Do we want a presidential joke for four years? Or a politician who doesn’t himself know at the time whether he is joking or not? Or forces us to guess which of his inanities are seriously meant — and which are “just jokes,” written off a day later? Behold the continuing theater of the absurd, starring an unteachable belligerent who misplays how he covers gaffes by trivializing his own intentions. I recall such juvenile jokers from high school, meriting the icy term, “total jerk.” Or worse.
Trump’s campaign malfeasance repeatedly hands over the very sword by which we can eviscerate his own defamatory rhetoric. When slams are whitewashed as “sarcasm,” oddly enough he most indicts himself. Was he falsifying the first time, or the second, with quick faux denial, and/or the third episode when he reneges on manufactured sarcasm. What sane politician shoots himself in the foot with his own gun, then, despite the bleeding, fires into the other leg? The “Trump Farce Brigade” is how I project the future will capture such flummery.
Further, how conflicted must his instant defenders be when their champion, addled with unreadable “sarcasm,” pulls the rug from under them the next day? A policy-light campaign, surging with serial self-mortification, proves TrumpTalk is the best strike against Trumpism. The Donald clearly parallels Meryl Streep’s duped character in the movie, Florence Foster Jenkins, dramatizing a rich, no-talent socialite ridiculed as laughing stock when her amateur concerts only present off-key, “ear-splitting warbling.”
Great Trump Reduction
Behind this “sarcasm” ploy, what truly unifies Trump gaffes is his amazing addiction to reductionism. Whatever the infinitely complex subjects (Iraq, terrorism, trade, taxation, job growth), Trump pounds every multi-variant mountain with the same nonsense flyswatter. The bizarre GOP primary stumbles on, with serial, nasty eruptions of anti-thinking so simplistic and wrongheaded they annihilate meaningful communication or exchanges by friends or foes alike. Or, more ominously, drawing new voters in.
The Donald’s mind-numbing, verbal door stops end conversations quicker than suicidal bombs. What causes our alleged national nightmare? — every party hacks not called Trump. What created ISIS? — Obama plus Hillary. Plagued by myriad terrorism? — indict cowardly, inept, D.C. losers. Afflicted with bad trade deals? — impugn dishonestly, gulled officials. Job outsourcing, loss of manufacturing, hard times? — yell the war cry of “Washington” or “the government” and fire away blindly. Really, is federal governance any harder than okaying a beauty pageant?
The Joke’s on Trump
With mouths agape, the world gets to see farce as political suicide, done with deviant abandon and now without any of the cutesy “entertainment” value claimed for the primary. Thus the notable upsurge in media corrections, skepticism, even overt mockery. And when Trump amps up another sneering outrage which flops badly, we get the stumbling sarcasm syndrome. “I didn’t mean to” is what miscreants and drunks, let alone five-year-olds having smashed the family heirloom — squeak to negate all responsibility. Trump finds a veneer of mud to fling, then expresses mock astonishment when only his already gulled fans take his bait. Why isn’t this simplest of Trumpisms instantly accepted, “Clinton Can Only Win Pennsylvania If ‘They Cheat’”?
Polls now dramatize a campaign morphing into jaw-dropping absurdity (though Trump misses, apparently, he’s now the main joke). Does he really think his maniacal, low-brow politics (like Streep’s terrible opera singing) won’t crash and burn, like McGovern or Goldwater? How long can the most infantile defense of all, “it was only a joke, mere sarcasm,” last? How long will Trumpian sneers endure, “you can tell the haters and losers because they missed the sarcasm and fell into my trap”?
By his own oblivious measure, this reality stands out: no one can possibly know whether Trump ever means what he says. Or ever did. No wonder 2/3’s of the country judge Trump untrustworthy and unfit, if not the least qualified White House wannabe? The seeming jokester has managed to turn himself into prime object of public ridicule. This is politics as phantasmagoria, along with gruesome nightmares American is kaput. If language no longer has meaning, all bets are off, doomed by Trump’s indecipherable intentions. Nothing exactly new here, except for presidential runs, if you ever faced predatory sales pitches, intensely self-serving narcissism, even what is plausibly called crazy, deranged, or unstable.
The Art of the Deal-breaker
At heart, Trump arrogance is the great, if inadvertent leveler, implying anyone who passed sixth grade matches up with bright, talented, and educated experts who understand multi-variant, complex entities. Why can’t hordes of small-time wheeler-dealers, let alone rapacious billionaires like Trump, negotiate superior international trade deals? Any average joe (the plumber) can improve the Pentagon, the VA, FEMA, Homeland Security, whatever, certainly the crooked US government, if not a world full of foreign cheaters.
We shift from “temperament,” the catchphrase du jour, into the phony Trump world that mixes political derangement with a defective learning curve. Does not Trump depict insanity, per Einstein, repeating the same blunders while expecting a different result? And this calamity, from the gold medal prizewinner for modern lying, comes from an unimpeachable “truth-teller,” he declares, who “only tells the truth.” Like wild assertions that he loses the White House solely because “they cheat” by rigging the voting totals? The jokester is already practicing his matchless whining act.
Unclear Tone, Obscure Meaning
Without trusting tone, whether satirical or deadly serious, no reliable communication between adults, certainly no subsequent conversation, is possible. Even agreement or disagreement is badly muddled when there is no mediating there — no stable context or relevant evidence. What Trump since May has demonstrated beyond doubt is that no one, not the Trickster himself, nor ardent followers, not opponents or the media, can trust his words, delivery or tone of voice. Nor read what will quickly shift (or be so claimed) in a New York Second.
Thus, Trump’s transparently empty “sarcasm defense” only broadcasts how “uncredible” (that’s Midwest for unbelievable plus zero credibility) are torrents of Trump’s verbal tsunamis. No wonder battleground polling prefigures the prospect of a rout. Without any explicit measure to evaluate language (like character, accuracy or trust), there’s no beef on the Trump steak and the bones look very brittle. Without ready consensus on what a candidate means when he talks, we cannot distinguish election speak from absurdity, propaganda, or crude demagoguery. But there’s a silver lining to Trumpism: we learn what indicts the “sarcastic” hustler far more than he does any nominal targets.
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