Donald Trump

Don't Take Trump Seriously or Literally

The president's latest "joke" is that Democrats are traitors to the country. What are we supposed to do with that?

by Eve Peyser
Feb 6 2018, 8:00pm

Donald Trump at a rally on Monday. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

Donald Trump says a lot of crazy shit on the regs, which was actually a good thing, more or less, when his job was yelling at Gary Busey on TV. But now he's the literal president, and his words matter—if you don't believe me, ask North Korea. How, then, do we approach Trump's latest lunacy, when he casually suggested the Democrats, who did not clap for him at the State of Union, were "treasonous"?

In a speech on Monday that was supposed to be about tax reform but was not, the president said of the Democrats, "They would rather see Trump do badly, OK, than our country do well. It got to the point that I didn’t really want to look too much on that side. It was bad energy." Though the opposition party traditionally avoids applauding during the State of the Union, Trump was fixated on the Democrats' silence. “They were like death. And un-American. Un-American. Somebody said treasonous. I mean, yeah, I guess, why not?” Trump said with a shrug. “Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

The straightforward response to this is to point out that not clapping for Trump is actually not treason, whether it be VICE News quoting the Constitution or CNN's Chris Cillizza providing a dictionary definition of the word. But if anything is certain in these chaotic times, it's that Trump is not careful with his words, and tends to say what feels right to him, not what's actually correct. We're in the post-truth era! Facts don't matter!

The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, clarified that Trump was "clearly joking" when he accused the opposing party of committing a crime for not being nicer to him. The deputy press secretary, Hogan Gidley, asserted that Trump's comment was "tongue-in-cheek."

As we know, Trump is a man who gets away with saying a lot of unacceptable bullshit under the guise of him just messing around. Like during the 2016 election when he publicly asked Russia to hack his opponent's campaign, which his administration later clarified was just a hilarious joke.

“No, no, no, no, don’t take him literally, take him symbolically,” Anthony Scaramucci, famous for his brief stint as the White House communications director, said of Trump back in December 2016. "Don't take Trump literally" has become a cliché, but that doesn't make it wrong, exactly; it serves as a useful warning, a kind of code for, This dude is gonna say a lot of crazy shit, so take it all with a grain of salt.

In one sense, flipping out about the "treason" comment seems like an overreaction—obviously, he is not calling for Democrats to be executed for not clapping. But dismissing it as simply another one of Trump's hilarious jokes also feels misguided. Sometimes he's clearly talking out of his ass, like when he promised not to cut Medicaid. But at other times, seemingly offhand remarks are actually new policies, like when he tweeted that he wanted to ban trans people from serving in the military—the Pentagon wasn't sure he was serious about that, but he was. (Courts later blocked that move.)

How seriously should we take Trump? I have no idea. Let me know if you've figured it out.

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