"Mr. President, treason is not a punchline."
So remarked GOP Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona on the floor of the US Senate after
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday the President was "clearly joking" when he made the comment. "He was making the point that even when good things are happening they are still sitting there angry," she said.
Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley added that the remark was "tongue-in-cheek." "The President was obviously joking," he said.
The President had appeared the day before at a factory in Ohio, at which he remarked of Democratic members of Congress
And you have the other side, even on positive news- really positive news like that- they were like death- and un-American, un-American. Somebody said "treasonous," I mean. I mean, yea I guess, why not? Shall we call that treason? Why not?
Flake is correct that "treason" should not be a punchline, nor was it even meant as a joke, Sanders/Gidley notwithstanding. Trump believes he should not be questioned (let alone criticized) and wants all to tell him how pleased they are with what he has said and done, and with himself, the Dear Leader.
In Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff wrote
He trusted his own expertise — no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else’s. He was often confident, but he was just as often paralyzed, less a savant than a figure of sputtering and dangerous insecurities, whose instinctive response was to lash out and behave as if his gut, however confused, was in fact in some clear and forceful way telling him what to do. It was, said (Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh, “like trying to figure out what a child wants.”
And what a child wants more than almost anything is to test limits. It may have been what he was doing when as a candidate he told Chris Matthews that if abortion were prohibited, the woman obtaining the procedure (as well as the doctor performing it) would have to be penalized. Though accurate, it was the equivalent of a Republican saying "Sure, we're in favor of larger deficits if they're the result of a tax cut." Everyone knows it, but you must keep it to yourself. (Trump, once he realized he couldn't get away with his statement, promptly retracted it.)
Conceivably, that was a mere misstep. It is not conceivable, however, that Trump didn't realize that he was patronizing Christians when he referred to the "my little cracker" and "my little wine" of communion. Nor was he unaware that few if any American ever admits he or she never asks God for forgiveness- and that no right-thinking, Bible-believing Christian would ever say "I don't bring God into that picture" about anything any time.
After winning the Nevada caucuses, Trump could have said "I love the working class" or something like "I love the men and women who work hard every day to earn a living for their family." Instead, he declared "I love the poorly educated," rather than the unassailable "people whose family couldn't afford to send them to college and had to go work for a living instead."
The clearest example of trolling came in January, 2016. Campaigning for votes at a rally in Iowa, the candidate boasted "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." Your neighbor might as well tell you "I could tell you I have no intention of ever paying my debts and you'd loan me $500."
You wouldn't loan him $500.00. But you're probably not a Trump voter.
He was testing limits back then, and he still is. (And that's without his statements about John McCain the non-hero, feeling like a veteran because he avoided venereal disease, and others). Look at his face as he states "yea, I guess, why not." He was having fun, as he was when he remarked "nothing beats the Bible," a throwback to the tagline of this appliance store, popular in the northeastern United States when Trump was a younger man.
It wasn't a joke. It wasn't a punchline. It was intended to be entertaining and outrageous. And as long as so many voters refuse to acknowledge or even recognize that he is mocking them, he will continue.