The interview with the president that I could only ever imagine




President Trump tours Honeywell International’s mask-making operation in Phoenix May 5, 2020. Honeywell added manufacturing capabilities in Phoenix to produce N95 face masks in support of the government’s response to COVID-19. Photo by Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic | Pool photo

It’s the sort of interview I could only ever imagine. 

I imagine I would have to put on a suit, which I hardly wear anymore. And I imagine I’d arrive at the White House gates donning an N95 mask emblazoned with the words, “Si se puede.” 

It’s heavy-handed, I know, but I’m hoping it gets the point across.

Kayleigh McEnany, President Donald Trump’s press secretary, is waiting to meet me at the guard station. She’s impeccably dressed, and looks even younger and even more over her head than she comes across on television. Through the station window, I can see her telling the guard to let me in. He opens the gate and checks my identification. As I enter the grounds, I sneak a peek at the roof, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Secret Service sharpshooters. No luck. They’re that good.

McEnany greets me coldly. “Mr. Garcia. We’re so glad you made it.” I know she doesn’t mean it, but it amuses me more than anything. “As I said on the phone, you don’t have a lot of time with the president, maybe 15 minutes,” she adds hurriedly. “His morning’s packed, and he’s flying to Florida this afternoon.”

Florida is a battleground state. With just under 160 days until Election Day, the president has been visiting battleground states a lot lately.

“Not a problem. I’ll keep it short.”

She suddenly stops, turns to me, her face barely a foot away from mine (she’s not wearing a mask, of course) and says, “I’m gonna warn you. You piss him off, and you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

She can’t tell because I’m wearing a mask, but I smile. She doesn’t smile back.

Minutes later, I’m seated in the Oval Office. The room is smaller than I imagined it. As I wait, I try to make small talk with McEnany, but she’s having none of it. 

“I’ve read your work. I know you hate the president.”

“I don’t hate anyone.”

“Yes, you do. Liberals hate everything. You just can’t admit it. I just wish you people would be honest. The world would be a better place. “

“How so?”

“Hate’s really underrated. It serves a purpose. It’s what makes the world go around.”

“I thought that was money.”

Before she can answer, a door swings open and Trump, not wearing a mask, strides in trailed by an entourage of eager aides. Almost all of them are white. The first thing I notice, besides the fact that he’s not wearing a mask, is his red silk tie. It’s a beautiful tie – no doubt made in China – but I can’t help but picture his valet, probably a person of color, laying it out for him early every morning, as a butler, probably another person of color, gives him his morning shave.

“Mr. President,” McEnany announces, “this is Mr. Garcia.”

“I know,” he says flatly, as he takes a seat behind his desk. Then, after an awkward pause, “Everyone can go.” I’m reminded of Yul Brynner as the pharaoh in the Ten Commandments. (So let it be written; so let it be done.)

McEnany: “Mr. President–.”

Trump: “I said everyone can go.”

She nods and casts a stony glance my way, as if to say, “I’m warning you.”

And without anyone uttering so much as a word, they all leave.

A few seconds pass. Then leaning back in his chair, the president says, “I know all about you. I know everything there is to know. I know things about you even your mother doesn’t know.”

“Mr. President, I don’t have a lot of time. Do you mind if we start the interview?”

“You’re a Trump hater, which means you’re fake news, which means I shouldn’t be wasting my time with you, but let me tell you why I am.”

“Mr. President–.”

“Shush.”

“Mr. President–”

“I’m talking.”

“So am I. I’ve got maybe 15 or 20 minutes–”

“You have as much time as I say you have. You wanna know why? Because I’m the president and you’re not.”

“That’s true. Here’s my question. Why haven’t you shown any compassion for the people who’ve died of COVID-19.”

“That’s so rude.”

“It’s not rude. Will you answer the question?”

“As I’m sure you know, I ordered our flags everywhere flown at half-mast. No one else did that. Obama never would’ve even thought of that. But that’s not good enough. I do it for three days, you people want a week.”

“One-hundred thousand people are dead, but you’ve expressed no remorse or shown any real empathy for the families of those who’ve died.”

“Fake, fake, fake. What do you call yourself? Mexican, Chicano, Hispanic.”

“Latino, but that’s irrelevant. Will you answer the question?”

“Did you know I created the lowest Hispanic unemployment in history. Before all of this virus garbage, I created the best economy in the history of civilization.”

“Your point?”

“So, why don’t you people support me? I see the polls from La Raza.”

“The group’s called UnidosUS now.”

“They’ll always be La Raza to me. It’s a racist term, you know. It means ‘the race.’“

“It actually translates to ‘the people.’”

“Quiet!”

“One hundred thousand people are dead, more than all of the U.S. troops killed since the Korean War, and experts say far fewer people would have perished if you’d only acted sooner.”

“More fake news, Democrat crap!”

“Mr. President, if, as you say, you know everything about me, then you know I recently wrote that I believe you’re probably guilty, at the very least, of negligent homicide.”

BULLSHIT!” he yells, slamming his hands on the Resolute Desk, like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

There’s a knock at the door.

“Mr. President? Is everything alright?”

“Fine. Everything’s just fine, Kayleigh. Everything’s perfect.”

“You ignored intelligence reports that the virus was spreading.”

“Quiet.”

“You downplayed the threat of the pandemic. And now thousands of people have died unnecessarily.”

Silence. The president’s eyes are locked on mine. About five seconds pass. Then the president starts to chuckle, pats his hands gently on his desk, and leans back in his chair. 

His arms folder over his chests, he takes a deep breath and says calmly, as if he’d just as soon order my execution, “People like you, you’re so weak. You have no idea what it takes to get this far. I’m here because I’m smart. I’ve always been smart. That’s why I’m the president and you’re just a punk, fake news reporter from Arizona whose parents probably crossed illegally.”

“My mother’s from Chicago. My father was a naturalized citizen.”

“Whatever. People like you, my whole life I’ve been chewing you up and spitting you out. That’s the Trump way. That’s what I did to Hillary. It’s what I did to Pelosi and her fake, do nothing Democrat impeachment. Now I’m doing it to Sleepy Joe and his fake campaign, and his fake mask, and his fake ‘I care about the little guy.’ ”

“Yeah, I gotta go.”

“Sit down!”

“You’re boring me,” I rise to leave.

“I said sit down!”

A door opens. McEnany rushes in.

“The president told you to sit down.”

“On second thought, get his ass outta here!”

“You heard the president. Get out! I warned you. Mr. President, I swear I warned him.”

Just as I start to exit the room, the president yells. “You really wanna know why I haven’t said a goddamned thing about those dead people?!”

I stop and without turning around I say, “That’s the question.”

“It’s because I’m a winner. I’ve always been a winner. I know how to win. Even when I lose, I win, which means I never lose. That’s what you and the rest of your fake news loser friends will never understand. Those people who died from the virus were warriors. They went to war for me. Every day, thousands are willing to do the same. Why? Because everyone loves a winner. And deep in their hearts, everyone wants to be like me. Untouchable. You Trump haters want empathy? Empathy is for losers. Obama was full of empathy, and look at what it got him. He’s a disgrace. And I made him that way. Biden’s a disgrace too. Another loser, full of fake, loser empathy. Do you want to know what I really think of 100,000 people dead? It’s all fake. It’s all Democrat crap. It means nothing in the scheme of history. If Trump wasn’t such a great president, the body count would be 2 million people or more. One-hundred thousand warriors is a small price to pay. And there’s plenty more where they came from. Now get the hell out of my White House!”

I stand there for a moment taking it in.

“I said get the hell out of my White House!”

“Mr. President,” still with my back to him, “you underestimate the American people. Churchill was right. Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possibilities have been exhausted. You’ve finally exhausted us.”

Leading me out, McEnany scolds me the entire way. I ignore her and keep walking, thinking to myself, “It was the sort of interview I could only ever imagine.”

James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide, and the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.