Monday, March 12, 2018

This “Seriously-Not-Literally” Thing

If you are feeling perplexed these days I want you to know that I am, too.  There is much in this America that is right and good, but it is apparent at the moment that the American Dream (and the Constitution) is being overshadowed by much that is wrong.  It will not do for us to ignore this reality.  We dare not comfort ourselves with delusions of any kind, nor can we minimize the present situation.  We must face reality.  Someone has suggested that if we learn one simple trick we will be able to stop worrying about Donald Trump and “Make America Great Again.”  What’s the trick?  All you have to do is take Trump seriously, but not literally.  Selena Zito (The Atlantic) provided this heuristic in 2016, suggesting that the news media takes Trump’s outlandish statements literally but not seriously, while his supporters do the inverse. 

This “seriously-not-literally" thing is a great analytical insight, but it is not new.  In fact, it is precisely the way I read the Holy Bible.  “The Bible Says,” as Billy Graham would say, that an axehead can float.  I’ve never seen an axe head float—I don’t think it can.  So I read the gist of the story being told—I take the story seriously—but I don’t buy into it literally.  Axe heads do not, cannot, will not float on water.  “The Bible Says” a lot of things that I don’t really think most people would prefer to take in a literal way.  However, behind those literal words there is a message that I think ought to be taken seriously.

Does this “seriously-not-literally approach really work with Trumpspeak?  Trumpspeak says millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election.  There is no indication that this claim is true.  So we can’t take it literally, right?  So let’s try to take it seriously.  Does it mean that some number of people voted illegally and not millions?  Or that millions of people voted, but not illegally?  How do I take what he says about this seriously?

Trumpspeak says an Afro-American congresswoman has a low IQ.  We do not know if this claim is true or not.  So we can’t take it literally.  After all, Trumpspeak (according to Trump himself)  is to be taken seriously but not literally.  Okay.  What’s the gist of his story?  Is he saying, seriously, that Afro-Americans have a low IQ, or just this one congresswoman?  Is he saying, seriously, that any congresswoman has a low IQ?  What is it that we are to take seriously in his literal statement?  I don’t know.  I’m perplexed.

Is there light beyond the darkness of the tunnel?

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