How are we to read Trump?
Does he really mean it when he says he will build a wall on our southern border and make Mexico pay for it? Or when he invites Russia to find Hillary’s missing emails? Or when he points to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as co-founders of ISIS?
Fortunately, the candidate has recently provided us with guidelines to his manner of speaking.
On August 12, he tweeted: Ratings challenged @CNN reports so seriously that I call President Obama (and Clinton) “the founder” of ISIS, & MVP. THEY DON’T GET SARCASM? —Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Sarcasm — there’s a clue. Sarcasm is a blatant, extreme form of irony, where the speaker or writer says one thing but means another, often the opposite. So he doesn’t really mean Obama and Hillary were founders of ISIS, but rather … well, what? As he tweeted shortly afterward:
I love watching these poor, pathetic people (pundits) on television working so hard and so seriously to try and figure me out. They can’t! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
And a few days later:If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn’t put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20% — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) He followed this up last week with a carefully scripted apologia of sorts:
“Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that [cheers from audience], and believe it or not, I regret it, and I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain. Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with those issues.
“But one thing I can promise you is this: I will always tell you the truth.”
We live in an ironic age, where we are all used to saying one thing and meaning the opposite, or hearing one thing and taking it to mean the opposite. The master of this mode in politics is Donald Trump, who heats up the irony till it becomes sarcasm, so outrageous it must be a spoof.
Or is it? That’s the beauty about using sarcasm: You can have one layer of meaning on top of after another, and nobody knows for sure which layer you mean.
So everything the Donald says is either true, or its opposite is true. And you’ll never figure him out, especially if you try.