Everyone seems to agree that Campaign 2016 marks a turning point in American politics, a moment when the old order is shattering and something, that “rude beast” of Yeats’ memorable poem, is slouching towards a new Bethlehem.
The Conversation, an online open access journal allowing free reproduction of its contents, Professor and Chair of History at Hofstra University, dissects the humorless state of the candidates in historical context in an essay for
And do continue after the jump for the a clip from the 1999 comedy film featuring a certain democratic socialist playing rabbi:
Are U.S. politics beyond a joke?
“I really do respect the press,” President Barack Obama joked at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in 2013, shortly after his second successful election campaign. “I recognize that the press and I have different jobs to do. My job is to be president; your job is to keep me humble. Frankly, I think I’m doing my job better.”
Obama’s comedic skill has, itself, been a key ingredient of his political success. Yet neither of the current presidential candidates appears to have much interest in following in his footsteps. “Wit and humor have been drained from our politics,” the Washington Times lamented earlier this month.
The emptying of humor in the current U.S. election campaign is striking, reflecting both the personal limitations of the current candidates and the exceptional gravity of the moment. Whether or not we are witnessing the rise of American fascism, the end of the Republican Party or the disintegration of freedom in the Western world, there is clearly a crisis in U.S. democratic culture.
In this dark political climate, displays of humor – for centuries, a mainstay of leadership – have become increasingly out of place.
A serious turn
Hillary Clinton, it is true, has attempted the occasional humorous barb. Donald Trump, she observed wryly this June, “says he has foreign policy experience because he ran the Miss Universe pageant in Russia.”
But – Saturday Night Live appearances notwithstanding – she has hardly been distinguished by her comic touch. Confronted with deeply embedded prejudices against women in politics (and in comedy), it’s understandable that female candidates may find it shrewd to display gravitas. Nonetheless, Clinton’s ventures into humor seem manufactured.
Equally, Trump’s particular brand of populism is scarcely to be confused with comedy. While he has sometimes been treated as a buffoon, and Trevor Noah has hailed his stand-up’s sense of timing, Trump’s appeal to voters rests less on humor than on the performance of anger.
The “serious turn” in U.S. presidential politics marks a break from the past – from Reagan’s cinematic smile, Obama’s skilled performances at White House Correspondents’ Dinners and American political norms that, according to one study, value smiling much more than the Chinese.
There’s more, including Bernie’s Hollywood moment, after the jump. . . Continue reading