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Whatever Happened To Americans’ Sense of Humor?

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Whatever Happened To Americans’ Sense of Humor?

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What happened to Americans' sense of humor

You’d think there’d have been more laughs. Hard-fought political campaigns drenched in sweat and tears usually produce moments of levity. But Americans seem to have lost their sense of humor, becoming late-night angry, frustrated and sick with anxiety.

Mark Twain said: “The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven.” The problem is that Americans can’t agree on what to be sorrowful about. Many can’t even recognize as false the “facts” fueling their woes, so trapped are they in their alternate reality.

Political wit has traditionally provided sparks of light in the darkest of times.

Winston Churchill: “If Hitler invaded hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”

Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War: “I can make more generals, but horses cost money.”

Made today, such remarks would easily ignite demands for apologies from groups feeling insulted — or, in many cases, feigning umbrage for political effect. Often the demands follow failed attempts at wit, which is too bad. Efforts to lighten things need encouraging.

Theodore Roosevelt poked Grover Cleveland as “His Accidency.” And when George H.W. Bush persisted in likening his opponent Bill Clinton to Elvis Presley, Clinton responded, “I don’t think Bush would have liked Elvis very much, and that’s just another thing that’s wrong with him.”

Wit requires using words and ideas in quick, inventive and humorous ways. Donald Trump’s insults were mere stink bombs. And his alt-right chorus was a uniquely dimwitted bunch. The alt-right’s idea of funny is grossly worded memes tacked on obscene images. Yuk, yuk, yuck.

Trump did show some comedic promise at the Al Smith dinner, delivering some decent jokes written for him. Self-mockery is not in Trump’s natural repertory, but he got laughs complaining that everyone loved Michelle Obama’s speech but not his wife’s when she used the exact same (plagiarized) words.

But then his rudder broke off, as it so often did, and Trump veered into leaden attacks on that “corrupt” woman. Trump’s own idea of funny wasn’t funny, but it sometimes sounded that way because of his New York patter.

Bernie Sanders, though Jewish and from Brooklyn, revealed no sense of humor. Vermont must have beat it out of him.

That said, Calvin Coolidge of Putney, Vermont, fired off some of the presidency’s most sophisticated wisecracks.

At a White House briefing, “Silent Cal” gave one-word answers of “no” to a string of questions dealing with Prohibition, the World Court and the farm situation. As reporters were leaving the room, Coolidge called out, “And don’t quote me.”

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, hasn’t said a single really funny thing on her own. (Perhaps someone can correct me on this.)

Much of the left has replaced humor with snark, which is heavy and grouchy and does not zing. The one bright lift this season came from the “Saturday Night Live” skits making fun of Clinton, Trump, Sanders and the media figures covering them.

Whatever happened to the clever retort? Whatever happened to the smart rejoinder? Portrayed as a plodding man, Lincoln said, “I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.” Not hilarious but a return shot.

Perhaps we lost our ability to laugh during the recent campaign because we didn’t find ourselves to be funny. One of the nominees was a dangerously crazy man. Scarier than Trump himself was that so many Americans found him acceptable.

Well, Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

But also remember Will Rogers’ nod to the opposition: “Everything is funny, as long as it’s happening to somebody else.”

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached atfharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

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Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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3 Comments

  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 8, 2016

    Wonderful article. It’s so refreshing to hear witty remarks that are meant to perk the mind and touch the soul. Of course, one needs to call out the abuse dished out by those inflated with huge egos—there’s nothing funny about an egomaniac, a lewd and crude person who thinks his star-status gives him the right to force himself on women, etc.
    So, I take great delight in SNL’s impersonation of Hillary, because I know that they mean it in a good-natured way. And I take equal, and yes, more delight, in the impersonations of Trump because he’s so boastful, churlish, and racist in nature. Were he to have developed himself into a thoughtful and humble person, I might take less delight in portrayals of him. Instead, Trump has willingly, and with relish, accepted the role of being a dangerous personality inimical to the well-being of humankind. He deserves every bit of opprobrium thrown his way.

    In the meantime, kudos to Churchill, Lincoln, Calvin, Teddy, and the SNL crews from the 70’s to the present day.

    Reply
  2. dtgraham November 8, 2016

    I posted this last Friday but the article that it was posted on quickly disappeared sometime during the day and I suspect few saw it. If you did see it, please ignore. I spent a few days on this and I hope you get a chuckle.

    Top Ten ways that things would’ve changed with a Trump Presidency (plus a special election bonus of 10):

    20) Every state of the union address to have a surprising amount of insulting remarks about Rosie O’Donnell.
    19) New Trump News Network’s (TNN) continual White House segment: President Trump — “most bitchin’ debauchery theme parties of any world leader.” *
    * inspired by a charleo1 joke
    18) Instead of actual responses to voters, White House.gov just sends out coupons for discounts at Trump hotels.
    17) Before leaving you turn on Fox News just to have something on for your dog, only to come back later and find him with a weird comb-over and opinions about immigrants.
    16) First President ever to address joint session of Congress while eating a Trump Steak off the chest of a stripper from the local nudie bar.
    15) A total ban put into effect on that weird Mexican moon-man language.
    14) America to change it’s elitist, snobby, attitude towards only electing government officials who have qualifications of some kind.
    13) New promotional White House slogan: “If grabbing pus*ies is outlawed, only outlaws will grab pus*ies.”
    12) New number one best selling book in America — The Art of Mein Kampf, by D.Trump.
    11) New American foreign policy: President Trump to deal with countries whose tweets he doesn’t like, by bombing the bast**ds back to to the stone age.
    10) Surprise walk-on by Vladimir Putin during inaugural swearing-in ceremony.
    9) Alarmed by Trump win, long time ally Canada feverishly begins research on top secret stealth maple syrup.
    8) A few years after Trump total bank deregulation, when you deposit cash a bank officer runs over, sticks it in his pocket and dances around yelling, “Lordy Lordy.” “We’re having biscuits tonight.”
    7) Taking cue from their new President, Americans learn not to over-burden the IRS with large, unwieldly, tax payments.
    6) To re-build shattered public confidence, Kelly-Anne Conway has Trump become the first President to lip sync all speeches to pre-recorded voice of Morgan Freeman.
    5) New college bowl game in the President Trump era: The Chick fil A – David Duke straight white guys all-star classic.
    4) Mandatory minimum sentences for African-Americans who don’t stop and frisk themselves every two hours.
    3) After President Trump gets rid of all job killing regulations, restaurants replace dishwashers with St. Bernards who lap the plates clean.
    2) First U.S. President the network news anchors make quotation marks with fingers about, when they say, “The President.”

    and the number one way that things would’ve changed with a Trump Presidency { drum roll }

    1) American President to become inspiring role model for bullying crybabies everywhere.

    Reply
  3. I Am Helpy November 8, 2016

    Conservatives never had one and liberals are stricken with horror.

    Reply

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