“I was asking a sarcastic question to journalists like you, just to see what was going to happen,” Trump told reporters Friday afternoon. He repeated the word “sarcasm” four times to make sure journalists would use his framing in their reporting. Trump wanted to make sure the journalists noted that his defense was not that he had made a mistake, but that he was smart at their expense.
But Trump was not sarcastic. On Thursday, he recounted a conversation he had with homeland security official William Bryan over what the president hoped to be a promising new development and wondered aloud about the possibilities of finding a way to “clean up” the lung virus. . And then when it became clear the next day how absurd this idea was, he said he didn’t mean it at all.
It is no surprise that Trump is not a doctor and does not have a thorough knowledge of science or medicine (or, apparently, domestic poisons). He could have recognized it and moved on, but he didn’t. Instead, he denied responsibility for his words, saying that the joke was on the journalists in the room, who simply did not understand it.
Trump’s “sarcasm” ploy is part of a broader rhetorical strategy of indignation, mistrust and polarization that he has successfully used since 2015 to attract and keep the attention of the nation and convince its supporters that ‘They are either with Trump or against him, and that they should only believe him.
Trump has already used the “sarcasm” excuse. In particular, “sarcasm” was his defense against the outcry that occurred after Trump’s press conference on July 27, 2016, during which he asked: “Russia, if you listen, I hope you will be able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. “
Like other demagogues, Trump uses deceptive rhetoric to prevent us from holding him accountable for his words and deeds. Calling something “sarcasm” when it clearly wasn’t a way to invoke plausible denial – it gives Trump and his supporters the flexibility to believe what they want. This time the line from the White House and pro-Trump conservative media was that mainstream journalists irresponsibly took him out of context to generate negative headlines. In 2016, Trump used the excuse of “sarcasm” to explain that he was not really inviting Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, but was just joking.
Pretending he was sarcastic afterwards also allows him to return the question to his critics – “What, can’t you make a joke? Trump did the same in August 2019 when he claimed he was just sarcastic when he called himself “the chosen one.” He was “joking, sarcastic and just having fun”, Trump tweeted: ” More confidence! “
This plays into the worldview of Trump and his supporters, which is based on mistrust, polarization and outrage make sense of political news. Trump does not make mistakes, in fact, but the mainstream lying media say he does (a frame of mistrust). The mainstream lying media hate Republicans, which is why they never tell the truth about them (a polarizing framework). And the mainstream lying media are just trying to distort Trump’s words and turn them into something else to “get” Trump (a frame of indignation).
And of course, Rush Limbaugh invoked all of these executives to explain Trump’s comments on Friday.
“Now another controversy that has arisen there is happening – I don’t know – at least once a week. Drive-By Media is trying to persuade and convince people that Donald Trump told them to drink Drano at the White House press conference yesterday, “Limbaugh told radio listeners. “That Donald Trump told people to go out and get a syringe and inject Clorox into their arms, and that it could be dangerous, that Donald Trump is killing people now at the White House press conference. … Now you can’t watch the mainstream media for 10 minutes without hearing how a curator or a network had someone on it who said something that a bunch of doofus, American dunks listened to and now they’re dying. ”
Limbaugh’s version of the story was outrageous and absurd; it was tailor-made to reinforce distrust and polarization. Of course, Trump didn’t tell people to go out and get a syringe, and journalists didn’t say he did, but it doesn’t matter: the story of Limbaugh was a outrageous bait. It was designed to strengthen the “us against them” framework – they make up stories and say that we are “doofus, American dunces”, when we are only victims. Limbaugh said this kind of slandered and stifled controversy occurs at least once a week.
Yet even people inclined to buy Trump’s defense of “sarcasm” might have to admit that Trump chose an inappropriate time to make a sarcastic joke at the expense of journalists. A presidential briefing in the midst of a national crisis in which more than 50,000 Americans have died would generally ask for the most reliable information that science can provide – not “sarcastic” trolling.
Trump exceptionally manages to make his way out of any situation in which he could potentially be held accountable for his words and actions – it’s almost like a superpower – but even his most reliable allies could not save him this time. Fox News figures warned their viewers not to take Trump’s suggestion seriously or literally, and also challenged the defense against sarcasm a posteriori.
Trump’s strategies of distrust, polarization and indignation are a poison in our public sphere. These strategies are useful for Trump to document inconvenient truths, but they erode democratic decision-making and ultimately democracy. Trump sincerely asked if doctors could test the possibility of “cleaning” the lung virus by perhaps injecting disinfectant. This is an uncomfortable fact for Trump. Now he refuses to be held responsible for his words and deeds. He’s a demagogue. It is an uncomfortable fact for us.