My premise here is that we’re entering a new age of gallows humor in our dreadful politics. When you start thinking about it, you find it everywhere. Does discovering this alleviate our political nausea? Probably not, but writing about it makes me feel better.
I mean, who could have scripted these people?
The media jumped all over the Cocaine-at-the-White-House story. They seem to have taken it either as an important security breach or an occasion for bad jokes. Naturally the Republicans were quick to finger Hunter Biden and his former drug problem. The administration responded with its usual earnest gravity, their typically humorless response to everything. Maybe Biden’s numbers would improve if he and his people would just lighten up.
In Iowa Pence said he said he was a supporter of Ronald Reagan’s doctrine that “if you’re willing to fight the enemies of the United States on your soil, we’ll give you the means to fight them there so our men and women in uniform don’t have to fight them.”
Nobody has pointed out that this was the same as endorsing what Prigozhin and his mercenaries do: getting paid by others to fight on their behalf. The irony here seems to have eluded everybody—and maybe that’s not so funny.
Outside the realm of politics is the story about the British tourist who carved his girlfriend’s name into the Colosseum and later said he had no idea the site was so ancient. The only thing funny about this is why he thought anyone would believe him.
In a similar vein we read that New York mayor Eric Adams, in another act of pomposity, courted controversy after claiming a recently doctored photo was an original he kept always with him. The mayor keeps cementing his reputation as creepy and incompetent.
And then there’s Robert Kennedy, Jr., the new king of conspiracy theories who also courts controversy. Is it possible to laugh at a person who takes himself so seriously? The incongruity of his relationship to his famous family is pathetic rather than funny.
And now we’re hearing still more about the December 2020 meeting of the lunatics, when Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Mike Flynn and others spent hours proposing mad theories of how to salvage the election Trump had just lost. Here we have truly entered the world of farce.
Yet farce is something you can laugh at and laugh with. The examples I’ve cited more likely involve laughing to keep from crying. Laughter, we know, is supposed to open one’s mind and heart. That’s what Jimmy Kimmel and the other late-night comedians hope to offer. But life’s getting too grim even for them.
Where are the great clowns I grew up with—like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and George Carlin? Maybe our current politics and culture would be too much, even for them. Humor is ritual cleansing, and our politics is in great need of that.