Among all the other uneasy feelings that the developing situation has induced in this citizen …
… is the uneasy feeling that I—along with the entire community of free-thinking Americans—have been fooling myself about how useful satire is in countering, even combating, the corruption of power.
It’s an assumption I grew up with, going back at least to the 60s, that satirizing (mocking, ridiculing, lampooning, whatever you prefer to call it) the self-importance and the pervasive hypocrisy of the ruling class was an effective tactic. That, in lieu of having any real leverage to puncture the unholy ménage á trois of wealth, power and influence, we could always make fun of it. That, in some way, politically-motivated humor could counter-balance the inherent imbalance of control that the rich and powerful had over our country and our lives.
It seemed to be working, however slightly and slowly, with the matters of Viet Nam and civil rights. It seemed—at least, to the young and impressionable (e.g., me)—that more we mocked Lyndon Johnson, later Richard Nixon, the more vulnerable and unsure-of-themselves they became, particularly in the sucking mud of the Viet Nam war. It seemed—at least, to the student dissenters cloistered away in predominately-white academic havens (e.g., Moscow, Idaho)—that the more we ridiculed segregationist stalwarts like George Wallace and Strom Thurmond, the weaker their hold became on the destinies of millions of African-Americans.
I’m not saying that mockery, ridicule and satire ended the Viet Nam War or brought down Jim Crow. I’m just saying it helped. Or so it seemed.
Shift forward 40 years, and I’m telling a like-minded friend (as we watched a segment of Bill Maher’s show in which the snide host was skewering the incompetence and mental murkiness of George W. Bush) something to the effect, “This is how we will beat the curse of conservatism. They simply cannot compete, nor can they defend themselves, against the withering wit of all the nation’s best comedians.”
Brother, was I wrong. While I continue to believe the Left has a firm hold on the reins of comedic talent, it is clear that conservatives couldn’t care less. If satire and lampoonery were anywhere near as potent as I once thought them to be, not only would Trump not be preparing to take his rape and pillage act to the international big top, he and his whole verminous clan would be cowering in a New York dumpster, afraid to ever show their faces in public again.
The sad fact is, satire (and, in general, outlining the absurdity of what it means to be Donald Trump) failed so miserably in bringing down this rampaging lizard, maybe it’s time to ask ourselves, “Did we perhaps actually assist in the rise of the beast?” Could it be that—even with all the spot-on exposure from such comedic cultural beacons as Letterman and SNL, Maher and John Stewart, all illuminating the monster for the monster he is—there truly is no such thing as bad publicity when it comes to politics?
Yes, to those already singing the same acerbic chorus, it is comforting to hear it echoed from every liberal choir loft. But it was never the liberals who had to be convinced, was it? And the sort of person who would consider Trump a viable president isn’t likely to have a … what we might call … sophisticated sense of humor, would he? That’d be like expecting Steve Bannon (playing the role of the Joseph Goebbels in this historic re-enactment) to be a great fan of Fiddler on the Roof.
I’m not suggesting we stop. It would be a dereliction of duty to direct our scorn away from this criminal sneaking his way into the White House, and allow him to defile the office under the cover of inattention.
But we need to understand: Every word said about Donald Trump serves Donald Trump’s purpose. Every lie that we laugh off as a lie, every ignorant utterance that we scoff at as utter ignorance, every insane episode that we ridicule for its abject insanity … it may only be enhancing that which got the terrifying fuck elected in the first place.
Think about it. When he campaigns on lies, ignorance and crazy shit … and wins anyway! … how are we helping the situation by emphasizing, by repeating, by magnifying his lies, his ignorance and his crazy shit?
I don’t know what the answer is. We can’t stop … yet by continuing, we may be feeding the fires that turn his wheels and excite his minions.
Nor can we count on any help from Republican leaders. What courage, character or integrity there is remaining in that entire party isn’t enough to register on your garage’s motion sensor.
I fear that the only path to undoing the horrible mistake of Trump must come from Trump, himself. There is some tipping point yet to be crossed—there just has to be!—where even the thoughtless smudge that voted for him can no longer ignore the unfolding foulness of who he is. How far off that point is, and how much damage will be done when we reach it, is dreadful to contemplate. I suspect it will be measured in ruined lives and hopelessness and, yes, deaths.
And if I’m right, there will be no opening for satire when that decisive point is reached. There will be nothing funny about it, nothing to mock, no enjoyment from caricature, no satisfaction in ridicule. At that point, we must redirect our penchant for ridicule into a demand for justice.