubble encasing him. "I would say, don't do it. I'll say it right to the camera." He paused dramatically, and then, staring into the camera and looking like a parent scolding his child, bellowed "Stop it!" Good to know that problem's solved.
The final segment featured Trump joined by his wife and grown children, looking like a political Addams Family. Melania said that she didn't feel any awkwardness during her meeting with Michelle Obama, which made you wonder if she also doesn't feel pain. Describing his feelings as the election results came in, Eric said how astonished he was to "see these great states, all falling," which pretty well sums up how the Democrats felt.
"I think it's impossible to go on this journey and not change for the better," Ivanka commented, especially when it comes to sales of her products. And Donald Jr., who actually managed to look even more obnoxious than usual, said the fears about his father are "totally unfounded," although he didn't have anything to say about the many people afraid of him.
Asked whether he or his siblings would be decamping to Washington to serve in their father's administration, Eric said, "We'll stay in New York and take care of the business," sounding like Michael Corleone after his father Vito got shot. And Trump himself dismissed any worries that his controversial presidency may diminish his brand.
"I don't care!" he all but shouted. "This is bigly stuff!"