Late Night with Seth Meyers

Air date: July 20, 2020

Seth Meyers takes a closer look at President Trump’s terrifying interview with Chris Wallace in which he made clear that he does not care about the pandemic, as he sends secret police to American cities to snatch protestors off the street.

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to the captain’s quarters. Now here at the show, we have always been responsive to viewer feedback and criticism. So I’d just like to say to those of you who are not necessarily huge fans of my new sidekick the sea captain, we hear you and we are taking it under advisement. Now, you should know this negative feedback does hurt his feelings.

Sea captains are people, too.

But as I’ve told him, that’s one of the hard realities of show business.

Maybe this old mariner just wasn’t cut out for the rocky shores of Hollywood.

And speaking of deranged conversations that don’t go anywhere, President Trump gave a truly terrifying interview in which he made clear he does not care about the pandemic that’s raging out of control as he sends secret police to an American city to snatch protesters off the streets. For more on this, it’s time for “A Closer Look.”

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The country’s in the midst of a spiraling pandemic that has killed 140,000 Americans and left tens of millions unemployed. And yet the president has, according to Republican officials, people close to him and our own eyes and ears decide to just move on from the crisis. An adviser to the Republican governor of Texas where the outbreak is spreading out of control told The New York Times over the weekend, “the president got bored with it.” Oh, I’m sorry, Commodus, were you not entertained? Seriously, you were bored with the pandemic? Bored with the quarantine, I understand. I’ve watched so much Netflix, the on-screen message changed. But you’re bored with the pandemic? That’s your job. Would you have preferred if the coronavirus had a swimsuit contest?

And even when he can be bothered to talk about the coronavirus outbreak, he can’t help but immediately veer into a topic that’s more interesting to him, like his TV ratings. Today he announced he’d be bringing back his humiliating press briefings/therapy sessions, not because there’s an out of control pandemic that requires leadership, but because his TV ratings were so good.

[President Trump] Well, we had very successful briefings. I was doing them, and, uh… We had a lot of people watching, record numbers watching. In the history of cable television, there’s never been anything like it. So I think we’ll start that probably starting tomorrow. I’ll do it at 5:00 like we were doing. We had a good slot. And a lot of people were watching, and that’s a good thing.

[As Trump] The ratings were incredible. People are spending a lot more time inside watching TV for some reason.

[Normal voice] It sucks so hard that we have a president who says things like “We had a good slot.” He’s bored by coronavirus, but he loves TV.

[As Trump] We’re hoping in the fall they put me on after “This Is Us.” That’d be a hell of a lead-in.

[Normal voice] Also, of course the ratings were good. People are locked inside with nothing to watch, desperate for information about the out-of-control virus you failed to stop. Ratings for “Wheel of Fortune” would be up, too, if Pat Sajak went on a killing spree and announced his next victims via puzzle. Pat, I’d like to solve. “You’re next, Dan from Rochester!”

[Upbeat game show-style music plays]

Of course, Trump doesn’t actually care about the deadly virus that’s spreading. He wants to resume the briefings so he can do what he always does — whine about how unfairly he’s been treated, threaten his political opponents with state violence, fight with reporters, and speculate wildly about dumb new treatments until Dr. Fauci covers his entire face.

[As Trump] Fauci, what if you — and, yeah, I’m just blue skying here — ate a battery and took a bath in Pepto-Bismol? Would that cure the virus, Fauci? Fauci, why are you wearing so many masks?

[Normal voice] So, Trump is bored with the pandemic. And you can tell he’s bored from what he’s been choosing to focus on instead — Beans and trucks.

[CNN Live] On a day when 941 people died of the coronavirus in this country, this is what is front of mind for the president, beans. The president giving an endorsement to Goya a day after his daughter Ivanka Trump did the same, weighing into this bizarre culture war after Goya’s CEO was criticized on social media for effusively praising the president.

[ABC News] During an official event at the White House, it became a photo op for the president, looking to move past the pandemic and look toward the November election, the president claiming the biggest threat to this country is his rival, Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden. The event turned into a campaign-style rally. The president had pickup trucks and giant weights symbolizing government regulation, the president only mentioning the coronavirus once.

On the same day the U.S. set another daily record with 75,000 new cases, the president was playing with trucks on the White House lawn like he was lured into one of those Chevy commercials.

[As Trump] JD Power, isn’t he part of the deep state?

[Normal voice] This looks like one of those summer replacement game shows where if you get an answer wrong, Ellen DeGeneres drops a truck on you. At what point can we consider an obsession with trucks a disqualifying attribute for a president? I mean, adults are allowed to have whatever hobbies they want. But if Bill Clinton had shown up to every press conference with a Tamagotchi, Republicans definitely would’ve impeached him a second time.

[As Bill Clinton] Now, if you excuse me, I got to go feed this little fella.

[Normal voice] I mean, having a president obsessed with trucks is like having a president obsessed with trains. Ayeh!

Amid a national health crisis and record unemployment, the federal government led by a bored and sadistic president has abandoned us. They simply do not care about the 140,000 Americans who have died, the tens of millions who have lost jobs, the 5 million who have lost health insurance, or the 23 million who face eviction in the coming months. This is the result of decades of conservative governance that has raided the Treasury to doll out billions in defense spending and tax cuts for the wealthy, while hollowing out everything else. Now we have a pudding-brained infomercial salesman, who’s more interested in what happens to a dead Confederate general than a living middle school teacher, trying to convince us that statues and graffiti are more important than a pandemic that’s caused massive suffering. And even when he was asked point blank about the record number of new cases by Fox’s Chris Wallace this weekend, Trump basically shrugged.

[Chris Wallace] I’m going to do you a favor because I’m sure a lot of people listening right now are going to say, Trump, he tries to play it down, he tries to make it not seem as serious as it is.

[President Trump] I’m not playing. No. This is very serious.

[Chris Wallace] 75,000 cases a day.

[President Trump] Show me the death chart.

[Chris Wallace] Well, I don’t have the death chart.

[President Trump] Well, the death chart is much more important.

[Chris Wallace] But I can tell you the death chart is a thousand cases a day.

[President Trump] Excuse me. It’s all too much. It shouldn’t be one case. It came from China. They should’ve never let it escape. They should’ve never let it out. But it is what it is.

“It is what it is” is a fine thing to hear — from a drinking buddy as he promises you that in time, you will forget about Denise. But when the “it” is a pandemic and the guy saying it is the president, that’s the problem. Had FDR responded to Pearl Harbor with a “Shit Happens” t-shirt, we’d probably feel different about him today. We certainly wouldn’t honor him with the finest strip of road along the East River that’s ever existed. Also, I love that Wallace started out by saying, “I’m going to do you a favor,” and then Trump immediately interrupts him. That’s how bad a strategist he is. Someone says, “I’m going to do you a favor,” you freeze like a squirrel in a park until you find out the favor. You don’t start an argument. Second, it’s not reassuring when presented with evidence of a rapidly spreading disease, your answer is, “Show me the death chart.” You know, ’cause that implies there are enough deaths for a chart. In fact, if you work in any office setting and you have death charts lying around, something isn’t right. “Hey, Brad, regional sales are looking really good this quarter.” “That’s fantastic, Linda. Hey, would you hand me the death chart, you know, the big one that folds out?”

In fact, if this interview revealed anything, it’s that the president is far less concerned with the deadly virus sweeping through this nation than he is with proving that he supposedly did well on a test designed to detect cognitive defects that he constantly brags about. Except this time he was challenged by the host Chris Wallace in a way he obviously was not expecting.

[President Trump] Let’s take a test. Let’s take a test right now. Let’s go down, Joe and I will take a test. Let him take the same test that I took.

[Chris Wallace] Incidentally, I took the test, too, when I heard that you passed it.

[President Trump] Yeah. How did you do?

[Chris Wallace] Well, it’s not the hardest test. It has a picture that says, “What’s that? And it’s an elephant.

[President Trump] No, no, no. You see, that’s all misrepresentation.

[Chris Wallace] Well, that’s what it was on the Web.

[President Trump] It’s all misrepresentation. Because, yes, the first few questions are easy. But I’ll bet you couldn’t even answer the last five questions. I’ll bet you couldn’t. They get very hard, the last few questions.

Well, one of them was “Count back from a hundred by seven.”

[President Trump] And let me tell you, you couldn’t answer —

All right, what’s the question?

[President Trump] …many of the questions. I’d get you the test. I’d like to give it.

Here’s a question that should be on Trump’s next cognitive test. Name one question from your last cognitive test. If you’re going to constantly brag about how well you did, you should at least be able to say one of the questions. If you come home and tell your parents you aced your driving test and they asked you what you did, you can’t just shrug and say, “I dunno, car stuff.” Because then they’re going to know you skipped it and had your buddy print out a fake ID. Also, I don’t know what’s more alarming, that Trump even had to take this test in the first place or how proud he is with how he did. It’s possible this is the first test he ever passed that he took himself. He probably paid an MIT student to come with him, but then when he saw how easy it was, sent him home.

[As Trump] Elephant? Well, I know what that is. Get out of here, Poindexter. I’m not paying you, Poindexter. The deal was if you took the test. Good news, I wasn’t going to pay you anyway. Don’t be sad, Poindexter.

[Normal voice] I genuinely can’t believe this was a real exchange that happened at the White House. If you read this transcript without any names attached, you’d think they were doctors’ notes from a psych ward. Also, there is no [bleep] way Trump can count backwards from 100 by sevens. The money I would pay to see him try that.

[As Trump] 100, and then you’re into the 90s. Some people say 95. Some people say 92. I had a guy come up to me the other day. Big guy, tough guy, tears in his eyes, and he said, “Sir, I think it’s 91.” And I said, “Obama, he wouldn’t let you say that, But I will.” I will.

[Normal voice] The only cognitive test we ever needed from Trump is a camera and a microphone, and he’s failed it a hundred times. We know this. We’ve also known since long before he was president that he admires and seeks to emulate tyrants and despots. The guy doesn’t know how many articles there are on the Constitution, but he repeatedly bragged about his good relationships with authoritarian leaders and defended some of the most horrific human rights abuses in history. Like, for example, the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

[Chris Wallace] Mr. Trump…

[Cheers and applause]

[Chris Wallace] …some of your Republican critics have expressed concern about comments you have made praising authoritarian dictators. You have said positive things about Putin as a leader and about China’s massacre of pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square. You said, “When the students poured into the Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.” How do you respond —

[President Trump] That doesn’t mean I was endorsing that. I was not endorsing it. I said that is a strong, powerful government that put it down with strength. And they kept down the riot. It was a horrible thing. It doesn’t mean at all I was endorsing it.

Yes, you were. Trump refuses to be pinned down about anything. One day, he’ll say you’re his best friend. The next, he’ll pretend he’s never met you. When he named his eldest son after himself, he probably wrote on the birth certificate, “This is not an endorsement.” The Tiananmen Square protests were peaceful demonstrations led by students calling for Democratic reforms. But Trump sees any peaceful change to the status quo as a riot instigated by terrorists, which is how despots talk. And today he issued a chilling threat to send more federal officers to American cities after lying about the protests in Portland on Sunday.

[President Trump] That I can tell you. In Portland, they’ve done a fantastic job. You know, if you look at what’s gone on in Portland, those are anarchists and we’ve taken a very tough stand. If we didn’t take a stand in Portland, you know, we’ve arrested many of these leaders. If we didn’t take that stand, right now you would have a problem — They were going to lose Portland.

What the hell are you talking about? They were going to lose Portland? To who? Oh, okay. Ah. They were playing a long game, huh? People in Portland are anything but anarchists. Restaurants in Portland have more rules than a Manhattan co-op board. If you don’t put your banana peel in the compost bin, they will drive you to the city limits in a solar-powered car and leave you there. This guy is so detached from reality. Everything in his yogurt brain is a Steven Seagal movie.

[As Trump] Portland is under siege so I had to go above the law, make an executive decision to send an attack force out for justice.

[Normal voice] What we’re seeing in cities across the country are peaceful protests against police brutality and systemic racism demanding change to an unjust and oppressive system. But Trump is only capable of emulating the authoritarian despots he admires, which is exactly what he’s doing in Portland.

There are secret police operating on the streets of an American city under the direction of the president. And the past week, they have been recorded snatching a protester off the street, and forcing him into an unmarked car, and shooting another peaceful protester with a nonlethal round in the head. These agents have been driving unmarked vehicles and tear-gassing protesters while refusing to identify themselves.

Oregon Public Broadcasting chased the story down, reporting, “Federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least Tuesday. Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation about why they’re being arrested, and driving off.

Trump is using these federal forces as a personal paramilitary force. That is what dictators do. That is not what presidents of a democratic republic do.

Oh, good, a mentally incontinent man-toddler has his own personal paramilitary force. In addition to kidnapping protesters and stuffing them into unmarked vans, he’s probably got them in the White House kitchen trying to open a can of Goya beans.

[As Trump] I’ve never opened a can before. I tried to eat the last one, but it got lodged in my esophagus.

[Normal voice] So much of our democratic system relies on norms, and Trump freely just shatters all them. For example, as Joe Biden opened up a 15-point lead in new polls, Trump said on Sunday he would not necessarily accept the outcome of the election as legitimate because mail-in balloting, a thing Americans including Trump himself have been doing for a century and a half might somehow rig the election.

[President Trump] I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election. I really do.

[Chris Wallace] Are you suggesting that you might not accept the results of the election?

[President Trump] I have to see. Look, Hillary Clinton asked me the same thing.

[Chris Wallace] Can you give a direct answer, you will accept the election?

[President Trump] I have to see. Look, I have to see. I’m not going to just say yes. And I didn’t last time either.

Oh, you’re going to keep us in suspense? You’re talking about a presidential election and the peaceful transfer of power, one of the hallmarks of our democracy, like it’s the season finale of “Dallas.” Except, there’s not much suspense when you walk around with a huge gun talking about how much you hate J.R.

Fresh “Dallas” ref!

Cool it!

Okay!

Second, you and your aides, including your press secretary and vice president have all voted by mail, which Americans have been doing in this country since the Civil War, which I know is sensitive for you, since you rooted for the side that lost. So this is where we’re at. A president who dispatches secret police to round up dissidents and refuses to accept the outcome of a democratic election. We’ve certainly had national crises and horrible presidents before, but when historians look back at this moment, I’m certain they’ll say…

There’s never been anything like it.

This has been “A Closer Look.”

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