Donald Trump: The joke that isn’t funny anymore

It’s time to stop laughing


How long can we get away with laughing off Donald Trump and what Donald Trump represents?

I’ve certainly been guilty of chuckling about Donald Trump, the upstart real estate mogul, with his pumpkin skin and his drawling reality TV voice. The sheer irrationality and obscenity of what’s come out of his mouth for the last nine months has been a guilty, fascinating tonic to the usual emotions politicians inspire – boredom and apathy. Trump makes me, and plenty of other people laugh. Especially when he behaves like this:

And I think plenty of us have watched Trump and decided to shrug him off, put the notion that he could one day be President of the United States on the shelf with other things that will never actually happen, like getting a mortgage or starting a family. And I think because of that feeling – that this is all a big fat joke – some of us have watched Trump and taken it further.

We’ve bought Trump merch, caps and t-shirts, and worn them out like this because we think we’re hilarious:

This is what you actually look like when you wear one of these

This is what you actually look like when you wear one of these

We’ve retweeted shit like this, insulated by irony, certain that nothing bad will actually happen:

Irony and humour are great. They have their place. But they’re also abstractions, methods of running away from how bad things actually are. And things out there are becoming hideous. We’ve come to the point with Trump where we can no longer hide behind ironic retweeting, where jokily posing in his merch on Facebook will be something we come to regret.

This joke isn’t funny anymore.

The American mind is capitulating. Whether it’s out of fear, out of ignorance, out of fury, out of lack of imagination, doesn’t really matter. What matters are the Trump supporters who give Hitler salutes at his rallies. What matters are the Trump supporters who tell opponents to “go to Auschwitz”. What matters is Trump refusing to give up an endorsement from the leader of the KKK. What matters is Trump inciting violence whenever he gets the chance.

Here he is on February 1 in Iowa:

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Okay? Just knock the hell. I promise you I will pay for the legal fees. I promise.”

Here he is on February 22 in Nevada:

“I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks. It’s true. … I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.”

Here he is on March 11 in Missouri:

“Part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long is nobody wants to hurt each other anymore. Right? And they’re being politically correct the way they take them out. So it takes a little bit longer. And honestly, protesters, they realise it — they realise that there are no consequences to protesting anymore. There used to be consequences. There are none any more.”

Here he is on Twitter over the weekend:

If the message isn’t clear to you at this point, it ought to be. He wants his supporters to hurt people.

Trump is radically altering our understanding of what’s possible for politicians to say and do in a free country. We expected them to be sterile, robotic and wonkish, like the kids it was just too obvious to bully in school. We demanded they follow impossible standards of behaviour that made every affair a “scandal” and every honest word a “gaffe”. No wonder Trump, outlandishly puerile, unafraid to speak his absurd truths, has struck a chord. He spits the word “politician” like an insult and his supporters cheer.

Let’s be clear about what it is we’ve decided to find so funny. Trump is a demagogue. The dreadful speeches, the accompanying gestures and expressions – this is a man overwhelmed by belief in himself and it is this belief which speaks so persuasively to his audience. Who cares if what he says is racist? Who cares if what he says is nonsense? Who cares if what he says is impossible? He radiates his belief to his audience and they return it to him, strengthening it further. Trump is a manifestation of something we’ve seen before, a nightmare we never bothered to think about too much when it was on the pages of a school textbook, but still, something we weren’t supposed to laugh at.

Trump has fashioned a vision out of rage, despair and dispossession. It is a frightening vision. He hopes to solve social problems by building walls. He hopes to solve foreign policy problems with torture and murder. He reduces a complex, multi-linear, chaotic world to idiot slogans. He sees a world that’s burning and asks for more gasoline. He is, like all demagogues, a terrible simplifier.

His actual person, like one of his eponymous towers, is composed of ugliness, brimming with vulgarity, marbled with resentment. His words dramatise the mind of the babbler and the monologuist, the men with flickering eyes who cling to their guns. It’s hard to take him seriously.

And this is why it’s so easy to dismiss Trump, to laugh at him. He brags about the size of his dick during supposedly serious debates. He’s sold awful steaks and awful vodka and awful boardgames, he’s written awful books. But they dismissed Hitler too. They laughed at Hitler too.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

A lot of smart people say Trump won’t be President. Then again a lot of smart people said he wouldn’t be in the race at all by this point. Trump has made a habit of making very smart people look very stupid. What would it take to put him in the White House? A recession? A Paris-style attack on a major American city? Is any of this particularly unthinkable?

We are gazing at the abyss and we can’t place the responsibility on Trump alone. Every time you shrug, every time you say you think it’s funny, every time you say, “well, he’s an idiot, but he makes a couple of good points” you’re asking for it all to happen again. I don’t think we have the comfort of sitting back and laughing anymore. This is real life. We have something more than a choice: we have an obligation. To call Trump out at every opportunity for what he is: the most bigoted, dangerous dickhead in the world right now. Otherwise we may find ourselves without much to laugh at.