Here's What Piers Morgan Gets Wrong About Donald Trump's Sarcasm

July 28th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

Former cable news host and prolific Twitter troll Piers Morgan chided the media for overreacting to Donald Trump's "funny, obvious joke" about having the Russian government hack Hillary Clinton's private server on Wednesday. But there's a very un-funny reason Trump's comments can't be dismissed.

Trump told Fox News on Thursday that he was being "sarcastic." There's a place for sarcasm, of course, but that place is arguably not at the center of international attention as the Republican presidential nominee, says Bill Schneider, a professor of public policy and international affairs at George Mason University.

"No one ever, ever expects a president to be sarcastic — ever," Schneider told ATTN:. "It's just totally inappropriate. It's beneath the dignity of a president's office. It's improper in politics. And not only the people you're taking about, but the voters, do not ever appreciate it. I've never heard of a sarcastic president."

Trump's "sarcasm" is especially concerning on an international level, raising questions about his reliability.

"The most important thing [world leaders] see in Donald Trump is unpredictability," Schneider said. "That's very bad in an international leader because international leaders have to be reliable and they have to be predictable. When he says something and then says, 'Oh, well that's just sarcastic,' that exposes him as unpredictable and, therefore, unreliable."

Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, seemed to understand the seriousness of the Democratic National Committee hacking scandal. After Trump's "joke," Pence warned of "serious consequences" if Russia was found guilty of "interfering in our elections."

To Morgan, outcry over the "joke" proved that Trump "plays [the media] so easily."

In reality, the media has learned to take much of what Trump says with a grain of salt. Whether reporters interpreted the statement as a joke or as a sincere endorsement of targeted, international espionage, the reason for the outcry has less to do with what he said than it does with the mere fact that he thought it was appropriate to say it.

Should Trump win the presidency and sarcastically comment on domestic or international affairs, he won't be seen as a former reality television host. He'll be seen as the commander-in-chief — one of the most influential voices in the world — and his comments (in jest or not) will have immediate consequences. Just look at what happened when Vice President Joe Biden casually encouraged Americans to avoid "confined places" such as airplanes and subways in the midst of the swine flu outbreak in 2009.

The Obama administration had to issue a corrective statement. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had to weigh in. The travel industry rebuked Biden's advice. That's because people listen to those in positions of power, and even light conversation during a segment on NBC's "Today" show can have a significant, unexpected impact on public life.

Trump has already proved his influence. He may not be president, but he's close enough to the role to have a Secret Service detail and will soon receive classified intelligence briefings. Anybody who has followed Trump's campaign knows that he's an unconventional candidate who says and does things that few other politicians would dare; but trusting the public and press to distinguish between serious Trump and sarcastic Trump is a risky bet to say the least.

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