Democracy Dies in Darkness

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Trump apparently misunderstands ‘Fox & Friends’ joke, makes baffling tweet

October 10, 2018 at 7:04 AM

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President Trump told reporters Oct. 9 that "a lot" of the protesters on Capitol Hill during Brett M. Kavanaugh's confirmation proceedings were "professional" and "paid." (The Washington Post)

It’s that time again when the president of the United States tweets apparent nonsense into the world and we all parse it for meaning like a haruspex going through a wad of sheep entrails.

Tuesday’s tablet came down from the White House at 8:32 a.m., Eastern time. It sayeth:

At least this one was syntactically coherent. At least it was not seven random letters published in the middle of the night that sent thousands of people on a futile search for the meaning of “covfefe.” At least it was not a bizarre non sequitur that caused people to invent an entire conspiracy theory to explain it.

But in terms of semantics, Tuesday’s message has no clearer meaning than “covfefe” or “the calm before the storm.”

The tweet appears to be rare multilayered nonsense. Nonsense within older nonsense.

The base layer is the false premise that hundreds of protesters who swarmed the Capitol during Brett M. Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings were “paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad,” as Trump put it in another pronouncement last week, in contradiction to all known facts.

Onto this original falsehood, Trump has now stacked the baffling claim that the paid protesters were not, in fact, paid — “they haven’t gotten their checks,” as he wrote.

This is the conundrum the world is trying to solve.

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Protesters marched in Washington on Oct. 4 to denounce Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. (Rhonda Colvin, Alice Li, Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

In a literal sense, it’s true that the protesters didn’t get checks, because as far as anyone knows they had not expected any payment. But Trump’s tweet seems to be an elaboration on the original fiction, rather than a retraction of it. As best we can discern, he’s saying the imaginary benefactors of imaginary paid protesters have skipped out on their imaginary obligations and left the imaginary paid protesters with imaginary unpaid wages.

It’s a weirdly specific scenario to conjure out of thin air. We can’t even find any fake news articles to support it.

The White House has not responded yet to a request for clarification. While we wait for one — possibly forever — here are two popular theories as to what on earth Trump meant.

Related: Here are all the times we're pretty sure that Trump was watching Fox News as president

The first theory was developed by Trump’s faithful on online message boards, such as Reddit’s forum “The_Donald,” where the existence of paid protesters (and pretty much anything else Trump claims) is treated as unquestioned fact.

Those folks don’t seem to have any idea what Trump is talking about, either. Rather, they have decided his nonsensical tweet was a trap — a gambit to lure the fake protesters out of hiding.

“LOL catch 22,” the_neon_cowboy explained. “Basically if they answer at all they confirm trump is telling the truth and right. A we got paid confirms the paid protesters, saying we didn’t does the same. Saying nothing makes it seem like trump is right and may make people less likely join up. ”

"This is brilliant. So smart,” agreed StayCalm07. “I actually fell for it. I was wondering where he got this information from. Didn’t realize he was baiting them. I can just imagine all of the protesters showing they got paid on twitter. ”

One of the problems with this theory is that so far no one seems to be falling for the supposed trap. No one is posting under Trump’s tweet: “I was SO paid!” Perhaps because no one exists to post such a thing.

Rather, the dominant theory outside the pro-Trump message boards is that the president has been watching “Fox & Friends” again.

He’s been known to do this sort of thing before.

Trump sent his tweet out into the world at 8:32 a.m., as we said. As some have noticed, this was just half an hour after his favorite morning show featured a discussion about the apocryphal paid protesters.

The writer Asra Nomani was invited onto “Fox & Friends” to talk about various liberal organizations she says helped organize some of the Kavanaugh protests. (Though she didn’t mention it, conservative groups do this as well; see the Obamacare protests a few years ago.)

“It’s not the individual protesters who are getting the money,” Nomani explained. But she also said: “People have sent me lots of messages that they’re waiting for their check.”

In case it wasn’t clear, Nomani later told Mediaite her latter remark was sarcasm. And yet within the hour, Trump tweeted the same thing with no irony implied.

If the true meaning of Trump’s tweet is simply that he failed to understand a joke, then that is not exactly the most profound of insights.

Or maybe it was nothing more than mere projection. After all, Trump actually did solicit paid actors to fill out his presidential campaign announcement in 2016 — and then failed to pay the bill for months.

Whatever Trump meant by the tweet, he evidently thought it was worth repeating. He brought up the Kavanaugh debacle again at rally Tuesday night in Iowa, where he said: “You see what’s happening, and you see where they’re coming from, you see, including the phony protesters that got paid. And now they want to protest because they didn’t get paid yet, and they want their money. So now they’re going to really protest. You see that’s a real protest.”

The lines made no more sense than they had in the morning, but Trump’s crowd cheered all the same.

More reading:

No, George Soros isn’t paying Kavanaugh protesters

Here are all the times we’re pretty sure that Trump was watching Fox News as president


Avi Selk is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. He previously worked for the Dallas Morning News.

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