During the 2016 presidential campaign, a truism emerged that the best way to understand Donald Trump is to take him seriously, not literally.
This has always struck me as nonsense, for two reasons.
First, it creates an artificial divide where there is in fact a natural unity: Taking someone literally is an obvious early step in taking them seriously. You systematically evaluate what they say for accuracy and consistency, and try to determine their credibility and trustworthiness over time.
Second, it’s not just that Trump doesn’t want to be taken literally. He doesn’t want to be taken seriously either.
I say this with great assurance because Trump says it so often himself.
Remember when Trump asked Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails a month after his son tried unsuccessfully to get “dirt” on Clinton from Russian nationals during a meeting at Trump Tower? Trump later said he made that request “in jest and sarcastically.”
When Trump says he’s joking, I think he means it. But Trump is, by his own account, a deal-maker. And in Trump’s hands, jokes are negotiations, or mini-polls.
First, he says something outrageous and sees how it plays. If it resonates, he doubles down. If there’s backlash, he walks it back under the “just-joking” doctrine of Plausible Doniability. And then he tries it again.
Thus we endure sequences like the one that played out in August 2016, where Trump claimed Barack Obama founded ISIS, then insisted he was employing “sarcasm,” then clarified that he was “being sarcastic but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you.”
Obviously what Trump wants is the freedom to boldly proclaim whatever half-thought flies into the un-nukeable hurricane of his very big brain. And then just as boldly unproclaim it if need be.
And that means even Trump’s Republican enablers in Congress insist we shouldn’t take President Trump literally or seriously.
But then how should we take him? For me, the answer has always been absurdly.
Merriam-Webster defines “absurd” as “ridiculously unreasonable, unsound, or incongruous.” And “extremely silly or ridiculous.” And “having no rational or orderly relationship to human life.” And “lacking order or value.”
Does that sound like someone who feels compelled to take to Twitter in the early hours of a Saturday morning and describe himself as a “very stable genius”? Who, according to White House staffers, reportedly believes that the best way to ensure American prosperity in the 21st century is to build a border wall complete with a moat filled with alligators and snakes? I’d say it does.
As the 2020 election nears, there are obviously many ways to counter Trump and Trumpism. For me, that means supporting candidates who can effectively articulate a vision for how America and its citizens can prosper in the 21st century by pursuing traditional American ideals of openness, inclusivity, innovation, and equal access to good jobs, education, and healthcare.
In addition, I will continue supporting efforts to increase voter turnout and voting accessibility, to preserve voting rights against voter discrimination and voter purge efforts, and to combat foreign interference campaigns.
But I also think it’s morally imperative to keep pointing out how ridiculous Trump is — especially as his increasingly erratic behavior and corrupt actions continue to weaken rule of law and democracy itself.
Indeed, while Trump demands license to say anything he pleases and insists he’s immune from any kind of oversight or accountability, including impeachment, he simultaneously insists that everyone else should be extremely constrained about what they can say about him. And thus the man who stated that Barack Obama founded ISIS repeatedly exclaims that we should strengthen our libel laws! And trashes every effort to hold him accountable as “fake news.” And uses the power of his office to coerce other countries to investigate his political opponents.
So how do you take the utterances of someone like Trump as anything but “ridiculously unreasonable” and “lacking order and value,” without acquiescing to authoritarianism?
Quite obviously, you can’t. You can only take Trump absurdly.
To this end, Insane Republic, the company I co-founded in 2016 to create Trumped Up Cards, a multi-player card game that showcases the corruption, controversies, hypocrisies, and business disasters that have characterized Trump’s life and career, will be creating more new products through 2020.
Our first is “Donald Trump’s Big, Beautiful Wall Calendar 2020.”
Our “Big, Beautiful Wall Calendar” is not quite as tall or wide as Trump’s big, beautiful border wall — but it’s also a lot less imaginary. Indeed, while a recent Washington Examiner article reported that Trump had not actually created a single mile of new wall during his first 30 months in office, our own infrastructure project is nearly complete.
This week, in fact, we’re introducing it the world via a Kickstarter campaign. We’ve chosen the Kickstarter route for two reasons. One, because we’re not really sure how many people want to look at giant illustrations of Trump every morning at breakfast, no matter how beautiful those illustrations are! And two, because we want to offer people some new ways to participate in the product’s creation and distribution.
To learn more, check out our Kickstarter page. And stay tuned for more new Trump projects from Insane Republic down the line because seriously, literally, there’s more to come.