Donald Trump and the Decay of American Political Humor

In the field of American political humor, there lies a rich history of commentators and hosts singing the praises of inept politicians and their unending gifts to the comedy landscape. Whether it be Jon Stewart thanking his lucky stars for the existence of the Bush administration, Stephen Colbert remarking deftly upon John McCain, or Bill Maher viciously attacking Mitt Romney, topical comedians have a dependency upon the gaffes and goofs of those in power. When a sex scandal arises, they’re there to make puns. When a lie emerges, they’re there to exploit evidence. When an inconsistency reveals itself, they’re there to patiently walk through the paces of how and why this position illuminates poor character.

However, as much as these comedians rely on the guffawes of those in office, they rely equally so on a rational baseline through which to filter these observations. In the same way that sketch comedy so often relies on a dichotomy between straight man and character, a methodology tried and true in effectively revealing the specific absurdity or silliness of any given comedic premise, political comedians must remain latched to the teat of a firm, grounded political reality. When Jon Stewart lambasts Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign, he does so through the eyes of Barack Obama’s counter example. When Seth Meyers deflates policy specifics within the Republican party, he leverages the liberal counterpoint to solidify his premise. When Stephen Colbert, in a move safely qualified as the Holy Grail of political comedy, eviscerates George Bush at a White House Correspondents Dinner, he does so through the voice of a character that elaborates and extends Bush’s performance to an extreme that exists not in reasonable policy (a brilliant move effectively turning Bush himself into the straight man).

In all cases, there is some sort of other to base the comedic target¬†against. This person is ridiculous because they’re unlike this person.

So now we arrive at Donald Trump. A man so ridiculous he defies description. A man so inconsistent he’ll shift position within the same breath. A man so patently hateful he has numerous media ties and endorsements to white supremacist groups.

Oh, and he’s also a three-time alleged rapist and serial Chapter 11 artist.

He’s a balloon waiting to be popped as political comedians lick their teeth and wipe away excess saliva. They prayed to his continuance within the race, to extend their time with him as much as possible. He is the high octane fuel of comedy.

But is the work on him funny? Do the fact-checks land? Do the impressions hold true? Is the ranting and raving worth anything?

I don’t think so. I’ve never laughed once at any comedic observation made about Trump, and I believe this is the case because he’s so outlandish and so successful, that he’s shifted America’s political reality away from anything resembling a reasonable baseline.

Notice how Jimmy Fallon’s impression seems to fall flat? Wonder why, despite all Trevor Noah’s squirming, you’re left only nodding your head? Curious how anyone so inflammatory and unreal could be so unfunny?

Unreal is the key word. Donald Tump defies being joked about, because he is the living embodiment of a joke. No impression can extend his rationale to an absurd degree a la Colbert, as he is already at peak absurdity. It’s likely your brilliant riff has already come out of his mouth. The man has actually directly incited violence. He has actually engaged in bigoted behavior. He has actually said anything and everything you can think of.

To pull a Colbert and push his policy to the absurd is ineffective, because doing so requires a logical leap too far to land anywhere meaningful. Good luck satirizing someone who actually called Mexicans rapists and announced, to gleeful cheers, that he can become any politician he wants and requires no knowledge or forethought when making strong decisions.

You can’t cartoonize a cartoon. He is the punchline.

Want to compare him to a reasonable electorate? Fat chance, given his insane popularity and bullet-proof emotional attraction. Most Trump supporters in all sincerety care little for the promises he makes or the lies he holds high. They just like him.

Remember when I pointed out his three rape accusations? One of them involves a 13-year old. This is public information.

He has torn apart the fabric of American reason, leaving comedians little to draw upon when pointing out his flaws. While Saturday Night Live may do their best to break new ground with the joke that Trump supporters are white-supremacists, the premise falls flat when the absurd reality is prove true. White-supremacists have, for a while now, been open and frank with their rabid support of Donald Trump. Oh, well wouldn’t it be funny if he tried to maneuver around disavowing their support? Well he did. He actually did. Publicly. Everyone has seen this.

Comedians may scramble for some semblance of reason to compare against Donald Trump, but all they can grab are parallel movements of white-supremacy, misleading conversations surrounding social justice, and rampant falsehoods across the board.

The sad truth is that the new base-reality Donald Trump has created actually diminishes his absurdity. He’s cartoonized the whole of American politics, leaving him a perfectly natural creature within an enclosure of his own design. Any attempt at satire or comedic observation only fuels this truth, and contributes to an electorate entirely desensitized to ridiculousness.

And I don’t think it’s funny. I think it’s sad.

We live in world where a black man wearing a hoodie is a crime punishable by death. Where people in a position of privilege feel it’s their place to explain to oppressed people how to properly handle their oppression. Where leftists applaud the influence of Bernie Sanders, as though moving the Democratic Party further left is a more helpful division than the rightwards move for Republicans.

I think Donald Trump will be our next President.

And it’s not funny.


2 thoughts on “Donald Trump and the Decay of American Political Humor

  1. You’ve written an excellent piece. He’s so far out there, unabashedly so, that you can’t satire him. You can’t take it to some extreme, because he’s already there. So I think you’re right on the money here.

    But I would add this: I find it difficult to laugh at these jokes because they’re a terrifying reality. This comes from the former part, about how he can’t be satirized, really. So, just another lens to look through. I can’t laugh about something when I know that it’s an actual possibility. I can’t make fun of Trump thinking he can pander to LGBTQ voters, when it’s possible that Pence and him could be in the White House.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks RJ! And I of course agree. The addition of Pence to the ticket folds in extra layers of perversity when considering the LGBTQ pandering tactics you mention. A pit fell in my stomach when I read that Trump was the first GOP nominee to directly reference the LGBTQ community in his acceptance speech, adding a twist of the knife to an already strange and gory battle. It’s a deeply important lens to view the landscape through and I appreciate you bringing it up. As an ally I won’t pretend to fully appreciate the hate surrounding such a move, but I’m at the very least disturbed to my core.


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