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White House

The Truest Things Are Said in Jest

President Donald Trump speaks in New Orleans, La., January 14, 2019. (Carlos Barria/REUTERS)

Rich, I take your larger point, but I’ve never considered the “He was just joking” defense to be very persuasive when it comes to many of the things Trump says, particularly his “sardonic” call for Russia to hack Hillary’s emails. For instance, as we’ve discussed around here in the past, Trump utilizes apophasis in his rhetoric more than any other politician in our lifetime. Here’s an interesting blog post from Andrea A. Lunsford:

In working on the 8th edition of Everything’s an Argument, I found myself thinking about Trump as I was revising a section on fallacies and fallacious thinking. In fact, I added a fallacy to this edition because Trump uses it so often. Paralipsis, sometimes also referred to as apophasis, occultatio, or praeteritio, occurs when writers or speakers say they will not mention something—but mention it by virtue of saying they won’t! In Ben Jonson’s Catiline, for example, one character says to another, “Thy incest with thy sister, I not name.” Or Socrates, on trial for his life, says that he will not mention his grieving widow and children, thus invoking them. Donald Trump has taken this rhetorical strategy to new heights, using it constantly throughout the campaign and into his presidency. About Marco Rubio, Trump said “I will not call him a lightweight, because I think that’s a derogatory term. So I will not call him a lightweight, OK?” He used the pattern repeatedly in attacking Hillary Clinton, saying in one of the debates that he had planned to mount a really “rough” set of charges against Clinton and her family but that “I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate.” And when criticized by Megyn Kelly, he said, “I refuse to call Megyn Kelly a bimbo,” though he had just done so. In short, this strategy can be reduced to “I won’t say it. There, I just said it.”

There are also countless times when Trump hid behind the claim he was joking to say things he did not mean sardonically. For instance there was the time he said that the Democrats were guilty of “treason”:

They were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘Treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not,” Trump said to laughter during a speech outside Cincinnati, Ohio on Monday. Describing the Democratic response, where many lawmakers sat and frowned as Trump spoke, the President added: “Can we call that treason? Why not.

Later that day, the White House insisted he was just kidding.

The link you post to that purportedly demonstrates that he was “clearly” joking is an article about how Trump said he was just being sarcastic. I don’t think taking his word for it demonstrates that he was “clearly” joking, merely that he claimed to be joking. Which just begs the question.

I sincerely doubt that if the Russians had immediately followed up by releasing Hillary’s 33,000 missing emails, Donald Trump would have had a crisis of conscience about it — even if it occurred to him to say the words.


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