I recently read an online article entitled “Why Bashing Trump Supporters isn’t Cool.” Here’s the link if you want to check it out. The author of the piece, one Caitlin Johnstone, condemns jokes that are at the expense of Trump supporters, calling them “classist condescension.” She writes:
“If I see one more millionaire comedian go to a Trump rally and make fun of how low-class and uneducated some of his supporters are, I’m gonna put my fist through my computer. I mean for God’s sake, duh, yes, many of them are lower class and under-educated. That’s the problem. That’s why they’re angry. That’s why I’m angry. We know that their country has failed them.”
Johnstone goes on to draw a parallel between Trump-ism and Nazi Germany. “Demagoguery only ever works on a desperate population,” she says, proceeding to outline the difficulties faced by post-WWI Germany that led to the rise of Hitler. While justification of Nazism may rub some folks the wrong way, I actually agree with her on this point. I do not believe that every follower of a tyrant is an evil person (if indeed men can be evil) or even a bad person. Not only were the German people desperate, but they were facing death if they dissented. I like to think that if it were me I would have stood up for my beliefs, but I’m not sure of it by any means.
I’m unwilling to condemn all Nazis, and I’m certainly unwilling to condemn all Trump supporters. As the man himself once said — some, I assume, are good people. I would say in response to Johnstone’s logic, however, that the reason Hitler was able to accumulate so much power is precisely because opposing voices were silenced. The fallacies of Trump’s platform (if you can call it that) must be fleshed out, and humor is one of the best ways to do so. To quote Mark Twain, “Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution — these can lift at a colossal humbug — push it a little — weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” Comedy is much more powerful than earnest discourse when it comes to reaching people. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz did more for the normalization of interracial marriage than any academic or activist I know of.
Consider the work of comedian and former Cornellian Robert Smigel, the man behind the foul-mouthed canine puppet known as Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. He is exactly who Johnstone is criticizing — a rich comedian that goes to Trump rallies and exploits the comedic value of Trump supporters. Some of it is stupid humor, but some of it is genuinely incisive. For example, Triumph (a hand-puppet controlled by Smigel, just to clarify) tells a man that Trump used to be “a bigger Democratic supporter than Michael Moore’s bra.” It’s funny, but it also sheds light on Trump’s history of reversing his positions for his own gain. It’s very possible that someone who isn’t very politically informed might watch Triumph videos and end up learning a thing or two.
Returning to Johnstone’s article, I believe the truly problematic part comes at the very end. She writes, “Yes, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia are being used to rally the victims of our exploitative system on the political right, but if you end the exploitation, you end the desperation… we’ve got to stand together.” I would say in reply that the phrase “yes, racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia are being used” shouldn’t ever have a “but” after it. I try to avoid using the word ‘privilege’ because it’s become something of a buzzword and charged words rarely lead to changed minds. But sometimes I just can’t help myself. Aren’t you lucky that you feel secure enough to preach togetherness while Trump threatens to “target the families” of his enemies. Aren’t you fortunate that you’re protected enough to be offended by jokes while whole groups of people are being denounced as criminals and rapists. What a privilege it must be.
While a large group of Americans being uneducated and ignorant is tragic, it’s also dangerous. Demagoguery may only work on desperate populations, but those who oppose demagoguery are forced to become even more desperate. The attitudes of Trump and his supporters put some Americans in genuine danger, which makes them the most pressing issue currently facing the country. I’m all for “standing together” to address the injustices that plague lower-class Americans. After Trump’s candidacy and the hateful thinking behind it are quashed. In the meantime, I’ll absolutely support anyone who helps in this effort, be they average Joes or “millionaire comedians.” If you don’t understand that, maybe we shouldn’t stand together after all.
Ara Hagopian is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Whiny Liberal will appear alternating Fridays this semester.