In a video that quickly spread on Thursday, an American reporter can be seen asking President Donald Trump a momentous question during a press conference at the White House. “Can you guarantee the peaceful transfer of power?”
The questioner is Brian J. Karem, “Playboy” correspondent for the White House. Trump’s answer went around the world shortly after, “We’ll see what happens.”
It was an answer Karem hadn’t expected and sparked a debate in the US about how close Trump is to an autocrat. Prominent Republicans rushed to make it clear that the party is naturally in favor of an orderly transfer of power.
Karem, 59, has been a journalist for 37 years and has been reporting from the White House for “Playboy” – which also has a journalistic claim in the US – for years. He also works for the renowned TV broadcaster CNN. He is in possession of a “hard pass” – a press card that gives him permanent access to the government wing of the White House.
His relationship with Trump is tense to say the least: the White House tried to cancel his ID a year ago. But nothing came of it. We reached Karem through Zoom at his apartment in Washington, DC
Mr Karem, after the White House press conference was over, you wrote on Twitter that this was “the most terrifying answer to a question I have ever received.” Why were you so shocked?
Because the most fundamental of democracy is to allow a peaceful change of power. So if you lose, you don’t have to like it. But our country is bigger and more than one person.
So you have to pave the way for the next president – and support him. Donald Trump’s saying ‘no’ to this is a sign of his tyranny and that he is a tyrant. His behavior goes against everything our country stands for. And that’s scary.
If this is so clear to you, why are so many Americans supporting him?
Because they are emotionally cold. Donald Trump has made them cold people. To them, he is their team – as if they were supporting a football team. And they stand behind their team, regardless of the cost. This is scary because they ignore facts and act against all logic.
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So the answer to your question shouldn’t have been so shocking?
I believe that even when he declared himself a candidate at the time and, like all reporters who didn’t fit him, called me ‘fake news’ and a state enemy, we could have guessed what would happen next. When he claimed to be the biggest investiture in US history, he lied – and he knew he was lying.
Anyone who couldn’t imagine what happened later was a fool. It was always about: Donald Trump knows best – and everyone else knows nothing. He is a terrifying person in many ways. Donald Trump is a failed, narcissistic tyrant.
And yet he has the chance to remain president of the US for another four years.
Yes, but the door he has to go through keeps closing. I don’t think he will be reelected. Trump is digging a deeper and deeper hole. If he just shut up, he probably has a better chance of winning. But he can’t.
Brian J. Karem (center) at a press conference Photo: Imago
Can the Supreme Court help Trump stay in office? He is doing everything he can to extend his conservative majority for the election.
I trust the system, I trust the Supreme Court, I don’t think the judges would ultimately help him get reelected. You would choose the constitution.
What do you think should happen before Trump wins the election?
Trump will only have one more chance if Biden fails in the TV duels. That’s why Trump is currently in a panic. He is afraid of losing. That is why he also wants to reduce the number of voters by declaring postal voting inadmissible. The only voters to count for him are old white men.
You also wrote in your tweet after the press conference that he is “committed to the civil war”. In a tweet they shared, Dena Grayson, an American doctor and politician, called him a “future dictator.” Is that true for you?
He’s a potential person, he’s a potential person. No one I’ve ever met had so little empathy. And I’ve interviewed serial killers before. It’s both funny and sad: it’s funny because people actually voted for him, and it’s sad because those people voted for him.
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It wasn’t the first time you criticized Donald Trump – he even wanted you expelled from the White House. Did he personally attack you too?
Yes, he called me a noisy mouth, but I don’t care. That’s exactly how he is: ignorant, elitist and superficial. If he weren’t president I would feel sorry for him. I see in him a hurt person who desperately wants to be loved. He is unable to have people around who can help him achieve what he wants. Because he always needs all the air in the room at the end of the day.
You have been a reporter for the White House for years. How has your job changed since Trump became president?
It’s completely different from anything I’ve done as a reporter before. It robs you of a lot of energy. Ultimately, it would be better for everyone not to report on everything they do or say. But he’s the president – so we have to.
Video 24-09-2020, 15:27 00:28 min. Trump rejects a peaceful change of power in the event of an election defeat
That will not change in the coming months either. How far would Donald Trump go to stay in office?
I think he will eventually leave the White House. He doesn’t want to shout and say the choice was unfair. In fact, I think he never wanted to run for president in the end – he just liked being a candidate. He loves to have power, but not the job itself. I am convinced that the danger does not come from Donald Trump, but from his constituents. You will do bad things.
Is that what you mean by “civil war”?
Yes, things like that, there are some extremely right people who are going to do extremely good things. I don’t think there will really be a civil war, but there will certainly be violence. But Trump doesn’t care – and that’s what I mean. Donald Trump is only interested in Donald Trump.
Do you think Biden would be the right president?
I think everything would be better than Trump right now.