Trump exploits 60 Minutes appearance to render satire useless

An uploaded copy of a Twitter image of a screenshot of a Twitter ad

An uploaded copy of a Twitter image of a screenshot of a tweet

I have several questions about the advertisement pictured above. First of all, what was the worst Trump shirt designed by veterans? Did it say “Veterans stand behind, in front of, surrounding, but not technically in the same space as Donald Trump?” Was it just a dick with “Trump” written on it? Because this shirt has cleverly arranged the phrase “the D” into the shape of a dick, making me wonder if it was based on an existing design. Also, who is “she,” exactly? Judging by the styles pictured, these shirts come in two sizes: men’s medium and young child. I guess it’s funny to dress your four year-old daughter in this shirt, but you probably shouldn’t expose her to so much irony. Also, did you see Gawker’s supercut of Trump’s appearance with Mike Pence on 60 Minutes last night? Discourse after the jump.

There’s a lot to love about that interview, most of it stemming from Trump’s serial interruption. He’s like a Saturday Night Live sketch that can’t get from B to C, so he keeps upping the audacity of his schtick. When he tells Pence he can speak and then talks right over him, Trump approaches comedy. But he skips merrily into satire with this exchange:

If you can’t watch video because you work at the Vatican or something, here’s how it goes:

Lesley Stahl: You’re not known to be a humble man. But I wonder—

Trump: I think I am actually humble. I think I’m much more humble than you would understand.

It’s like a goddamn Bazooka Joe comic. No person, not even one who decides what to say as late in the speaking process as Trump, can utter this sentence without hearing the irony. Maybe every person on Earth has independently synthesized the “I’m so humble” joke. Trump surely has, after six decades of talking to himself and making faces in the mirror before bed. But here he is saying it with no evident irony. He seems, in this moment, medically immune to self-awareness, like a person in a satire. He hears Stahl say he’s not known for something good and leaps to correct her, even though it forces him to utter an absurdity, because that is the rule of his behavior.

Never mind that Stahl was almost surely planning to follow “I wonder” with some argument that Trump was actually humble, before he interrupted her to insist he was. You can see her ruing that impulse in the last shot, where Stahl seems to briefly wonder whether she is the only person in the room who experiences interiority. I’ve got to wonder, too. Trump’s behavior in this moment introduces two unsettling possibilities:

  1. He didn’t realize the irony of what he was saying.
  2. He realized the irony of what he was saying but didn’t show it.

One of these possibilities must be true. If it’s (1), then Trump has severed the connections of meaning not just between what he says and worldly facts, but also between what he says and those statements themselves. I’m much more humble than you would understand. I miss everyone here. This sentence is false. It’s an internal kind of contradiction that suggests contempt not just for fact-checkers but also sense-makers. If Trump believes he can win without making sense, we should probably all drop what we’re going and dedicate ourselves to stopping him full-time.

But what about scenario (2), where Trump realizes the irony of what he says and doesn’t acknowledge it? Maybe he thinks he doesn’t need to, because we won’t notice any contradiction. But this kind of irony is painfully obvious; even in comedy, interrupting someone to brag about how humble you are is too cheap. Perhaps Trump did not feel the need to acknowledge the irony of his statement because he felt we were in on the joke, and he knew it wasn’t among his best. Like a pro, he glossed over the hackwork.

I call this the Trumpthropomorphic Fallacy: we presume that Trump experiences himself the way we experience him. But if Trump experienced himself saying “I’m much more humble than you would understand” as we experienced it, i.e. pushing his schtick a little too far, he wouldn’t have selected poor Mike Pence as his running mate. He’d pick someone funny, or crazy, but not someone who forces his act back into the realm of psychological realism.

That’s where Trump doesn’t make sense. When you start thinking of him as a nonironic person who genuinely means what he says, Trump stops fulfilling the logic of satire and becomes sad and/or scary. I feel like I’ve been committing the Trumpthropomorphic Fallacy this whole election, reading Trump like a character he is playing for us. What if this man who interrupts to brag about his own humility is really him? What if he lies down at night and thinks to himself, I’ll show them how humble I can be. I’ll show everybody?

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  1. I prefer to examine Trump’s impact on electoral politics. Will a cabal of reasonable Republican party members rise to power in order to contain his influence, realigning the party for the next decade with a viable platform and appearance, or will the GOP turn into the Trump party and force moderates into the Democratic party? To consider him a person is just pointless. What’s there to gain from it?

    There’s little he could do with presidential power, considering how Congress and day-to-date administrators will obstruct him. Even though some Congresspeople and administrators would stand to rise quickly by supporting the minority President, those so ambitious will be punished after the next President gets elected in 2020. If Trump could do 8 years it might make sense to go for it, but he is so assured 4-years-and-out that politicians and bureaucrats would be short-sighted to support him. This outcome provides useful brakes on the growth of presidential power, which has been growing for decades and Obama necessarily expanded even more than his predecessors. So at least there’s that to offset whatever damage he can do in foreign policy.

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