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Is Laughing at Trump a Good Idea?

From the moment Trump announced he was running for president a lot of us have been laughing at him. There’s so much material. If you are a satirist, you must be hoping he’s elected again in 2020. We laugh about his hair. We laugh about his small hands. We laugh about his long red tie. We laugh about things he says. We laugh about is narcissism. We laugh about his lack of experience. We laugh about his lack of knowledge. We laugh about his worldview. We laugh about the way he expresses himself. We laugh at his tweets. We laugh about his bankruptcies. We laugh because he so often seems so stupid (even as we recognize he is a genius at manipulating the narrative). We laugh. However, several months ago I started feeling uncomfortable about my laughter. Something started feeling wrong.

I’m not totally sure where my disquiet came from. In part it is linked to the fear and danger that as a country we are normalizing his abnormal category difference presidency. When he was first elected, there were almost constant reminders not to normalize what was happening. Not anymore. His ongoing attacks on the foundations of our democracy are now only expected. We hardly notice anymore. We all know he likes white supremacists. Nothing new there. We know he demeans women. Same old same old. We know he loves authoritarian leaders and dictators. So what? I’m worried that our laughter is simply part of the new normal. Every late night talk show host has a field day with him almost every night. Every day he creates new material for mockery. However, it’s hardly shocking because it’s now what we expect, it’s routine. What absurd, or immoral, or outrageous, or dangerous thing did he do or say today? Let’s make a joke.

I think also I associated the laughter with the hope that Trump simply wouldn’t, couldn’t, be around that long—and I felt that even though I have never thought, and do not now think, that he will be impeached. I think the deep down feeling that he was surely only a temporary aberration was because it was so difficult to believe that he was actually elected in the first place. It was, and perhaps still is, as if we elected to the presidency a man who openly defecates on the Oval Office carpet and brags about it as millions of his supporters applaud the act. He tells it, and shits it, like it is. Surely this was just a mistake to be corrected soon, and in the meantime we could have a good time laughing at him until he was gone. Thing is, he is not gone. The only way we will get rid of him is by winning an election, and with the Electoral College favoring the red states and the GOP doing everything it can to suppress the vote, winning elections gets harder and harder. So is my laughter now simply a way of hiding the terrible fact that we really will need to replace the carpet when he finally leaves—cleaning it just won’t do. Is my laughter an act of self-deception?

A couple of weeks ago my wife bought me a copy of #SAD!: Doonesbury in the Time of Trump by Garry Trudeau. It’s a great little book reproducing many of Trudeau’s cartoon strips he wrote and drew “in the time of Trump.” Reading the book I particularly loved Fox News reporter Roland B. Hedley’s and his tweets. However, I mention the book here because of Trudeau’s short introduction. In it he addresses the purpose of, in his case satire, but I’m including also the purpose of the laughter—the jokes, monologues, single cartoons, SNL skits, etc. He was asked if the flood of satire has changed even one mind. That question itself was interesting because I realized I had associated my laughter to the hope of change. Surely Trump couldn’t stay above water given the tsunami of satire and laughter at his expense. Could I be so naïve?

Trudeau’s answer to the question was: “That’s not the goal. It never was.” Trudeau wrote:

If satire has a mission statement, it’s surely a variant of humorist Finley Dunne’s famous prescription for advocacy journalism: to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. On this first point, it’s well know how sensitive the president is to ridicule…”

So, I guess I’m to take some pleasure that my laughter might make Trump uncomfortable. I can accept that, but it doesn’t strike me as a very noble aspiration, to cause discomfort, unless…Unless, I take pleasure in afflicting what he’s doing rather than who he is. Having said that, it is difficult to separate the man from his performance.

As to the second phrase—to comfort the afflicted—Trudeau suggests that laughter and satire are at least antidotes to Trump’s bumbling and cruelty. Again Trudeau wrote:

If the president is determined to fill our every waking moment with revulsion and outrage, our solace is to see it all mercilessly mocked in a kind of therapeutic reset before bedtime.


[J]ust because two-fifths of the country are still in the thrall of a humungous con 'like no one’s ever seen before,’ doesn’t mean that the rest of us—appalled, disenfranchised, withering in embarrassment for our country—should forgo the comfort of laughter. At this benighted moment, it’s all we have.

Sobering but encouraging. So, I laugh because it’s therapeutic and comforting, and because it’s all I have. I laugh because it mocks the new American normal where the leader of our country falls in love with a cruel dictator and calls a woman Horseface. I laugh because, at least not yet, our man-child president and his supporters can’t stop me. Admittedly, my laughter won’t bring down a president, but still it is something.

I had a dear friend many years ago who said that in our age laughter is a prophetic act. That is so true now. We must laugh in the face of this political and personal cruelty and danger as if it will change the world.

Copyright © 2018 Dale Rominger

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