You might have woken up this morning, as I did, to the Axios headline: “Exclusive: Trump to terminate birthright citizenship.” In your bleary-eyed, pre-java state, you would struggle toward the thought: What... the fuck? Can he do that? He told Axios he can, but this is also a guy who thinks exercise is bad for you because it depletes the store of energy you’re born with. He isn’t smart.
Then, as the world sharpens around you and the veil of sleep is fully lifted, you think: So, he probably can’t just change the Constitution with one stroke of his pen, and it happens to be a week before the midterms. Why would a news outlet run with that headline? Why is this a thing?
But, as you’ll see if you watch the clip itself, this is less a news story than it is a press release. This is a news outlet willingly staging a press event for a racist administration.
What a revolting display. Axios’ Jonathan Swan is eager to help the president explain this little gambit with almost no pushback—when the president says other countries don’t have birthright citizenship, which is a lie, Swan says nothing, and Axios’ story was only updated after publication to reflect that reality. Be Smart! But he’s also eager to prove himself as a good and clever little boy. “Exactly,” he says, when Trump says he can change the Constitution with an executive order. It’s chummy and sordid, but it’s also just... pathetic. He looks like he won a contest to be there. He’s fucking laughing!
Swan seems animated only by the desire to show whoever his audience is—in this case, both the seven people who will actually watch Axios on HBO and the president of the United States—that he gets it, he’s in the know. He tells the president it’s “very much in dispute” that he can make such a monumental change with an executive order—though not so much in dispute that he wouldn’t write an entire piece and promote a scoop based on the notion that he can, and that it isn’t just a racist fantasy or ploy to whip up his supporters before the election. That’s the extent of the questioning we can see in this clip. The Fourth Estate lives on.
If you had any lingering doubt about how Swan sees this story, his giddy tweets this morning make clear that this is nothing but a personal triumph for him and his outlet.
How the story came to be is just fascinating to him, and he expects it will be for us, too:
This little personal intrigue takes center stage in the video clip: Trump expressing surprise, real or fake, that Swan knew about his ploy, and Swan knowingly tapping his head—“a good guess.” Hilarious.
In response to Rolling Stone writer Jamil Smith questioning how Swan could possibly be “excited” about the content of the interview, Swan said he was merely “excited” about his new television show. Who wouldn’t be!
At best, Swan has his priorities extremely out of whack, positioning the value of his exciting scoop over the horrifying implications of this policy; at worst, he doesn’t care about what this change would mean at all, and had to be reminded to pretend that he might. (The Axios piece does not contain the word “racist” or “racism.”)
Jonathan Swan would push you under a bus to get an exclusive on how you died. Jonathan Swan does not care if he’s enabling an administration that has shown from the very beginning its determination to make racism a cornerstone of its immigration policy, and in the last few weeks has shown its intent to scale up to full-blown fascism—deploying thousands of troops to the border and stirring up fears about migrants coming to destroy the U.S., denouncing the press as the “Enemy of the People,” and apparently toying with the idea of amending the Constitution by executive order. Jonathan Swan is a scoop boy and nothing else, and he gets a reported $25,000 a pop for speaking engagements because he is so good at those scoops. Get that bread!
This is important. Swan’s antics are not just annoying and embarrassing fodder for bitchy media Slack channels. This is not some journalistic feud. It matters. Whether or not Trump is wholly talking out of his humongous ass on this particular matter, his administration is counting on the existence of a dutiful, subordinate press that prizes scoops above principles, that will consider Both Sides of the matter of whether the administration can write off the citizenship of millions of Americans and frame it as a Debate that Experts are having. If Trump wanted to issue an executive order rescinding the citizenship of the children of immigrants, he would need a press that would treat it as morally neutral—if it helped them get the scoop.
I’ll just end on this: Jonathan Swan and I are both immigrants in the U.S.—he is from Australia and I am from Britain. We are both very privileged and can pay for immigration lawyers. (Swan could pay for five green card applications with one speaking gig.) We are not migrant laborers, nor terrified mothers fleeing violence; we are not Iranian students affected by the travel ban, or Afghan teens being detained by ICE because of a racist algorithm. With that privilege comes the responsibility to recognize just how easy it is for us, that however terrifying and anxiety-making our dealings with USCIS and immigration forms and lawyers are, it’s a thousand times worse for people who are not as privileged as we are. We have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with the classes of immigrants that are the targets of policies like this. Letting Trump use your HBO show to promote his next anti-immigrant gambit is the opposite of that. Have some fucking shame.