President Trump came prepared, or so it seemed.

When he sat down for an interview with Axios’s Jonathan Swan last week, Trump held a number of loose sheets of paper, each with a graph that, he clearly believed, showed how well the United States has done in combating the coronavirus pandemic. He had a graph showing the number of tests completed in the United States, for example, a soaring line rising above other countries tallying the tens of millions that have been conducted over time. Another had a simple bar chart, four colored rectangles demonstrating his administration’s success.

These were the emperor’s clothes, and he was proud of them. But Swan, given one of the few opportunities for a non-sycophant to interview the president, revealed them for what they were. Trump was left fumbling, unable to rationalize his repeated claims that all was well. Because, of course, it isn’t.

“Right now, I think it’s under control,” Trump said at one point. “I’ll tell you what—”

“How? A thousand Americans are dying a day,” Swan interjected.

“They are dying, that’s true. And you ha— It is what it is,” Trump replied. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague that beset us.”

“You really think this is as much as we can control it? A thousand deaths a day?” Swan said.

“I’ll tell you, I’d like to know if somebody—” Trump began, then switched directions. “First of all, we have done a great job.”

He then went into his standard patter about ventilators and protective equipment. This has emerged as a standard defense mechanism for the president: What he’s done is the best that could have been done, and nothing he hasn’t done would have been useful to do until such time as he does it. The number of tests completed is an unalloyed success, although the slow ramp-up in testing allowed the virus to spread without detection for weeks this spring, spurring massive numbers of deaths. To Swan, Trump blamed this on his having taken office without there being a test for the virus — a virus that emerged in humans more than two years after Trump became president.

Even within the confines of Trump’s bounded successes, though, it quickly became apparent that he didn’t have a grasp on what was happening with the pandemic. He was holding numbers in his hands, but didn’t understand what they showed and, importantly, what they didn’t….