Will Mark Twain’s dictum finally characterize the 2016 election?
“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand,” Twain wrote (and exemplified in his public and activist, political life).
His vivid conclusion was that the surest way to be rid of bad politicians and officials is when they are subjected to satire and sustained, mocking laughter.
Twain recognized what others can today, that there are two kinds of “laughter” directed at awful politicians:
1. “Ha! Ha!” — when what they say and do and how they act show that they are foolish and ridiculous (just laugh them out of the arena).
2. “Bizarro” — more akin to gallows humor, a macabre response when a politician is so outrageous and beyond the bounds of rationality that citizens fear for their future, even for survival. The “Bizarros” elicit a nervous laughter because it seems unbelievable that anyone could act as they do.
Have you noticed that more and more people are laughing at Donald Trump in both regards — “Ha! Ha!” and “Bizarro?”
You might well ask if that is the case how can we account for the closeness of some recent polls (and I will return to that important query soon).
First, let’s consider whether Mr. Trump is likely to be this election’s evidence for the continuing relevance of Twain’s truism.
Has any media exceeded “The New York Daily News” in often portraying Mr. Trump as a “CLOWN,” — using that term, often in caps, and often on page one?
In that newspaper, Mr. Trump’s face, nose, hair, lips are distorted in many colors to make him look like a freakish person (which the editors argue reflect his character and his views).
Respected, center-right weeklies, like “The Economist,” have regularly engaged in mocking, hugely disparaging portrayals of Mr. Trump, both visually and in words.
Do not underestimate the impact of cartoons in that weekly and in many other sources; they portray Mr. Trump as a dangerous buffoon, provoking both mocking laughter and “bizarre” gallows humor (spreading fear of his dangers, even as one laughs at his levels of absurdity and irrationality).
Cartooning has been called “The Savage Art” because the visual images can be grasped more quickly and powerfully than reading sentences or paragraphs (Hofstra University, about to host its third consecutive Presidential Election Debate on 9/26, frequently exhibits the power of political cartoons, see Hofstra.edu/debate).
But Mr. Trump has also been deservedly savaged by the strongest language used against a presidential candidate in more than a century.
Bret Stephens (Pulitzer-Prize winner, deputy editor of the “Wall Street Journal,” who will soon be speaking at Great Neck’s Temple Emanuel) calls Trump a “sociopath,” unqualified “for any office,” emphasizing that he should be “defeated in every state.”
That kind of language captures what Twain represented in his life and writings.
When Trump’s own co-author says: “Lying is second nature to him,” and “New York Times” double Pulitzer-winner, Nicholas Kristof entitles his column “When A Crackpot Seeks Office,” the main question is whether the assault of laughter shoould be “Ha! Ha! or “Bizarro?”
It is the case that occasionally Mr. Trump narrows poll gaps and some folks think he might become president.
That’s because folks who are unhappy (for both legitimate and falsely perceived reasons) believe Trump will be an agent of change.
A new book illustrates the situation of many current Trump supporters: “”Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us.”
Lots of responsible Republicans and Conservatives also believe Trump will be an agent for change — but in destructive and dangerous directions.
That’s why more members of his own party, in at least a century, have publicly opposed him; they emphasize: “We are Republicans, but we are Americans first.”
Donald Trump showed his dangerous “Clown” dimension last week in Washington when, after five years of leading the false and racist “Birther” campaign against our first African-American president, he announced, in less than 10 seconds, that Obama “is an American citizen. Period”
No explanation was offered for the five years of lies; still today leaving more Republicans (than not) who believe that Obama was not born in the U.S.
Perhaps Trump was in a hurry in his new Pennsylvania Avenue hotel (a room at $900 a night) to show the media his new money-making “Taj Mahal.”
The media declined to be his publicist.
A major national paper mocked his “nonsense” and his “spirals through unreality.”
A large number of commentators believe Trump never expected to be elected President, that he primarily saw the campaign as a way to expand his “brand” and revenues.
Several suggest that Trump’s recent alliance with Breitbart media and disgraced Roger Ailes (fired from Fox) is a sign that he is thinking past Nov. 8 to set up an “Alt-Right” media empire, beyond Fox, to seek other paths to “Caesarism” (alarmingly illustrated by Peter Beinart in the August issue of “The Atlantic”).
Trump will be a danger to society whereas he is.
As Colin Powell says, “He is a national disgrace and an international pariah.”
His assault on democratic societies everywhere will be minimized as more citizens direct their “assault of laughter” against him (he has earned both types: “Ha! Ha!” and “Bizarro”).