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Donald J. Trump, the New King of Comedy

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The number of conservatives who were able to convince themselves not merely that a typo should be taken out of context and used to willfully misread a statute but that the ACA’s federal exchanges were willfully designed to fail is an indication that there’s essentially no argument too ridiculous for them to believe if their salary depends etc. And so it goes with the state-of-the-art post hoc defense of Donald Trump’s obstruction of justice — that he was Only Joking:

The theory that Trump’s apparent instructions to Comey were not instructions at all, but simply disconnected musings or a hilarious bit that Comey failed to understand, suffers from a number of serious flaws. The first is that Trump instructed the other attendees of the meeting to leave the room before he said it to Comey. That is not what you ordinarily do when you’re about to tell a really good, albeit dry, joke.

Second, after Trump made his “joke” about wanting Comey to halt the Russia investigation, and Comey did not halt it, Trump fired Comey. Nobody would be that committed to a bit. Third, the letter Trump wrote firing Comey has a sentence implicitly casting Comey’s decision not to investigate Trump personally as a point in favor of his keeping his job: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.” Ponder that “nevertheless.”

Then there is the fact that Trump, in a mind-blowing interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, himself connected the decision to fire Comey to the ongoing Russia investigation.

The nature of language is such that we can never identify an actual instruction with complete certainty. Any number of crimes rely on verbal or written communication that could be a joke or a pun or a fever dream or some kind of absurdist meta-commentary. “Your money or your life,” could be a threat to kill a person who doesn’t surrender their purse, but it could always be a wry philosophical statement about materialism. Generally, though, the straightforward interpretation of language is the correct one. So it does appear that Trump engaged in obstruction of justice, or else words have no meaning.

Another major problem with this defense is that it’s not really clear what the joke is. Fortunately, Brian has obtained new Comey memos that fill in the gap:

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Trump’s wacky hi-jinx should be taken seriously but not literally.

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  • Bitter Scribe

    Was the fact that he actually fired Comey a “joke,” too?

    • Morbo

      Can’t spell “Comedy” without “Comey!”

    • McAllen

      I mean, I imagine firing people is the kind of thing Trump finds funny.

  • Denverite

    TBF, it would be a pretty bold play if Trump was to call Comey and tell him that he wasn’t fired after all and this has all been one big, Kaufmann-esque bit.

    • There’s still a small part of me that wouldn’t be surprised if the shitgibbon removed a mask at some point and revealed that he’s actually Andy Kaufman. It wouldn’t be any weirder than a dozen other storied this month.

      • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

        Has anyone ever seen Trump and Tony Clifton in the same room?

  • DamnYankees

    OJ was only joking about killing Nicole, guys. Just a jest.

    • Denverite

      Did he scare her or not?

  • Rob in CT
    • Cheap Wino

      That has success written all over it.

  • Denverite

    Also, keep in mind that during the campaign Trump was able to convince most Republicans that bragging about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it was just bawdy “locker room” guy talk, despite (1) it not taking place in anything remotely resembling a locker room, and (2) it not remotely resembling anything that dudes talk about in a locker room.

    • DamnYankees

      He didn’t convince anyone of that. They just never cared in the first place.

      • MyNameIsZweig

        Yeah, I have to admit I was actually surprised by that. In retrospect, I’m not sure why.

    • bizarroMike

      This strategy has been used in the past by Limbaugh to avoid trouble. Only joking! Can’t you take a joke? It is within the nature of the bizarre times we live in for the president* to try it.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        I look forward to delivering unto Limbaugh my razor-sharp “ax joke”. I guarantee that he will “get it” also too.

    • twbb

      The sad thing is the Republicans did at least make a show of caring, while their base, including many of the 53% of white female voters who still voted for Trump, laughed it off.

  • mnuba

    Speaking of funnymen, what about John Kelly? Such great senses of humor all the way down with this crew!

    • twbb

      The generals were supposed to be the competent ones, but Kelly’s been pretty disappointing so far. Mattis has been invisible. McMaster has been pretty good from what I can tell.

      • farin

        That’s why McMaster’s on the chopping block now.

    • bizarroMike

      Thing is, ordinarily that would be a decent enough joke. Jokes like that require that the action proposed be so preposterous as to obviously be a joke. Eating babies and the like. But when it has come out that you asked the FBI to silence your media critics, no longer is the action so strange as to look like a joke.

  • waspuppet

    Isn’t it remarkable how many unappreciated geniuses the GOP has? Especially since they’re all such men of the people …

  • Hercules Grytpype-Thynne

    The nature of language is such that we can never identify an actual instruction with complete certainty.

    Will no one rid me of this troublesome Flynn investigation?

    • Thom

      Becket, always Becket!

    • Colin Day

      Will no one rid me of this troublesome Flynn investigation Heisenberg Uncertainty?

      FTFY

  • Andy90

    It’s hardly the most important point, but there’s also the fact that Trump, in decades of public life, has never demonstrated even the most basic sense of humor.

    • JustRuss

      He did a commercial once that was kind of funny, I vaguely recall it involving a pottery class. At the end he sort of comes on to a young woman in the class, who rolls her eyes and blows him off. Not so funny given what we know these days.

    • John F

      He was actually reasonably funny in a 1990s SNL skit, he played a janitor, a look alike to the “real” Trump (played by an actor).

      Janitor Trump insults the “real” Trump’s hair, and then the “real” Trump notices how similar they look and offers to trade places for one day, just to see how the other half lives. They swap clothes, and call in some Trump employees to see if anyone notices the swap, they don’t.

      Janitor Trump (dressed in a suit) then tells Trump’s head of security to have the janitor (“real” Trump dressed as a janitor) taken out to be shot and have his body dumped in Jersey…

      Trump did have some self-awareness way back when…. that’s totally gone now.

      • Juicy_Joel

        Trump did have some self-awareness way back when…. that’s totally gone now.

        Duncan Black has sort of touched on this a few times, but Trump is definitely not the same person he was 20 years ago. He was always a horrible narcissist asshole but its pretty clear now he has some sort of degenerative brain condition.

        • LosGatosCA

          pretty clear now he has some sort of degenerative brain condition.

          Isn’t that a prerequisite for a Republican executive now – prez or VP?

  • nemdam

    As I said during the campaign, if the vast majority of people can’t tell when the President is joking or not, then how can we take anything he says seriously? And if you can’t take anything the President says seriously, how is he fit for the job? I guess you need a magic wingnut decoder to interpret his “jokes” which probably can only be obtained by listening to Limbaugh for a decadee.

  • Quaker in a Basement

    Nobody would be that committed to a bit.

    You gotta sell it!

  • Jean-Michel

    Guess who else is trying out the “it was a joke” defense?:

    A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016 exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.

    House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.

    […]

    Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: “Swear to God.”

    Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks…This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

    […]

    When initially asked to comment on the exchange, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, said: “That never happened,” and Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy, said: “The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.”

    After being told that The Post would cite a recording of the exchange, Buck, speaking for the GOP House leadership, said: “This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians. What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity.”

    “This was a failed attempt at humor,” Sparks said.

  • Hells Littlest Angel

    That pained grimace you see on the faces of world leaders as they shake The Orange Better One’s hand? Joy buzzer.

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