Was he joking or not? That was the big question emerging from President Trump’s Tulsa rally on June 20, when he said “the bad part” about widespread coronavirus testing is the increased number of cases it reveals. “When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases,” Trump said. “So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’ ”
The walkback from various administration officials was quick and predictable: The remark was “made in jest,” “tongue in cheek,” just another presidential joke. Trump’s own walkback of the walkback — “I don’t kid” — may have struck some people as confusing. But in reality, it may well have provided a clue to the elusive nature of this president’s often inscrutable sense of humor.
Inscrutable because, for one thing, it so often has to be explained afterward. His famous appeal during the 2016 campaign to “Russia, if you’re listening,” to help find Hillary Clinton’s emails, we learned only later, was simply a joke. His suggestion to police officers in 2017 to “don’t be too nice” when putting suspects into the backseats of squad cars was, according to the White House, another example of Trump’s joshing. His idea that injecting disinfectant might be a cure for the coronavirus? Just “a sarcastic question to reporters,” Trump insisted after the blowback.