When Donald Trump mused that "Second Amendment people" might be able to stop Hillary Clinton from appointing justices to the Supreme Court during a campaign stop in North Carolina on Tuesday, it was taken by many as an alarming, potentially violent escalation in ongoing Republican efforts to demonize Trump's political opponent.
While the remarks were immediately slammed as "dangerous," "unprecedented," and raising "the possibility of a national tragedy," there were plenty of Trump supporters who attempted to spin his words as a reference to electoral clout. But even enthusiastic Trump supporter Sen. Jeff Sessions admitted "you absolutely shouldn't joke about it," echoing GOP Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who characterized Trump's remarks as a "joke gone bad."
Gone bad? Definitely. But a joke? Not likely.
To see just how un-funny Trump's alleged attempt at anti-humor truly was (assuming that's what it actually was in the first place), let's meet Jason Steed. An appellate lawyer who transitioned to law following a career as an English Professor, Steed's non-legal background is in creative writing and literature—specifically humor and identity, the interplay of which formed the basis for his 2004 doctoral thesis.
On Tuesday afternoon, Steed explained in a series of tweets why any attempt to write off the candidate's words as "just joking" is fundamentally flawed.
He began with an overview of the role humor plays in society—particularly as it pertains to defining and reinforcing both identity and social boundaries.
But, as Steed went on to explain, humor isn't simply about how individuals come together collectively. It's also a way for groups to reinforce their own interior values.
Essentially, Steed pointed out that writing off Trump's remarks as a joke is meant to placate those for whom the message was never intended in the first place. Meanwhile, by "getting" the joke, its intended audience is internalizing the message.
Of course, Steed, of all people, understands that humor is a fundamentally complex, and oftentimes subjective platform.
And then, true to form, he ends with a jab of his own.
While it remains to be seen whether this latest scandal will be the campaign-killing silver bullet his opponents have long searched for, the fact is that, joking or not, Trump's remarks are no laughing matter.