There’s a great moment in Woody Allen’s Manhattan where Woody’s character Isaac chats with socialites at a cocktail party and he brings up a Nazi march coming to New Jersey. Isaac suggests that those at the party “get some guys together, get some bricks and baseball bats and really … explain things to them.” A partygoer responds that there was a devastating satirical piece on the march in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times. Another argues that “biting satire is always better than physical force.” Finally, Woody retorts that physical force is always better with Nazis, “because it’s hard to satirize a guy in shiny boots.”
I thought about that scene on Sunday night, when John Oliver went on TV to propose a solution to Trump’s domination of the GOP primary: #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain. Since actually calling out Trump for his pandering and lies achieves absolutely nothing, since he can and will say anything with the knowledge that he has a reputation for speaking the truth among those voting for him, Oliver proposed taking away his last name — a word which evokes triumph and trump cards, not to mention decades of mostly effective branding — and replacing it with Drumpf. Apparently, Donald’s winemaking ancestors in Germany had used that name. Oliver posited that its clunkiness and evocation of chubby little Bavarian boys eating bars of chocolate had the potential to take away the Trump’s allure for voters. Along with his proposal, his team created donaldjdrumpf.com, where you can find a Google Chrome extension to change all appearances of the word “Trump” in your browser to the word “Drumpf.”
The idea that a liberal purveyor of (in my opinion, consistently clever and spot-on) political satire would be able to go on TV, EVISCERATE (thanks again, HuffPo) Trump and change the course of the election and American history is undeniably appealing. However, many people out there have caught wind of the fact that, in all likelihood, that’s not going to happen. After the inevitable avalanche of gushing social media posts the morning after Oliver’s show, the backlash began to unfold on intelligent-but-still-weird-Twitterdom.
The basic sentiment can be summed up in Andy Levy’s tweet:
trump winning all these states is weird because i was assured that john oliver had ANNIHILATED him
— andy levy (@andylevy) March 2, 2016
But some got more creative, as those on Twitter are bound to do. Caleb Horton, AKA @crushingbort, mocked the media’s tendency to overrate both the jokes of Oliver’s ilk and their possible political effectiveness, tweeting
"Just What The F— Were You Thinking?!": John Oliver’s Brilliant Takedown Of The Yellowstone Supervolcano Catastrophe
— Dollars Horton (@crushingbort) March 2, 2016
My personal favorite was @bro_pair’s comparison of the Trump phenomenon to the formless, ceaseless specter of death through the poetry of Philip Larkin, which you can find here.
Indeed, as impossible as it is to imagine, at least on a liberal-leaning college campus, it increasingly looks like Donald J. Trump has a legitimate shot at winning November’s general election. The Atlantic published a piece today entitled “How Donald Trump Can Beat Hillary” and the answer seemed relatively simple (in the same way that it’s probably not all that hard to make chili out of humans): continue to shit on Establishment Politics, offer magical solutions to our nation’s woes and cynically dial up the fears of so-called regular Americans. And maybe dial down the horrifyingly racist and divisive rhetoric about Hispanics and Muslims just a little bit (though maybe not that much, because, according to one poll, six out of ten GOP voters in Tuesday’s Republican primaries agree with Trump’s proposed Muslim ban).
It’s really not so absurd. As long as he sells a populist, “tell-it-like-it-is” message and promises to protect the white middle class — via vaguely sketched out protectionist policies and the Great Wall of America That’s Built By Mexico — his pandering just … might … work.
Even though, in an interview on CNN, he refused to disavow KKK member David Duke, a man he had trashed years ago, out of fears of alienating white supremacists.
Even though Politifact judged that 76 percent of his statements in the last year have been “false or mostly false.”
Even though he has seemingly gone out of his way to alienate every minority in America over the course of his campaign.
Even though his now-defunct energy drink company Trumperade poisoned hundreds of children, and when asked to comment, he replied simply, “fuck children, drink Trump.”
Okay, the last thing didn’t happen, but would you have been that surprised if it had? Neither would I.
In all likelihood, shows like Oliver’s, which appeals to the exact demographic of people who would never consider voting for Trump anyway, probably don’t pose a threat. In fairness, Oliver knows that. His show is meant to provide humor and a semblance of rationality in a political season scarily devoid of such things. The problem comes in when we believe that satire is enough to defeat those who don’t agree with us, or that by reading, liking and sharing such content, we are actually working to enact change in our system. Perhaps that belief is to blame for the fact that young voters perpetually turn out less than their older counterparts, much to the chagrin of Bernie Sanders supporters.
No one knows exactly what November holds, though it seems like Hillary Clinton’s popularity with black and hispanic voters are a major boon for her campaign. Until then, I recommend taking some advice posted by a Facebook friend recently:
“Everyone shut up about primaries for one second and remember that we are, with a few notable exceptions, empathetic creatures … How we treat each other is infinitely more important than any numbers contest. I still haven’t given up on the cosmic insignificance of everything, but I have started to make sense of what to do with the time and space we’ve got. Fucking love each other.”
So don’t despair. There’s at least eight months before there’s any need for that.
Sam Bromer is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. No Place Like Brome appears alternate Thursdays this semester. He can be reached at email@example.com.