“Well they’re some sad things known to man,
But ain’t too much sadder than,
The tears of a clown when there’s no one around.”
Beyond bad teeth, I don’t really have much in common with P.J. O’Rourke, the former humor writer for National Lampoon and for the last two decades right-wing comedic antagonist of everything politically correct. But there he was Sunday night on CNN, and amidst his rambling, incoherent reflections upon the future presidency of Donald Trump, he said, “I’m looking forward to a lot of laughs.”
In front of the living room telly, I perked up and said, “Yeah, me too!”
My wife glanced over at me with a look of pity for my shallow, jaded cynicism. In her eyes, Trump’s reign — with its hostility to minority rights, its abandonment of the global agreements representing humanity’s last chance to combat climate change, and his macho posturing in foreign affairs — can only mean tragedy.
Four More Howling Years?
But the guffaws are already bursting out! How else can we react to the manifest ridiculousness of tweets by Trump that allege voter fraud by two million illegal immigrants in California? It’s a remark so outlandish that it’s believable only to various denizens of the Republican Party who left planet earth years ago to inhabit some alternative media galaxy far, far away.
I don’t know about you but I am absolutely anticipating Twitter wars breaking out on multiple fronts. Who will be the first to bruise the ego of our inanely thin-skinned President elect and get entangled in a tit-for-tat tiff of potty-mouthed abuse? Putin? The capo of ISIS? Will it be that eternal Republican boogieman Nancy Pelosi, or maybe a Republican congressional leader who can’t stomach the extremes of Trump’s agenda? Who might benefit from (and thus embrace) the publicity and wrath of the next leader of the free world?
No need for speculation. As befits a media star, Trump has set his sights a lot lower, lashing out repeatedly at, well, media stars — the actors in Hamilton and the cast of Saturday Night Live.
Evidently, the cloak of presidential gravitas fits Trump poorly. It’s no surprise the US is quickly becoming a global laughingstock. Trump’s four years in office will surely diminish the dignity of our representative government and irretrievably tarnish our democratic ideals, while shredding into mere rags the aura of presidential authority.
Who Gets the Last Laugh?
But here’s the punchline that spells the downfall of Trump’s tragic-comic reign. It’s not just me and other shallow cynics laughing as Trump demonstrates that America lacks all higher moral purpose. Trump’s public tantrums fuel the comic parodies of popular culture. Beyond SNL, every tweet provokes a new wave of chuckles from late night shows. All, including Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, the Daily Show, compete for laughs with one-liners and comic sketches lampooning the ample target being offered by the orange-faced billionaire.
Moreover, as the Washington Post suggests, “Trump doesn’t appear to fully grasp how much he elevates his opponents by attacking them. …His attack on ‘Saturday Night Live’ guaranteed that millions of more people watched the skit.”
Young Cynics Mocking
And who is gulping down, replaying, reposting, and sharing these chuckles? Yep, youth culture is greedily imbibing this comic cynicism as if it were milk from its mother’s bosom.
Already in the 2016 election, Trump completely failed to inspire or attract the youth vote. Despite the dismal performance of his charismatically challenged opponent, Hillary Clinton, Trump lost voters age 18–29 by 19 percent (36% to Clinton’s 55%). Sadly, a good share of these voters who had responded to Obama’s (and Sanders’) call for change sat out this election. Millennial support was in part repressed by the notorious last-minute intervention by FBI Director James Comey.
For the next four years expect one long, glorious, unending, soul-shaking belly laugh that will consolidate youthful disdain for the Donald. May that disdain give Trump the humiliating defeat in 2020 he so richly deserved in 2016 (if we don’t suffer nuclear annihilation or climate cataclysm first.) Only one question then remains — will this desperately cynical comedy fatally weaken the American republic, enticing our youthful citizens into a jaded rejection of all politics, or will it spark a reawakening of the critical role of decency, reasoning and equality in our despairing democracy?