Donald Trump is the worst kind of fool

A nonsensical reference to April Fools’ Day in Trump's New Hampshire campaign kickoff speech contains hidden truths

By Sophia A. McClennen

Contributing Writer

Published February 1, 2023 5:30AM (EST)

Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

On Saturday, January 28, former President Donald Trump made the first speech of his 2024 presidential campaign since he announced his run back in November. Speaking at the annual meeting of the New Hampshire Republican Party, Trump claimed he was more committed than he had been in his previous two runs to campaigning and launching a grassroots effort.

He also revealed that he had a new angle to the way he wanted to frame his story of what is wrong in the United States under Joe Biden's administration. According to Trump, he is always thinking about the United States, but the other day, he had an idea of a good way to describe what he thinks is wrong. Then he decided to share it with a few buddies to see if it made sense to them:

 "It's sort of strange, but I think of the United States, every day is April Fools' day. And they said, sir, what do you mean by that? I don't like the sound of that. I said, listen to this, and I just gave a couple of ideas. We have open borders when they should be closed. It's April Fools' Day. We have prisoners, people from as we just said mental institutions, and terrorists being dumped into our country when they should not be accepted. April Fools' Day, right? Who would do that? Who would do this? Who would allow prisoners in?"

Yeah, that's right. Donald Trump's big epiphany is that every day that Biden is in office is like April Fools' Day.

We are so accustomed to wading through the linguistic morass that spews out of Trump's mouth each and every time he talks that this particular claim might not get the attention it deserves. So, let's pause and unpack it for the glorious example of Trump-style foolishness that it is.

First of all, Trump has absolutely no idea what April Fools' Day even is. As most of the rest of the nation understands, April Fools' Day is about pranks, hoaxes and practical jokes. And, typically the prank is eventually announced with the prankster shouting "April Fool!" after the pranked person has been sufficiently duped.

Infamous April Fool jokes include the various times that Google has pranked its users, such as including a "Really Advanced Search" function in 2012 that allowed users to narrow searches by filtering for fonts like Comic Sans. Netflix has gotten in on the fun too, adding, for example, a "Netflix Original" of 20 minutes of sizzling bacon in 2014.

Let's follow Trump's odd logic for a minute: If life under Biden is like April Fools' Day every day, then the things that Trump is worrying over aren't real.

Not everyone enjoys the jokester spirit of April Fools' Day, of course. Some consider it a nasty form of manipulation that just leaves the pranked person feeling bad.

There seems little doubt that the mean-spirited nature of the holiday is part of what Trump was trying to tap into. But even if you think that April Fools' day is not nice, Trump's rendition of life under Biden as a perpetual April Fools' Day still makes no sense. Because — and this is critical — April Fools' Day pranks are not real. So, for example, when the BBC famously ran a story in 1957 that farmers were harvesting spaghetti from a tree, that was not actually true, even if some people thought so until the hoax was revealed.

Let's follow Trump's odd logic for a minute: If life under Biden is like April Fools' Day every day, then the things that Trump is worrying over aren't real. The open borders and teams of mental patients he conjures up are a hoax.

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But we know that isn't what Trump is trying to say. He seems to be suggesting that Biden is deliberately putting into place policies that are designed to destroy the country and enjoying himself while he is doing it. The fools are the public who thinks things are fine while Biden is pranking all of us, having fun at our expense.

Again, even if we were inclined to buy that logic, it still reveals that Trump doesn't get the prankster holiday: The entire point of the mischief is to get everyone to take themselves less seriously and to reveal how easily we can get duped. April Fools' Day jokes are designed to expose gullibility, which in turn helps develop critical thinking, while also getting everyone out of their shell for a moment. If you actually believed that Burger King once launched a "Left-Handed Whopper" designed for left-handed Americans, well, perhaps you might need to think about why you'd believe that.

Here is the real takeaway though. We have long known that Trump doesn't understand comedy and can't process jokes. In fact, we know that the only thing that really animates Trump when it comes to jokes is whether or not he thinks they flatter him (even if he often isn't right about that). We also know that Trump's trouble with comedy, irony and satire is common among Republicans who have been shown to have less capacity to process complex forms of comedy that include irony.

Even worse, we now see that Trump equates pranks with evil intent. For Trump, the jokester of April Fools' Day is akin to a cruel bully who intends to do damage, not play a prank that might get missed by the audience. Even more, under Trump, the prankster isn't just a cruel bully, he gets pleasure from it. The fun is in hurting others.

So, Trump isn't just flat-out wrong about the point of April Fools' Day; he is actually describing himself. This is the same guy who viciously mocked a disabled reporter and then claimed he would never do that. Under Trump, mockery is aggressive and angry and mean. The possibility of a prank used to poke fun in a productive way is lost.

We now see that Trump equates pranks with evil intent.

A fool can be silly or stupid, but most importantly, a fool lacks judgment and common sense, which is why the April Fools' Day prank works, ideally, to help them see their foolish ways. The fool is also the playful trickster. The term captures both sides of the game. In the best sense of how this works, the jokester fool plays the prank on the unwitting fool, and when the game is revealed there is mirth, even if the pranked fool feels foolish at first.

But, under Trump, all of these concepts shift. Just as his administration redefined words like "great" and made other ones up like "alternative facts," with Trump the fool loses all of its play and acquires a terrifying severity. He may be describing Biden as the fool playing a game on the public, but we know that all he is doing is describing a projection of himself.  

Trump doesn't just misunderstand the purpose of April Fools' Day; he is warping it in a way that makes it deceptive, dangerous and designed to help him play us all for fools. How else to understand his reference to April Fools' Day in a speech filled, yet again, with deliberate misinformation?

As the speech in New Hampshire showed us, Trump will run a campaign based on lies, deception, faulty logic and hubris. But it also served as an excellent reminder that Trump's entire campaign depends on pranking voters into believing in him.

By Sophia A. McClennen

Sophia A. McClennen is Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. She writes on the intersections between culture, politics, and society. Her latest book is "Trump Was a Joke: How Satire Made Sense of a President Who Didn't."

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