Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Humor - The Best Weapon Against Trump

Published in HuffPost
July 31, 2017 - 12:03 pm ET
​By Rich Weissman, Black Butte Ranch, Oregon (www.richweissman.com)

It’s remarkable how much anti-Trump satire we are seeing on Saturday Night Live, Stephen Colbert and other late night talk shows, along with the clips on YouTube from Randy Rainbow and others, and of course all the memes and postings on social media that we see and share each day. We’re so busy clicking “like” and reposting and making sure that we re-tweet so everyone gets in on the joke. All of them poking fun of Trump and his motley crew, with hilarious attacks on Spicer, Sessions, Pence, Bannon, DeVos, Conway, Huckabee-Sanders, Ivanka and her husband and siblings, and all the others. Couple this with serious journalists who call Trump and his crew out as crazy and who are out of control, way over their heads. No longer in measured language, but outright ridicule. Even Peggy Noonan, a conservative reporter for the esteemed Wall Street Journal this week called Trump out as not conforming to “American masculinity” and a “drama queen” in a serious, but humorous, article entitled “Trump Is Woody Allen Without the Humor. Half his tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive, shrill little cries, usually just after dawn.”  Peggy Noonan knew exactly what she was saying and to whom she was addressing this article. It hit at the core of Trump’s tiny heart. What could hurt more than to be laughed at and called a sissy by a conservative woman?

Of course, humor presented through cartoons and other political satire a la Smothers Brothers of the 1960’s is not new in the U.S. It’s been a part of the fabric of American commentary since the founding of the nation. Ben Franklin and his peers loved to poke fun at political leaders and they did so quite often. Political parody and mockery have always been an integral part of free speech. They act as an accessible mechanism to present a political viewpoint. Americans have always enjoyed lampooning their leaders. Indeed, we have created institutions such as the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner and other such venues where roasting the leadership and laughing all the way is the main course. Couching political viewpoints through sarcasm and ridicule, where everyone laughs, is as American as apple pie.

Yet, it does feel different today. Humor seems to be taking on a different role since Trump took office. It is no longer simply commentary on a political issue or leader, a mechanism for voicing a viewpoint. It has become a mechanism to effectuate change and move America to a safer place. It is no longer an after-the-fact opinion, but a device to engender a reaction and change the fundamental way in which our leaders behave and how our government now operates.

It’s simple. Most leaders accept criticism; most expect it. Most leaders behave like adults, and take the humor in stride, laughing along and enjoying good satire. The joke is on everyone, and its ability to propel change within government is modest. Without that perspective, there would be no White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

But Trump and his crew are different. (Indeed, Trump refused to attend this year’s dinner - no surprise.) The difference is that Trump takes the humor personally. He sees it as an affront to his self-esteem and self-worth. It hits him hard. He is incapable of letting it slide and moving forward with his agenda. Instead, responding to the ridicule becomes the agenda. The more Trump is belittled by humor, the more he reacts in childish ways, and it only gives more fodder for the satirists. In the end, it takes him off-track and the joke becomes the news, and it makes him look weak.

Why is this helpful? Why would we think that joking about Trump at the hands of the comic would serve our nation?  It’s simple. Bullies win when people are afraid and don’t speak up; bullies lose when they are shown to be ineffectual and pathetic. The ridicule around Trump empowers us all to feel emboldened. We’re not afraid of him or his henchman, as they are nothing more than buffoons in a late night comedy act. It removes the fear that Trump wants us to feel. How can we possibly be afraid of this caricature of a man who is presented as a fool?  We can’t, and by making fun of his orangeness, the size of his hands (and other parts of his anatomy, some small, some large), his inane behaviors and his sheer witlessness, we are no longer afraid. By watching SNL and laughing out loud to Spicey rolling down Fifth Avenue on his podium, and Ivanka selling her new fragrance “Complicit” in a bad perfume advertisement, these people are no longer the class bullies but the class clowns. And we feel empowered to freely dissent.  

If we look at other dictators, we see a different pattern. No one dared to make fun of Hitler. Stalin was not the butt of an ongoing media parade of jokes. Not at all. But thank goodness here in the U.S. we have quickly created an environment of flippant and irreverent jabbing of the Trump gang. Perhaps not part of their strategic plans, but SNL, Colbert, Randy Rainbow and others have played a more important role in de-throning Trumpism than any other sector of our political and social society. They have been the ones showing us that the emperor has no clothes and that he is most unattractive undressed. We laugh aloud. We talk about it among our co-workers and friends. We see him and his gang for what he is and what they are. And that belittles them and makes us powerful. Far more powerful than the talking points of the talking head pundits.

So, ramp it up. Share those memes. Post those ridiculous photos. Tweet those funny stories. And laugh. Laugh a lot. Mind you, what he and his cronies are doing is quite dangerous, and must be defeated in Congress, state legislatures, the courts, and ultimately in the voting booths. But we also have a new and powerful tool. And it’s very simple: make fun of Trump. (P.S. It’s not hard to do, either.)