In an Atlantic piece in September, Salena Zito wrote that when Donald Trump lies, “the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” Now, a Trump adviser is arguing that we should take the president-elect “symbolically.”
“No, no, no, no, don’t take him literally, take him symbolically,” Anthony Scaramucci said Tuesday on MSNBC, as reported by Politico. He added, “You should definitely take him seriously because he’s a man of his word, 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.”
Trump is not a man of his word—quite the opposite—and it’s dangerous to argue that our next president’s language should be understood “symbolically” (as if Trump is even capable of symbolism). Sure, all politicians use rhetorical flourishes to some degree, but there has to be an assumption that Trump is speaking literally unless he clearly indicates otherwise, which he seldom does. Since winning the election, Trump has lashed out at China, cyber-bullied a union boss, and falsely claimed massive voter fraud, all of which are being taken literally by millions of Americans (some of whom have responded by harassing his targets) and by leaders around the world (one which has responded with dire threats).
Zito’s “seriously but not literally” construct was a fine description of how Trump’s voters assessed him. Insisting that the next president be taken that way is utterly reckless.