I guess we’re going to have to get used to this sequence over the next 4-8 years (yes, 8: at the rate the Democrats are disgracing themselves, President Trump may stick around):
1) President Trump and/or one of his surrogates, spokespersons or appointees make a carelessly worded statement
2) Democrats, activists and the news media intentionally, wilfully and maliciously interpret it in the worst way possible under the convetions of the English language
3) They widely represent the statement to the public as expressing malign thoughts intent and principles
4) The Trump-related speaker, being rhetorically-challenged to begin with, fails to clarify the confusion and makes himself or herself look worse the more he tries.
5) Nobody, almost literally nobody, bothers to examine the statement from an objective point of view.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last week, referring to the Hawaii -chambered federal judge Derrick K. Watson, who last month blocked Trump’s revised temporary halt on travel from sslected terrorist-rich Muslim countries just before it was to go into effect,
“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.”
It was an off-hand remark on conservative talk show host Mark Levin’s radio program, but it immediately provoked ridicule and attack. Sessions didn’t know Hawaii was a state. Sessions doesn’t respect Hawaii. President Trump doesn’t like Hawaii. Just a few minutes ago, I watched ABC’s George Stephanopoulos confront Sessions about the remark. Sessions’ humina humina reply: “Nobody has a sense of humor any more.”
I understood the meaning of Sessions’ statement to Levin the minute I heard it, because I thought the same thing at the time of the judge’s ruling: Hawaii is the weirdest place for Trump’s order to be litigated, since the state is uniquely insulated from the illegal immigration problems facing the other 49 states, has never had anything close to a terrorism attack, and has a negligible Muslim population. The particular problems that the President’s order purports to address is an abstract one for Hawaiians, more than any other state. Sessions’ comment was rueful, intended as irony (to a friendly interviewer), and none of the vile things it was subsequently accused of being.
Never mind. The state’s U.S senators, both Democrats, made statements condemning Sessions. The state’s attorney general called the comment a racist “dog whistle,” and op-ed writers piled on. This was entirely foreseeable before those words came out of the AG’s mouth, and predictable a second after they did.
Do they really believe what they are saying to denigrate Sessions? Who knows? The Democratic talking point is that Sessions is a racist, based entirely on ambiguous and dubious claims made against him when Reagan was President. Those who believe him a racist—and increasingly most Democrats believe that all non-Democrats are racists—will let their confirmation bias run amuck with everything Sessions says or does. (This is why Ethics Alarms declared him to be a foolish nomination by the President last November, regardless of Sessions’ other qualifications.) Those who don’t, if they are Democratic politicians, will still say he is, because race-baiting is what Democrats do.
The fact that Sessions was making a benign point to Levin didn’t make the comment any less stupid and irresponsible. Anyone connected to the Trump administration knows the Democrats and the news media will interpret any comment in the way that will make it easiest to claim that administration figures are idiots, racists, or ignoramuses. No, they can’t make jokes, they can’t try irony or sarcasm, they must be clear and choose words extremely carefully, assuming that everything will be interpreted a) literally and b) to further the Democratic narrative that the administration is run by stupid, evil people. If they don’t understand this yet, after Sean Spicer was accused of not knowing who Fredderick Douglas was and Kellyanne Conway was accused of believing that microwave ovens could be turned into surveillance devices, they may not be evil, but they are definitely too careless and inarticulate to operate competently in 2017’s media jungle.
No, Jeff Sessions and his colleagues and boss can NOT speak and act as if the opposition and the news media (I repeat myself) will be fair. They will not get the benefit of the doubt. They will not be assumed to have good will; the opposite is true. If interpreting a metaphorical comment literally will make the Trump administration look bad, then the comment will be interpreted literally. If interpreting a literal statement as “code” will accomplish that goal, then it’s code as far as the news media is concerned. This should have been clear as a vodka on ice for at least a year. Anyone who hasn’t learned it yet really isn’t very bright, at least in political terms. This episode is evidence of a flat learning curve
It is, ultimately, Jeff Sessions’ fault.
[Incidentally, holding Sessions responsible for his and the Trump administration’s mistreatment by partisan critics and a biased news media is exactly like what progressives call “victim-blaming” when their favorite constituencies are involved. So be it. When you know what conduct is going to lead to abuse, you have a responsibility to avoid the conduct, or take other remedial measures to stop the abuse.]