Trump's most dangerous ideas always start as 'jokes'

Mike Pompeo's comment about a 2nd Trump administration wasn't a comedy act, it was a trial balloon

President Trump and Mike Pompeo.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

At Tuesday's State Department briefing, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to acknowledge Joe Biden's election victory, a not uncommon position among Republican lawmakers and officials right now. Yet, when asked about the Trump team's delay in aiding a smooth transition to a Biden administration, Pompeo went even further, coyly responding, "There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration." The line was greeted with stunned silence by the gathered reporters but quickly elicited fiery reactions on social media.

On Twitter, a few voices contended that Pompeo had been merely joking, pointing out the sly smirk on Pompeo's face as he spoke, as if that should be reassuring. But Pompeo's "joke" — and the cool rationalizations of it by those in the commentariat — should raise every alarm bell for those who are watching what is happening. Rather than a throwaway line or a cringey "dad joke," Pompeo's comments demonstrate again how often Trumpworld has used humor to mainstream and normalize its most anti-democratic and illiberal aims. Those aims now focus on challenging the 2020 election results and, ultimately, destabilizing the very bedrock foundations of American democracy.

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Neil J. Young

Neil J. Young is a historian and the author of We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics. He writes frequently on American politics, culture, and religion for publications including The New York Times, The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, HuffPost, Vox, and Politico. He co-hosts the history podcast Past Present.