Opinion: Trump, the king of sarcasm … not
Dear Donald Trump:
Man, I have to admit it. You really got me good.
When you looked straight at Dr. Deborah Birx last week and started musing how people might be able to cure COVID-19 by exposure to ultraviolet light or injecting household disinfectants, I thought you were serious. I said to myself: “Wow, Donald Trump just seriously suggested people should shoot up with Lysol.” The makers of Lysol even felt the need to issue a statement asking people not to take their product internally.
So you can imagine my surprise the next day when you explained, “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters . . . just to see what would happen.” Ha-ha! Good one, Mr. President. You really had me going. I mean, the way you addressed Dr. Birx while talking to reporters, the way you gave absolutely no hint that you weren’t in earnest. Wow. Bravo.
Then, as if that weren’t enough, you tweeted two days later that reporters should return the “Noble Prizes” they won for reporting on “Russia, Russia, Russia.” Many people jumped on that, accusing you of simultaneously misidentifying a famous journalism prize and misspelling another prize that’s given to important scientists, iconic literary figures and to great leaders like Barack Obama.
When I heard about your tweet, I was in the kitchen cooking up a complicated chicken dish. Boy, I nearly dropped my Pullet Surprise all over the floor. Is he out of his mind? I asked out loud. And was I ever embarrassed when you deleted those tweets a few hours later and tweeted — ha ha ha! — that you were just kidding us again. What a rascal you are.
It must be so hard to have people always misunderstanding you. In one tweet you asked, “Does sarcasm ever work?”
I don’t blame you for being exasperated. But you have to understand that you are processing things on a level most of us can’t even conceive. I mean, with meat packers warning of food shortages, the economy in ruins, America leading the world in coronavirus cases and the death toll surpassing the 58,000 who died in Vietnam, most people would consider this a time for serious, sober analysis.
Who but you would have realized it’s actually a time for hijinks?
Well, not hijinks, exactly. That word implies humor that is fun or carefree. Sarcasm is more arch and acidic than that. Merriam-Webster describes it as “sharp and often satirical or ironic . . . designed to cut or give pain.” Indeed, sarcasm is often expressed in saying the opposite of what you mean. Like when you dub a fat guy “Tiny” or a tall guy “Shorty.” Or like when you call a bunch of goobers geniuses.
But you already know all of this, don’t you? Yours is one of the great minds in America today, if not in the whole world. Many people are saying you’re the best president, ever. And we sure are lucky to have you leading us through this crisis. The way you’ve handled it has been beautiful. Your press conferences have been perfect. You’ve used the best words and had the best people.
Would Obama or George W. Bush have done a better job? Would Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter or Dwight Eisenhower or Calvin Coolidge or William McKinley or Benjamin Harrison or Ulysses Grant or Millard Fillmore or James Polk or Martin Van Buren or, indeed, anyone who has ever been president at any time in all of American history? I think we both know the answer to that.
I have to say, though, that I’m sorry to hear you’re having doubts about the power of sarcasm, wondering if it works. That’s long been one of my favorite rhetorical devices and I’ve always found it worked just fine. But if you disagree, I suppose I’ll have to reconsider using sarcasm from now on.
After all, you’re never wrong.
— Leonard Pitts is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Miami Herald.