Going Right Into The Signature Significance Files: The President’s Claims His Blather About Light And Disinfectant to Cure The Virus Was “Sarcasm”


President Donald Trump told reporters and the country yesterday that he was only testing the media when he suggested that using disinfectant and light to fight off the coronavirus was worth exploring. “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” he said.

Does anyone believe that? Anyone? It’s not quite a Jumbo—“What? I didn’t say that!”—but it’s almost as outrageous. Now, the “Trump is a liar!” tropes are re-energized (that’s no big lie, but it’s exaggerated and hyped), and the President has nobody to blame but himself. My sister, who actually participates in a Hate Trump neighborhood group, sent me a musical parody, “The  Liar Sleeps Tonight” (it’s not bad) yesterday.

I know what he was thinking: the news media did distort and misrepresent what he said, so “It was a test, and you flunked!” might have seemed like a good gambit. The flaw in that strategy is that the president’s  demeanor when he’s riffing is unmistakable by now.  The sarcasm excuse was desperate, and more importantly, needless.  Trump easily could have said that he was thinking out loud about some possibilities, and that most listeners understood that. What he said instead was stupid (and insulting), and, for what feels like the millionth time, handed a club to his critics.

For the record, the rationalization the President chose in this case is #64, Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is.”

A couple of days ago, Ann Althouse tracked down a Quora piece from 2017 by some guy who had figured out that Trump really was a genius, with an IQ of 150 or higher. “Here’s the thing,” the author opined, “When an IQ differs from yours by more than 20 points, much of what the other person is doing, either direction, is unfathomable to you. It’s as if you are speaking different languages.”

Well, I’ll grant that Trump and I speak different languages; mine is English. I thought the theory was bonkers then, and this episode reminded me why. Trump constantly does (or tweets) things that are signature significance: no really smart person would do (or tweet) such things even once.  I’ve written about a lot of them. The stupid tweet about the Squad was an example. This is another. So was the slur on McCain’s military record. Or hiring Omarosa. Or, in my opinion, most of all, saying how smart he is, as Trump has done many times. I know a lot of smart people. Literally none of them announce how smart they are. If you are smart, you don’t have to claim you’re smart. Fredo claimed to be smart.

Trump also doesn’t do a lot of the things a smart leader does. He has weaknesses, like his tendency to blurt out whatever pops into his head. A smart President would figure out that this is a big problem in his position, even if it had served him well at times in his career. A smart President would work on that weakness, and others. Ulysses S. Grant knew he couldn’t be an effective President drinking the way he did, so he kicked alcohol cold turkey. (It nearly killed him.) Trump’s refusal to appoint a strong, independent Chief of Staff (other than John Kelly, who mostly fit that role) who has the power to curb his worst impulses is pure vanity and foolishness, and it may bring him down yet.

The President has areas of unique brilliance, to be sure; IQ isn’t everything. He also possesses some essential talents for management and leadership, while he lacks others. And, until the pandemic struck, he had been lucky, especially in his choice of adversaries whose actions are routinely dumber than his.

Doing and saying stupid things, however, is incompetence, and a President running for re-election cannot afford to broadcast that quality.

This was one of the President’s bad moments. It might cost him, and it should.

41 thoughts on “Going Right Into The Signature Significance Files: The President’s Claims His Blather About Light And Disinfectant to Cure The Virus Was “Sarcasm”

  1. A colleague of mine who writes for National Review said he thinks Trump is already toast, so get ready for President Sleepy Joe.

    • Yeah, that’s convincing. The NR has remained largely a NeverTrump publication; of all places, that’s not where I’d go for prognostications. Was he aware of the latest developments on the sexual assault accusation front? Of all elections, this one is one of the most foolish to call in April.

      • This guy throughout the last campaign had as his avatar a variation on the Keep Calm and Carry On sign that said Keep Calm, It Won’t Be Trump. Honestly, I don’t think the sexual assault matters. The mainstream media will just bury it and portray any accuser as a slut or a nut. It looks like any hope of a quick recovery is dead, with Northam talking about keeping restrictions in place for two years. Biden hasn’t done a thing, and the polls already have him out in front in some must-carry states.

        • Well, the sexual assault will matter, but it will be blunted by Trump’s infamous indiscretions that hardly paint him a defender of women’s virtue.

          The media will equate the two, and claim his “grab them by the pussy” statement is the functional equivalent of a sexual assault. Because you know, to the left, words are violence.

          • Yeah, BUT. Biden’s base isn’t Trump’s base. Since they elected him,they already decided that Trump’s rich guy sexism is irrelevant. But Biden is running under the #MeToo party, and the so-called women’s party. They expect their candidate to be better than Trump on the score, and if he isn’t, that’s a big problem for him. Not to mention the fact that he’s lied in deyingy the accusation of a woman, when he said they should all “be believed.”

            • Fair point. But Biden’s base has nowhere else to go, and their hatred for Trump will overwhelm any loathing of Biden’s past. While it may not be a “Meh,” it’s the functional equivalent.

              The Left apparently has no equivalent of the “Never Trump” right, which allows their “virtuous morality” to overcome the horror of voting for a person who’s positions they purport to utterly loathe. Instead, they find “#MeExcuses for violators, set up a “if it’s a Democrat, it probably didn’t happen or wasn’t really rape/sexual assault/unwanted touching” rationalization.

              • Unduly pessimistic. No matter what happens, Bernie’s Brigade will not make a point of voting for Biden…I know many now who are already saying that. The looming possibility that Biden would be removed and the party would not let Sanders be nominated risks a split of the party. I guarantee you there is a “Never A Guy Who Is In Progressive Dementia And Raped A Female Staffer And Lied About It When He Could Still Tie His Shoes” Left. They’re just not talking about it.

                • I don’t know, it’s all conjecture I guess. The Bernie Bros don’t need much of a reason to “protest” Biden as the nominee or vote third party, and perhaps this is all it takes to those who were going to hold their nose and vote Biden anyway.

                  Still, I’m not seeing it. What I see is the Left circling their wagons. Hell, according to the Daily Caller, not one single senate Democrat will even acknowledge the accusation even after the “Larry King Live” revelations.

                  Yes, this is “gotcha” journalism at it’s worst but it does seem to illustrate a reluctance to apply the #MeToo standard set for Al Franken to others. Democrats usually can’t wait to get to a microphone or computer to denounce or at least pronounce themselves “troubled” over a #MeToo accustion, but in this case, the cat seems to have their tongue.

    • I wouldn’t place money either way yet. For one thing, that’s what they said in 2016, and for another this year has been a roller coaster and it ain’t over yet.

      That said, this (the attempted cover up, not the original statement) is one of the dumber things Trump has said. The original statement was honestly just uninformed: he wanted to know if some kind of disinfectant could be injected. And as many have pointed out, there’re some areas of medicine where they do similar things, but I won’t pretend Trump knew that, he was brainstorming in front of the press. His supporters knew that. But the cover up was stupid.

      But I get the impression it’s still the case that the media is taking Trump literally and his voters aren’t.

    • But this is the age of *the unexpected*. It is a time in which unforeseen external events impose themselves as if by accident. What if there is another unforeseen blow? What is providence brewing?

      Emily says it well: “. . . this year has been a roller coaster and it ain’t over yet”.

    • Not so sure about that. Apparently the rape allegations involving Biden just won’t go away especially since the Larry King video tape surfaced. Even some of Bernie Sanders staffers have turned against Biden.

  2. No, it wasn’t sarcasm. His cover story is even worse than the stupid thing he said. He’s not suited to this office. At. All. As an anti-establishment candidate, he had the chance to be an agent of change. Instead, he picks fights, throws tantrums, says ridiculous things, and generally makes any given situation worse.

    I wish the left-leaning media would cut the outrage out. Is it really newsworthy that Trump said or tweeted something else stupid/mostly false/half-baked? Nope. It isn’t. And I wish the right-leaning media would stop justifying it. Yep, Trump said something dumb. Let’s talk about something that actually matters. I honestly don’t give a damn what he says anymore. He’s pretty much useless.

    This is the first real crisis he has faced. His administration has had a slow, bumbling response to the threat. Although, he loves to pat himself on the back about what a “tremendous” job they’ve done. Seriously…?! What show have you been watching?

    I don’t see any real leadership from him. The press conferences are a waste of everyone’s time. It’s a couple of hours with him ranting and raving. It’s a bit like watching a toddler have a meltdown. There’s what…? Ten minutes of useful information from doctors and other officials?

    My governor is Mike DeWine. And he has done an incredible job in Ohio.His briefings have actual information that I need. He is a real leader. DeWine is calm, cool, and collected. He doesn’t scream and shout at people, or tweet. Although, his wife shares awesome recipes on their Facebook page. And he surrounded himself with experts.

    • I agree the governors have been stepping up in this crisis, but I really think Trump has most frequently said the wrong thing and done the right thing. Dan Crenshaw has made several videos and appearences talking about Trump’s actions from his (Crenshaw’s) view in congress, and pointing out Trump was trying to get things done well before anyone is giving him credit for. Fauci backed Trump up on listening to the experts.

      I think in a crisis like this, where different parts of the country are experiencing very different things (to the point where some passed the “peak” weeks ago and some haven’t hit it yet), leaving action up to the governors was (and is) the right thing to do. I like how Larry Hogan is handling it, and if we had been on a timetable dictated by NYCs numbers, which nationally we would have been, things would be much worse here.

      • Some of the governors have been “stepping up.” Most of the blue ones have been using this as a way to act like dictators and destroy the small business side of their states’ economies. But hey, if it stops those pesky conservative business owners from writing that check to the GOP, or results in more people out of work who they can buy with government checks, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing, right?

        • Fair point. MD is lucky we have a Republican, considering how blue the state is; he’s been agressive in recommendations and only reluctantly authortarian in official acts. Places like Michigan are in a totally different boat.

          • You’re damned right Michigan is in a totally different boat. And to think that woman is likely to soon be a heartbeat away from the presidency?

      • It’s actually a new Ohio tradition to have a glass of wine with DeWine (there are t-shirts and everything) when he does his 2 pm briefing. And her black bean soup is delicious. It goes great with avocado and tortilla chips.

        • I could live off black beans, pico de gallo(mucho pico, poco gallo porfa), corn tortillas and 1/2 avocado.

          I just hope that beer would be served with it, not wine. Wine does not match spicy food. And Indian food too is best taken with beer.

          I will I think make some Black Bean Soup to celebrate Ohio and ‘good government’!

    • So, can we put you down for Sleepy Joe in November? Or are you going to tell the joke where you compare Trump to a Jack-O’Lantern first?

    • As an anti-establishment candidate, he had the chance to be an agent of change.

      The major change was to have been the president that ‘drains the swamp’. Which means gets rid of the major corruption — the corrupt actors — who (shall we say) run Washington. To say that there is a swamp and corruption really means a great deal, but yet who defined what was meant?

      What does it mean in realpolitical terms — not with patriotic baby spit-up on the chin — to have a ‘swamp’ that surround the national government? That influences decisions and policies. That determines in many senses the *fate of the nation*? What does it mean for a nation when corruption gets to that point?

      Well, historically, it means that a) either there will be a reform-process that is drastic and restores the integrity of government, or b) that though this will be attempted the ‘swamp-creatures’ are too powerful, too devious, too capable, and that they find ways to avoid being *drained*.

      Is it really possible to say that Donald Trump is not serving or does not serve the *power structure of America*? That means of course the power-structure and the swamp-structure. These have to be taken as a whole, don’t they?

      So, many say that not only did not DT drain the swamp, he brought many swamp-denizens into his administration.

      So, now back to your statement about the possibility of being an ‘agent of change’. An agent of change for what exactly?

      Though all of this is true about DT, no part of this seems to change the fact that there are invisible and perhaps unintelligible behind-the-scenes battles going on within The Halls of Power in the US (I got that from the movie All the President’s Men! I am culturally literate! 🙂 ) as well as in the world. It is possible that one cannot look at the US except as a global entity. Thus Deep State means something different. An extension of what it is taken to mean.

      In that battle, DT is not just somewhat hated, he is hated with an energy and intensity that I have never seen before. DTS of a street-variety is one thing. But the real hate that can, has, and does depose an official, now that is a different form of hate. It is not hysterical, but rational. And behind it stand powerful players who must, by necessity, remain invisible. (?) They act, but never are seen to act.

      • In regards to an agent of change, I was hoping that he would work with both Republicans and Democrats to get something done. He had no loyalty to either group.

        I’m frustrated with the lack of momentum in government. Nothing has been getting done for years. There is power-grabbing, backbiting, infighting, but very little progress. Government ain’t Burger King. You can’t have everything your way. Ideally, each side should get something from a bill. But that’s not how it has been working. I was hoping he could negotiate some deals. Wasn’t that his whole spiel?

        As far as draining the swamp….I don’t see any evidence of that. For example, hiring his daughter and his son-in-law for example. Hello nepotism.

        “Hated with an energy and intensity…” Hmm. My sense of that is…Trump is ride an uncouth. Trump gets back what he dishes out. He likes to offer insulting nicknames, make fun of people, and act like a real jerk. My father always says you catch more flies with honey. And he’s right.

        I think the notion of a Deep State seems like something out of a novel. It’s far more plausible that smart politicians, corporations, countries flatter and manipulate him into doing their bidding. Intellectually, our president is showing up to a gun fight with a knife. I think he views every situation through the lens of his fragile ego.

        • My father always says you catch more flies with honey.

          Yeah, but does that really work better?

          ::: moment of profound thought :::

          Do you think it would work for me, too?

          I’m frustrated with the lack of momentum in government. Nothing has been getting done for years. There is power-grabbing, backbiting, infighting, but very little progress.

          I can’t figure out what is supposed to get done.

    • I think yours is mostly is a complaint about style, not actual leadership. Trump’s leadership has been largely out of the public eye. Remember it was he who stopped inbound traffic from China when most people were telling him how racist and ignorant it was. Yes, he never tires of reminding us of this, but honestly, leadership is doing the unpopular, but correct thing. There are other examples, but with all the noise he spews, the signal-to-noise ratio is always so low that you have to sift through everything with a fine-tooth comb. Not to mention his childish inclination to attack the media with near-maniacal zeal.

      DeWine, and not to attack him, has largely done what every other governor has done. While you might find his style more comforting and “leaderlike” than Trump (and honestly, who wouldn’t?), I don’t see that he’s done anything particularly noteworthy. Even our governor, the brain-meltingly pedantic Andy Beshear, has done the same things.

      • Yes, I think DeWine is normal, capable. And I miss that. I would like more boring, dependable leadership, please.

        Hey now…don’t be mean to Andy. I like him. Admittedly, I have a bit of a crush.

        There’s a style argument there, I’m sure. But, I’ve had enough of him. The coronavirus issue was the nail in the coffin. He’s dead, Jim. At least to me. I’m ready for new leadership.

        • In some ways, I agree. However, there is something to be said about iconclastic, chaotic leadership coming along once in a while and shaking up the system. One of the things about Trump that endear him to a lot of Republicans is that he isn’t afraid to say in public things that other politicians only say in private meetings to the retainers, donors, or fund-raising events. You’ll never get that out of a “boring, dependable” leader — a conventional politician.

          Trump’s style is … incredibly taxing to me. I cannot stand to hear him speak, or watch him for very long without shouting, “Good God, man, think before you speak!” He has also mastered English to the level of a sixth grader, and his emotional maturity the equivalent of a 12-year old bully. Taxing, as I say. But the alternative is simply unthinkable.

          Andy Beshear is a dimbulb trying to show how smart he is, and he speaks to Kentuckians as if every one of them were the ignorant hillbilly rube he believes them to be. I get that women think he’s pretty, and are willing to give him a pass because he speaks like he’s talking to their children, but it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. One of the great problems with our society and it’s celebrity culture is that all it takes these days to set up a deadly cognitive dissonance effect is a pretty face, a kind demeanor, or an attractive combination of both. Our critical thinking skills have been set aside for emotionalism and thinking a veneer runs all the way to the bone.

          Substance, it seems, is optional, and Beshear’s substance is … lacking. He’s absolutely positive about a bunch of things that are flat wrong, and it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to see that.

  3. President Trump’s utterly ridiculous claim that he was being sarcastic when he talked about disinfectant in that briefing made my head explode? President Trump has the worst case of Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome I’ve ever seen in a politician. How We Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over.

    All he had to do was let the media continue down their path and keep his mouth shut, but nooooooo he had to open his bone-headed mouth and gave them plenty of bonafide ammo to attack his honesty yet again. Regardless of the actual truth in the claims, President Trump’s own problem with shoving his foot in his mouth adds plenty of perceived validity to things like this…

    My version of a regularly used quote is, “stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” and we all know that…

  4. Yes, this was particularly dumb and so completely unavoidable, but I think it will not be a turning point or significant. He will continue to do dumb things and the media will continue to pile on with something new every day or so. So this will just be a single blade in a lawn of hyped dumb things (and LIES!) that won’t amount to much as opposed to bigger picture things, eg., the economy and getting the country back to work. I think the media’s over saturation bombing of Trump will prove counter productive to their efforts to defeat him in the fall.

    • With apologies to Peter Falk playing Colombo, “Just one more question…”

      Isn’t it well known by now that Trump speaks in word clouds and is very imprecise in his deployment of vocabulary. Do we really know what he meant by “sarcasm?” Is it justified to assume he’s using a dictionary definition of the term. Maybe he meant he was pulling people’s legs? I just think it’s not very useful to ever assume he knows the meaning of the words he’s riffing with.

      • And by the way, shouldn’t we all know now that Trump does not have a learning curve. Waiting for him to defer to subordinates is preposterous and a waste of time and energy. He’s obviously perfectly content with every aspect of his being and probably has been since about kindergarten. Can you imagine his kindergarten teacher’s comments? “Donald does not appear to be at all interested in what I or anyone else has to say with regard to his behavior.” As far as he’s concerned, if it ain’t fixed, don’t break it.

    • Other Bill, I agree with this. The President has correctly pegged the press and the media for exactly what they are. Why he, inexplicably, gave them another bag-full of ammunition is a complete mystery and another part of the dichotomy that is our President. He could have simply told the reporters their comprehension was infantile and “fake news” and moved on. Why he needed to lie…beyond me.

      Anyways, you’re right. Next week, the media will find another shiny object that better expresses their hatred of the President and this will be forgotten. But President Trump needs to stop the needless lying. It’s terrible and it’s going to cost him.

  5. “A couple of days ago, Ann Althouse tracked down a Quora piece from 2017 by some guy who had figured out that Trump really was a genius, with an IQ of 150 or higher. “Here’s the thing,” the author opined, “When an IQ differs from yours by more than 20 points, much of what the other person is doing, either direction, is unfathomable to you. It’s as if you are speaking different languages.””

    The author concluded his opinion by writing…

    “If you’re fooled by his simple-speak, his, “The best words” you’ve never run a company or sold a product. Simple speak is command speech. Simple speak gives clarity where big words only confuse people. The majority of big words exist to equivocate, hedge your bets.”

    There you have it in a nut-shell, the author attributes Trumps simple-speak to genius when it could just as easily be attributed to either a genuine simple mind or years of training and experience – no genius required. Any way you look at it, Trump makes some absolutely ridiculous statements regardless of whether those statements are coming from the mind of a genius, an average well trained mind, or the mind of a simple-minded oaf.

  6. This drove me nuts. When all my prog friends started fulminating about this, I immediately went and watched the exchange. Two things were obvious: first, he was riffing, the way he so often does (it’s disquieting to have a president who thinks out loud in front of television cameras). The second was that he was actually tossing out the idea to Dr. Birx and others as a question that something along these lines might be worth looking into, NOT making a recommendation. But most of the media and, certainly, much of the population, is so primed to jump on outrage to outrage that they’ve lost all capability of independent and objective thought – they went right to “Trump Just Told You To Gargle with Bleach!!”

    Trump would have been far better off letting this one ride. Walking it back the way he did was just plain foolish.

    I will say, however, that this incident HAS resulted in the creation of some very funny memes. Like the Clorox Chewables pictured above.

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