Lies and Half-Truths: Donald Trump’s Viral Axios Interview

Trump’s self-congratulatory half-truths and misleading claims in the Axios interview caused an uproar worldwide.

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Journalist Jonathan Swan interviewed the US President Donald Trump at the White House for an American news website, Axios.
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Trump's self-congratulatory half-truths and misleading claims on a number of issues ranging from the pandemic to the Black Lives Matter protests, caused an uproar worldwide after a (now viral) interview was released on 4 August.

Political journalist Jonathan Swan interviewed the US President Donald Trump at the White House for news website, Axios, and ended up becoming an internet meme mirroring how much of the internet felt about Trump's answers in an interview riddled with falsehoods and inaccurate claims.

Here's a look at all that the US President got wrong:

1. ‘China Had The Worst Year In 67 years’

Trump claimed that his tariff policies had them “beating China in every single thing.”

“Before the pandemic, China had the worst year than they have had in 67 years,” he added.

While Trump was right about the slumping Chinese economy, his timeline was not quite right.

According to Trading Economics, an online platform for economic data, news and trading recommendations, China’s economy fell in July 2019 with a GDP growth of just 6.2 percent. This further fell to six in the remaining half of 2019.

Lies and Half-Truths: Donald Trump’s Viral Axios Interview
(Photo: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)
Further, according to the world bank’s data, the lowest growth in China was in 1990 at 3.9 percent. This puts China’s worst year about 30 years ago and not 67, as Trump claims.

PolitiFact, a non-profit fact-checker of US politicians did a detailed analysis of Trump’s claims about China’s economy in his tenure.

“In the past 57 years China has had some very bad years in terms of growth and social development.The current situation is nowhere near as dire as any of those other periods,” said David Dollar, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s China Center told PolitiFact.

2. ‘US Tested More Than Any Other Country’

While US has performed the most number of tests in the world after China, with 53.84 million tests as of 28 July, the day the interview was filmed, this does not prove an effective management of the pandemic.

According to Statista, an online data portal, when measured against population, US had performed the third most COVID-19 tests per one million population, in the world. UK topped the chart, followed by Russia.

Lies and Half-Truths: Donald Trump’s Viral Axios Interview
(Photo: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

In another exaggerated claim, Trump said that they had done more tests than “Europe put together, times two.” However, just a sum of the number of tests conducted in five countries, Russia, UK, Germany, Italy and Spain totals to just above the number of tests conducted in the US.

The Quint had earlier debunked Trump’s claims on US testing figures and proven that just one metric is not enough for evaluating the management of the crisis.

3. ‘188 Countries Worse Off Than US’

Lies and Half-Truths: Donald Trump’s Viral Axios Interview
(Photo: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

It is safe to say that none of the publicly available data supports Trump's claims. He argued that countries like Spain, Russia and Brazil are worse off than US.

According to Our World in Data, a data collating and analysis website, US had the highest number of deaths due to COVID-19 at 1,48,011 on 28 July. The number of deaths for Brazil, Spain and Russia are significantly lower.

When the lives of people are at stake, especially at such large scales, comparisons with other countries serves little purpose other than to tout one's own achievements. Even so, Trump is grossly misinformed about the world's statistics on COVID-19.

Trump further went on to argue that when he took over there were no tests in the US. But, Trump took over in 2016, and the coronavirus outbreak happened in 2020. SO, why would there be tests in 2016?

4. ‘You Can Test Too Much, Read the Manuals and Books’

No such guidelines, books or manuals have been issued by any health institution or country. In fact, WHO has repeatedly urged countries to test more and more.

Lies and Half-Truths: Donald Trump’s Viral Axios Interview
(Photo: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

“You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected. We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test. Test every suspected case," WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s said in a media briefing on COVID-19 on 16 March 2020.

"If they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in close contact with up to 2 days before they developed symptoms, and test those people too,” he added.

5. ‘South Korea Has Had Spikes’

When Swan pointed out the statistics of South Korea, Trump dismissed the facts saying that the country has had “spikes.”

But according to experts and data, South Korea’s management of the COVID-19 crisis is a success story.

According to Our World in Data, the single biggest spike in cases was seen on 29 February with 903 daily confirmed cases. They have dropped down to 34 daily cases as of 4 August.

Their highest number of daily deaths stands at 9 on 23 March and as of 4 August, their total number of deaths stood at 302.

While their death rate fell after the spike in March and again went back up in June, the cumulative number of deaths remains low and is declining after June, with no recent spikes.

6. 'We Are Largely Out of Afghanistan'

In the interview, while discussing Afghanistan during Swan’s pointed questions, Trump coolly said that the US was “largely out of Afghanistan”, adding that they had also wiped out the ISIS and the caliphate “100 percent”.

However, both these claims are misleading and lack context.

Lies and Half-Truths: Donald Trump’s Viral Axios Interview
(Photo: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

In July 2016, according to an Associated Press report, then-President Obama said that the US would keep the number of troops at about 8,400 till 20 January, 2017, when his term was due to end. In August 2017, Trump announced that he was against a “hasty withdrawal” and it was reported that additional troops would be deployed, taking the number to about 14,000.

According to a report by The New York Times from June 2020, as per a preliminary peace deal with the Taliban, the US has reduced its military presence in Afghanistan to 8,600. However, Trump’s claim that the US is “largely out” of the country is wrong, because as Swan points out in the interview, the number at the moment is close to the number of troops present in Afghanistan when Trump took over as President.

With regard to the ISIS claim, there needs to be some context.

Lies and Half-Truths: Donald Trump’s Viral Axios Interview

While Trump has been successful in weakening in the ISIS and the caliphate, and while the group has lost its territory, ISIS fighters remain at large in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, even in 2020, ISIS and its affiliates have carried out multiple attacks in Afghanistan.

The attack by ISIS gunmen on a Jalalabad prison in August which left 29 dead and one in March, when an Islamic State gunman stormed a temple used by Sikh and Hindu minorities in Kabul, killing 25 are just two such examples.

8. Mail-in Voting & Ballots ‘All Over the Place’

During a discussion on the voting process for the upcoming November elections, Trump said, “We have a new phenomenon. It's called mail-in voting.”

But as Swan was quick to point out, this isn’t true.

Mail-in voting, or absentee voting has been around and accepted in the US since the Civil War, when Union and Confederate soldiers were allowed to cast ballots from their battlefield units and have them be counted back home.

Further, Trump alleged that mail-in voting made it possible for “massive cheating” to occur, repeating a claim that he has made before. But while such isolated instances have been recorded, they are rare. The New York Times reported that five states in the US conduct all elections almost entirely by mail and report very little fraud.

Further, the report quoted studies which found that voting fraud in general is extremely rare in the United States. According to a BBC report, Oregon has been holding postal elections since 2000 and has only seen 14 fraudulent votes attempted by mail. According to a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, the rate of voting fraud overall in the US is between 0.00004 percent and 0.0009 percent.

Trump also claimed that “They’re going to send tens of millions of ballots to California, all over the place.” First off, California has about 20 million voters, so the question of tens of millions of ballots does not arise. Secondly, states send only registered voters postal ballots, not “all over the place”.

Lies and Half-Truths: Donald Trump’s Viral Axios Interview
(Photo: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

9. On the Portland Protests

Astonishingly, when asked about the recent wave of protests in Portland and the disturbing footage of people in fatigues beating the Navy veteran, Trump reacted with a, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Here you go, the fake news.” It’s not fake news, and the incident where federal agents can be seen beating Christopher David with a baton and then pepper-spraying his face has been captured on video.

Trump also claimed that there is a rule now that if people “touch the courthouse”, they “go to jail for 10 years”. While this isn’t completely false, it needs some clarification.

What the United States Department of Justice states is that the penalties for destruction of government property, protected under Section 1361, “are tied to the extent of the property damage”. “As amended on September 13, 1994, if the damage exceeds $100, the defendant is subject to a fine of up to $250,000, ten years imprisonment, or both.” So it isn’t an outright 10 years as Trump makes it out to be.

Trump also overstated the value of the federal courthouse in Portland, calling it a “$600 million building”. Built in the 1990s, the courthouse reportedly cost $129 million to build, which even in today’s monetary terms, would not mount to $600 million.

10. ‘Doing Well With African Americans’

Lies and Half-Truths: Donald Trump’s Viral Axios Interview

Associated Press reported in June that Trump has been exaggerating economic gains for African Americans during his administration by claiming all the credit for achieving the best economic figures for the community.

According to the report, Black unemployment did indeed reach a record low in 2019 under the Trump administration with 5.4 percent in August. But the drop had begun from Obama’s time, falling from 16.8 percent in March 2010 to 7.8 percent in January 2017. The report also said that household median income also was higher for the community before Trump took office.

Moreover, the pandemic has actually made things worse, with black unemployment reaching 16.8 percent in May, compared with 13.3 percent for the overall population.

On the topic of instances of police killing Black people in America, Trump said, “Police have killed white people. In a larger number, police have killed white people.” This isn’t the first time Trump has made this claim.

But according to The New York Times, statistics show that while a bigger absolute number of white Americans are killed by the police, people of colour are killed at higher rates, quoting a federal study which examined lethal force used by the police from 2009 to 2012 and found victims were disproportionately Black. The report further said that Black people have a fatality rate at the hands of police officers that was 2.8 times more than that of white people.

Another report said that although Black people represented 12 percent of the population in the states studied, they made up 25 percent of the deaths in police shootings. Meanwhile, white people represented 62 percent of the population but 54 percent of the deaths in encounters with police.

Lastly, Trump boasted about having done a lot for the Black community, claiming that only President Abraham Lincoln could equal or best him. He also said that under his administration African Americans were doing better than they had ever done in the history of this country, adding that their housing ownership was up.

Lies and Half-Truths: Donald Trump’s Viral Axios Interview
(Photo: Shruti Mathur/The Quint)

Swan immediately questioned him about whether he did not count President Lyndon Johnson in this, and correctly so. Johnson was responsible for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which has been hailed as “the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction”, which prohibited racial discrimination in employment and education, and outlawed segregation in public facilities.

In addition, the act also laid the foundation for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which made rules to protect the right of African-Americans to vote, which had been curbed in the states of the Confederacy since the end of Reconstruction, a report by Politico said.

So clearly, it’s not really fair for Trump to leave out Johnson from the list of US Presidents who have really done something for the Black community.

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