The most striking thing about Donald Trump isn’t his propensity to lie or his Sarah-Palin-like ignorance of the issues and lack of curiosity about them, his boorish name-calling, or even his orange-tinted skin and ridiculous hairdo. The most striking thing about Trump is his complete lack of humour. He has never uttered a witticism or cracked a joke. And it’s impossible to imagine him uttering a witticism or cracking a joke. He is always mocking opponents and journalists and anybody who has crossed him, but never in a humorous, joshing way. Trump never laughs or even really smiles; he smirks.
Trump has been called a fascist and compared to Hitler and Mussolini. Such comparisons seem a bit farfetched to me, but come to think of it, it’s also hard to imagine either Hitler or Mussolini cracking a joke. In his book Laughter under Fascism: Humour and Ridicule in Italy, 1922–43, Stephen Gundle points out that initially Mussolini suppressed all anti-fascist satirical magazines, and that mainstream Italian media offered only light comedy intended to amuse and distract. Later the regime used cruel and mocking humour against undesirable elements that were seen to be undermining the regime.
For Trump, maybe stirring up xenophobic fears about Mexican hordes pouring across the border and wreaking havoc on peaceful Americans just doesn’t lend itself to lightheartedness. Did you hear the one about the illegal alien who stabbed and raped the old woman before decapitating her and burning her house down? Jokes about mortal threats work only if the mortal threats are real. If you’re trading in imaginary threats, you can’t afford to make light of them for fear of blowing your cover.
Of course there are plenty of racist and misogynistic jokes, but they’re more akin to Trump’s name calling. Racist and misogynistic jokes aren’t funny or even meant to be funny; like Trump’s epithets for his opponents, they’re meant to be cutting, cruel, and dehumanizing.
It’s amazing that Trump’s labeling Marco Rubio “Little Marco” and Ted Cruz “Lying Ted” worked so well with Republican primary voters. Republican elites had long been playing to the basest instincts of the base, and Trump figured out how to exploit them. You have to give him that.
In one way, though, Trump is hilarious, but only if his presidency is as imaginary as the mortal threats he peddles to his ardent supporters. His pomposity, constant bragging, limited vocabulary (For him almost everything is either tremendous (mostly he himself) or disastrous (everything that isn’t him or his), and incoherence are comedy gold. Stephen Colbert suggested that given Trump’s unpredictability, the best stand-in for Trump in Hillary Clinton’s debate preparation would be a jack-o-lantern tied on top of a drunken bear. In this clip from his the Late Night Show, Colbert highlights Trump’s aggressive nastiness:
So we can roll in the aisles laughing at Trump, but it is impossible to laugh with him. And if by some miracle he gets elected President, it won’t be so easy to laugh at him anymore either.