Donald Trump caused a bit of a stir yesterday when, during a White House press briefing, he raised the prospect of treating COVID-19 with bright lights inside the body and injections of disinfectant. In both cases, the president made the case that these are areas worthy of research.
When the reality-based world freaked out, the initial line from the White House was that Trump was taken out of context, suggesting he didn't actually say what he appears to have said. This afternoon, the president himself stepped on that line of defense and presented an alternative.
President Donald Trump said Friday that his remarks on injecting disinfectants to treat COVID-19 were sarcasm, after doctors responded with horror and disinfectant manufacturers urged people not to ingest the poisonous substances.
"I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters just like you, just to see what would happen," Trump said at a bill signing. "I was asking a sarcastic and a very sarcastic question to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside. But it does kill it and it would kill it on the hands, and it would make things much better."
First, the idea that Trump was being sarcastic yesterday is literally unbelievable. There's a video and a transcript, and any fair-minded person would obviously agree that the president's comments, while bonkers, were clearly sincere.
Second, there was no question posed to reporters. Again, the transcript is unambiguous.
And third, Trump uses the word "sarcasm" in ways that suggest he may not know what it means. As a presidential candidate four years ago, for example, Trump argued publicly that President Barack Obama was "the founder of ISIS." He later defended the rhetoric by saying it was "sarcasm," before soon after reversing course and saying largely the opposite.
Also before taking office, he referred to former President Jimmy Carter as the "late, great Jimmy Carter." Trump said soon after that he was "just being sarcastic." It didn't make sense at the time, and it still doesn't.
Once in office, the president said he wanted White House officials to treat him the way North Korean officials treat Kim Jong-un. When reporters pressed for some kind of explanation for what he meant, Trump said, "You don't understand sarcasm." The video of his original comments makes clear he wasn't being sarcastic.
Last year, Trump reflected on his 2016 call for Russia to intervene in the elections on his behalf, telling CPAC's audience that it was another example of him being "sarcastic."
Trump clearly likes to use the word "sarcasm," but I don't think it means what he thinks it means.