Saturday, August 5, 2017

Taking Trump (and Others) Seriously and Literally

I just heard again advice that Donald Trump's critics took and still are dense enough to take Mr. Trump "literally but not seriously," whereas his supporters took and continue to take him "seriously but not literally."

A number of times, I taught classes in college composition starting with sayings, clich├ęs, figures of speech, and other overlapping categories of language, and one of the tactics I insisted on was starting with the literal meaning of a figure of speech. To take such language seriously, you start by looking at what it says, literally.

"A stitch in time saves nine": Nine what? Complete the sentence: nine stitches. Always and inevitably nine stitches? Of course not: sometimes one or two will do; sometimes it takes some serious sewing. The idea is — the "tenor" of this sewing "vehicle" — is that a little (relavively) minor maintenance now will avoid big(ger) problems later.

So far so innocuous, but what if a coach or boss says s/he wants "110% effort" on your part? Obviously, you can't give more than 100%, but how much dedication is being demanded of you? Well, you can't know: agree to giving "110%" and you've just written a figurative blank check on your time and effort. If you're into speaking truth to bullshit and don't really need the sport or the job — this is a time to demand clarification of the "tenor" of the "110%" vehicle. (Good guess: These authorities want everything they can get from you.)

Or what if a person of far greater power threatens you with "No options are off the table." You'd damn well better start thinking about that "No" very, very literally. That's an open-ended threat, and it can cover a whole lot of nastiness.

So when Donald J. Trump leads a cheer of "Lock her up! Lock her up!" one should remember that populist Folkish Leaders (and my snarky capitals do "mean" here) — you should remember that in the lifetimes of some remaining old farts populist Folkish Leaders have locked up political opponents and, when that worked out for the Leader went far beyond.

If you’re Hillary Clinton, you should damn well take that chant both literally and seriously, and Donald J. Trump should do the same with Hillary’s knowing the political saying “Do unto others before they do unto you.”

And all involved should ratchet back their rhetoric.

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