Humour: A New Weapon In The Arsenal

I came across this piece by Nicholas Kristof yesterday and thought it quite fitting!  Rather like a spoiled toddler, Trump thrives on attention, even negative attention, but the one thing he cannot stand is to be made fun of, to be mocked.  And let’s face it … there is much to mock from his inability to string together a coherent sentence to that creature residing atop his head!


To Beat Trump, Mock Him

The lesson from pro-democracy fighters abroad: Humor deflates authoritarian rulers.

nicholas-kristof-thumblargeBy Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

Can critics of President Trump learn something from pro-democracy movements in other countries?

Most Americans don’t have much experience confronting authoritarian rulers, but people around the globe are veterans of such struggles. And the most important lesson arguably is “laughtivism”: the power of mockery.

Denouncing dictators has its place, but sly wit sometimes deflates them more effectively. Shaking one’s fist at a leader doesn’t win people over as much as making that leader a laughingstock.

“Every joke is a tiny revolution,” George Orwell wrote in 1945.

American progressives have learned by now that frontal attacks aren’t always effective against Trump. Impeaching Trump seemed to elevate him in the polls. A majority of Americans agree in a Quinnipiac poll that Trump is a racist, yet he still may win re-election. Journalists count Trump’s deceptions (more than 20,000 since he assumed the presidency) and chronicle accusations of sexual misconduct against him (26 so far), yet he seems coated with Teflon: Nothing sticks.

America has had “Baby Trump” balloons, “Saturday Night Live” skits and streams of Trump memes and jokes. But all in all, Trump opponents tend to score higher on volume than on wit. So, having covered pro-democracy campaigns in many other countries, I suggest that Americans aghast at Trump absorb a lesson from abroad: Authoritarians are pompous creatures with monstrous egos and so tend to be particularly vulnerable to humor. They look mighty but are often balloons in need of a sharp pin.

Even before it collapsed, the moral authority of the Soviet Union had been hollowed out by endless jokes. In one, a secret policeman asks another, “What do you think of the regime?” Nervously, the second policeman replies, “The same as you, comrade.” At that point the first one pulls out handcuffs and says, “In that case, it is my duty to arrest you.”

Are the stakes too serious to laugh? Does cracking jokes devalue a democracy struggle? I don’t think so. One of the most successful examples of laughtivism came two decades ago when university students took on the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. Milosevic committed genocide and isn’t an obvious target of humor — but the students’ wit helped topple him.

A typical stunt: They taped a picture of Milosevic on the side of a barrel and invited passers-by to take a swing at it with a baseball bat. The resulting photos of the police “arresting” the barrel and hauling it away were widely publicized and made Milosevic seem less mighty and more ridiculous. In 2000, Milosevic was ousted and handed over to an international tribunal to be tried for war crimes.

Here in the United States, we’ve also seen the power of wit. One of the most effective critics of “Boss Tweed” and Tammany Hall in the 19th century was Thomas Nast, the cartoonist. And Senator Joseph McCarthy’s nemesis, and the man who coined the term “McCarthyism,” was the cartoonist Herblock.

(Don’t tell my editors, but cartoonists, now an endangered species, are often more incisive social and political critics than columnists.)

In South Africa, the cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro skewered President Jacob Zuma so deftly and often that he was arguably one reason Zuma was forced to resign in 2018. Zuma sued Shapiro, whose response was a cartoon in which Zuma rages that he will sue for “damage to my reputation.” Shapiro coolly responds, “Would that be your reputation as a disgraced chauvinist demagogue who can’t control his sexual urges and who thinks a shower prevents AIDS?”

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak was toppled the same year in part because of the work of another cartoonist, Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, who persevered despite prosecutions and physical attacks.

That’s one gauge of the power of humor: Dictators fear mockery. The Committee to Protect Journalists says it has intervened this year alone to defend seven cartoonists around the world who were arrested, threatened with prosecution or threatened with death.

In Russia, the dissident Aleksei Navalny uses withering sarcasm in his efforts to bring democracy to Russia. Navalny, now recovering in Germany from what apparently was an attempt by Russian officials to murder him with Novichok nerve gas, responded to Russian suggestions that he had poisoned himself:

“I boiled Novichok in the kitchen, quietly took a sip of it in the plane and fell into a coma,” he wrote on Instagram. “Ending up in an Omsk morgue where the cause of death would be listed as ‘lived long enough’ was the ultimate goal of my cunning plan. But Putin outplayed me.”

Leaders like Trump who pose as religious are particularly easy to skewer, as Iranians have shown in their use of humor to highlight the hypocrisy of their own mullahs. Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi is still nicknamed “Crocodile” because of a cartoon many years ago by Nik Kowsar, who now lives in exile in America because hard-liners arrested him and threatened to murder him.

No, I won’t be drawing cartoons or trying stand-up. I know my limitations. But I’m frustrated by the lack of traction that earnest critiques of Trump get, and I think it’s useful to learn lessons about how people abroad challenged authoritarians and pointed out their hypocrisy with the simple precision of mockery.

I’m also frustrated that some forceful criticisms of Trump sometimes come across to undecided voters as strident or over the top. People like me are accused of suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, and our arguments are dismissed precisely because they are so fervent.

Something similar happens in many countries. Citizens who aren’t political are often wary of pro-democracy leaders who are perceived as radical, as irreligious or as overeducated elitists. But those ordinary citizens appreciate a joke, so humor becomes a way to win them over.

“The grins of the people are the nightmares of the dictators,” wrote Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 while in prison. He is best-known for his eloquent essays calling for democracy, but he argued that humor is also essential in undermining authoritarian rulers.

Liu generously added — and this may be relevant to a polarized country like the United States — that satirizing an authoritarian is good for the nation because it makes the eventual downfall and transition softer and less violent.

“A clown needs less revenge than a monster does,” he observed.

I Thought We Were Better …

There was a big college football game between Louisiana State University and the University of Alabama, to be played on Alabama’s home field yesterday afternoon.  For some reason that still evades me, Trump and Melania attended the game … at our expense, of course.

Now, in recent weeks, Trump has received less than warm receptions at other sporting events, such as game #5 of the World Series where Washington Nationals fans ‘boo-ed’ him and chanted “lock him up!”  One Fox News commentator said …

“They should hold those fans accountable. You don’t boo the president! You show respect to him!”

Excuse me, sir, but respect is earned, and thus far Mr. Trump has done nothing to earn mine.  Though I have mixed feelings about the boo-ing and chanting, it is a means of peaceful protest, and I’m pretty sure that had I been at that game, I would have boo-ed as loud as any.

And then, there was the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) last week that was attended by Trump, accompanied by his sons Junior and Eric and Republican lawmakers Kevin McCarthy, Mark Meadows and Peter King.  The crowd there also jeered the party, and some even held signs calling for Trump’s impeachment and removal.  One gets the impression that he is not as well-loved by ‘everybody’ as he claims, yes?

So, fool that he is, he made plans to attend this Alabama college game.  College campuses were almost made for protest, it seems.  Young people in the U.S. today are politically savvy and most are not very happy with the way the country is being run, so it stands to reason that there will be protests, right?  But wait!  Officials at the University of Alabama declared that any students caught “disrupting” Trump’s visit would lose their reserved seating for the remainder of the season.  This is a direct violation of students’ First Amendment right to engage in peaceful protest, to make their voices heard.

And so it was that Trump received a ‘warm’ reception at the game on Friday night.  Too bad … I think it would have been appropriate if everyone had protested by boycotting the game.  But, there was at least one protest outside the stadium …baby-trump-balloon-2The baby Trump balloon was on display at a park near the stadium!  For a few minutes, anyway … until some over-zealous Alabaman/Trumpian decided to … slash it!baby-trump-balloonAccording to one of the organizers of the protest …

“It was a random dude just ran up to the balloon, stuck a knife in it, and ran off. We had police close by because of another driver earlier, so they went over and arrested him and his getaway driver.”

Three things bother me greatly about this:

  • Why has Trump, with Melania in tow, wasted taxpayer money and his time to attend three separate sporting events in the course of two weeks? Does he really have so much free time on his hands?  Is there not work he could be doing?  Is this what we pay him for???  Or are we paying to feed his over-bloated ego, paying for him to “be seen” by his loyal masses?

  • If the students of the University of Alabama had to be threatened in order to give Trump a ‘warm’ reception, doesn’t that tell you something about the sentiment of the public toward Trump? And … where were the students’ first amendment rights?  I know it’s Alabama, but last I looked on the map, it is still one of the 50 ‘United’ states, and as such, its people have the same rights, as afforded by the U.S. Constitution, as any of us.

  • Where is the civility? I do not recall a single time that anybody acted in this manner when President Obama made a public appearance.  But then, I don’t recall Obama ever acting in the manner in which Trump acts in public, either.  Perhaps it’s true what they say, that sh*t flows downhill, and Trump’s behaviour has flowed all the way down to his fans.  But, are we really going to allow Trump’s behaviour and hateful rhetoric cause us to regress as a society to the point that we cannot even allow a peaceful protest?

The right to peaceful protest is one part of the foundation of this nation.  But, like every other right, it is contingent on accepting the responsibility that accompanies it.  When protests turn violent, we risk losing that right.  But, think about it … remember during the 2016 campaign when more than once, Trump urged people to perpetrate violence on protestors?  Remember he even told one group at a rally that he would pay their legal bills if they were arrested for beating up protestors?  I wonder if he will offer to pay the legal bills for the man who slashed the balloon?  Remember when Trump applauded then-candidate, now-Congressman Greg Gianforte for beating up a reporter who simply asked him a question he didn’t like?

No matter what side of the political fence a person is on, there is simply no excuse for violence.  This, coupled with the lunacy of the gun culture in this country, is a recipe for disaster.  I thought we were better than this, but more and more I’m learning that we are not.

There He Goes Again …

Tomorrow, Donald Trump goes to visit our friends in the United Kingdom.  I offer my apologies to my UK friends in advance for all the terrible things he is sure to say and do, and I hope you won’t hold it against us … or at least those of us who did not, could not, and would not vote for him.  But really, you guys invited him … what were you thinking???queen-elizabeth-iiLast July Trump visited the UK and was honoured with a visit to the Queen.  I shuddered when I heard that would take place, for he is known for being crude and crass, without a shred of grace or dignity to his name.  And, true to form, he disrespected the Queen in numerous ways, humiliating and embarrassing us.  He began by arriving late, looking sloppy as usual, and keeping Her Majesty waiting for a full ten minutes.  Then he shook her hand instead of bowing.  But the most glaring faux pas by far was as they were preparing to review scarlet-clad troops assembled in the Quadrangle of Windsor Castle. He turned his back on her and walked ahead of her.  Now, to people in the U.S. that may not sound like a big deal, but there are protocols in the UK about how one addresses the Queen and how one acts in her presence.

So, now he is returning at a time when the UK is already having serious troubles and really doesn’t need Trump and his ignorance to add to the mix.  But, if you are holding out some hope that he will behave and act like a world leader, splash yourself with cold water and wake up from that dream, for he has already insulted the nation in the days leading up to his trip … let me count the ways.

Trump has an obnoxious habit of sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong … in UK politics, namely the Brexit situation.  First, speaking about that which he knows less than nothing, he said that Theresa May “messed up” Brexit.  Then, he said that he supports Boris Johnson who he believes would be “an excellent choice” to become the country’s next Prime Minister.

Boris-Donnie

I think Boris and Donnie both buy their toupees at the same place

“It’s something that I find very interesting. I actually have studied it very hard. (He has never even read the U.S. Constitution, but he has studied Brexit “very hard”?  I think not.) I know the different players. But I think Boris would do a very good job. I think he would be excellent. I like him. I have always liked him. I don’t know that he is going to be chosen, but I think he is a very good guy, a very talented person. He has been very positive about me and our country.”

He sees himself as being very influential in UK politics, claiming that other contenders had approached him asking for his public support …

“Other people have asked me for an endorsement too. I have been asked for endorsements. Well, I don’t want to say who but other people have asked me for endorsements, yes. I could help anybody if I endorse them. I mean, we’ve had endorsement where they have gone up for forty, fifty points at a shot.”

Despite the protests by the British people, the huge Baby Trump balloon, Donnie thinks the people in the UK love him!

“Now I think I am really, I hope, I am loved in the UK.”

I’m still laughing over that one!  Somehow, he who cannot make a single trade deal thinks he knows best about Brexit …

“Get the deal closed. If they don’t get what they want, I would walk away … If you don’t get the deal you want, if you don’t get a fair deal, then you walk away.”

And because he is so bloody smart and knows so much, he says that the UK’s #1 idiot Nigel Farage should have been put in charge of negotiating Brexit …

“He is a very smart person. They won’t bring him in. Think how well they would do if they did. They just haven’t figured that out yet.”

Nigel-Donnie

I think Donnie and Nigel go to the same fake tanning salon

And as if it weren’t bad enough that he is sticking his bulbous nose into things that a) he does not understand, and b) are none of his business, he had the unmitigated gall to call Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, “nasty”.  Meghan, a U.S. citizen by birth, married Prince Harry in 2018 and the couple have a son who was born on May 6th of this year.  So, what is Trump’s beef with the Duchess?  Back in 2016, while Trump was on the campaign trail, Meghan supported Hillary Clinton and, calling a spade a spade, she said Trump was “misogynistic and so vocal about it”.  I’m betting that no U.S. president in the history of this nation has ever before publicly called a member of the royal family “nasty”.  Too bad we aren’t still in the times when the Queen could have said, “Off with his head!”

Trump baby blimp-2I hear the good people of the UK have some great surprises planned, like an even bigger Baby Trump balloon than last year’s, and something to do with a milkshake dowsing!

Oh, and by the way … in case you’re interested, this trip is estimated to have a total cost to U.S. taxpayers of $22 million.  Trump is taking all three of his adult children AND their spouses which will require a second plane.  But we cannot afford to fix our highways or feed our poor, right?  And with 10,000 police said to be protecting Trump, you can imagine what it is costing the UK!  Why they ever invited him, I will never know.  They were hoping to negotiate a trade deal, but frankly … look how well that has worked out for other nations, such as China, Canada and Mexico.  His way of ‘dealing’ is to hit the other country with tariffs, so look out Ms. May and whomever succeeds her!Trump-Boris-NigelCan we hope he wakes up with blisters on his feet or something tomorrow so that he feels too poorly to make the trip?