U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a "Thank You USA" tour rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S. December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File photo
MIKE SEGAR

Trump advisor: Take the president-elect’s words ‘symbolically’

Updated
A few months ago, The Atlantic’s Salena Zito coined a phrase to describe perceptions of Donald Trump that resonated broadly: “[T]he press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

But as it turns out, there’s apparently a third option, which as Politico noted, a prominent Trump advisor articulated on MSNBC yesterday.
Take Donald Trump seriously but not literally – or better yet, take him symbolically, a member of the president-elect’s transition executive committee advised Tuesday.

“No, no, no, no, don’t take him literally, take him symbolically,” Anthony Scaramucci told MSNBC. “See, it’s different.”
Scaramucci, a New York investment banker, is a member of Trump’s transition team executive committee, and he frequently serves as a surrogate for the president-elect’s operation.

The context of this was a discussion about Trump’s business interests and apparent conflicts of interest. The president-elect was supposed to hold a press conference last week to explain how he’ll deal with this mess, but the event was cancelled and the transition office hasn’t rescheduled. We’re left to wonder why Trump said one thing and did another.

“You should definitely take him seriously because he’s a man of his word,” Scaramucci told MSNBC yesterday, “but I do think that some of the things that happens with the media is when he’s sending out tweets or he’s speaking in a certain way that sets the hair on fire of the nation’s media – particularly the left-leaning media – I think his supporters see that more as symbolism and a rejection of sort of that egg and tomato throwing that he’s experienced from June of 2015 when he announced his campaign.”

This was unintentionally amusing, but it’s emblematic of a broader problem. Indeed, it’s surprisingly simple:

1. Donald Trump says a lot of things that aren’t true.

2. Trump’s allies, aides, and surrogates have a hard time defending the things he says that aren’t true.

3. They end up coming up with creative explanations in the hopes of rationalizing and/or justifying Trump’s penchant for brazen dishonesty.

Corey Lewandowski, for example, said voters “understood that sometimes, when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar, you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.” Pressed to explain Trump’s demonstrable lies, Reince Priebus added the president-elect “has pushed the envelope and caused people to think.”

Mike Pence said Americans should find it “refreshing” that Trump tells the public “what’s on his mind” – without much regard for telling the truth. A pro-Trump pundit argued two weeks ago that it doesn’t really matter if the president-elect brazenly lies because there’s “no such thing” as facts anymore.

Yesterday, this greatest-hits collection expanded: Trump’s bogus claims shouldn’t be evaluated on their accuracy, but rather, the president-elect’s falsehoods should be seen “more as symbolism.”

There’s simply no way to take such a defense seriously – what exactly are Trump’s lies symbols of? – but this ridiculous framing is a reminder of just how challenging it can be to support a leader who generally seems allergic to the truth.


Donald Trump and Mendacity

Trump advisor: Take the president-elect's words 'symbolically'

Updated