Quote: “I get no respect,” (tag line of insult comedian Rodney Dangerfield)
In the news: “Man insulted at New Hampshire rally by Trump because of weight says, “I love the guy.” (Reuters, 8.16.19)
In context: Almost 100 years ago, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud described humor as an outlet for aggression. About 50 years ago, the insult humor genre came into vogue along with the spread of television sets in American homes. While the genre ran its course long ago, it has resurfaced with the rise of Donald Trump.
As a world leader, Trump himself is a joke. By definition in ihe Cambridge English Dictionary, a leader is one who heads a group based on ability or position. Donald Trump leads by virtue of his position but he is obviously lacking in the ability to perform the duties of his office.
Trump is ignorant about the significance of historical context. He pulls out of accords achieved over decades that took into consideration the vastly conflicting interests of the involved parties. He does not work well with others. True leaders of any group readily admit they depend on input from experts in discrete fields within the range of their concerns. Army Generals rely on Colonels, who Sargeants, who rely on Lieutenants and so forth. Trump increasingly goes it alone, systematically replacing experts with those he can rely on to implement his vision.
The Trump vision is hazy at best. “Nice letters” and “nice conversations” with global tyrants are Trump’s criteria for steering US international relations. From his conduct since taking up residence in the Oval Office, it seems clear that Donald Trump is out of his element. He hires and fires with a zeal more apt for a TV reality show than with a confidence aimed at securing a country and with that, the world.
The scars of past failures may be haunting the President in the loftiness of his current position. Six gargantuan bankruptcies, however, never took the wind from his sails. He simply moved on to more easily accessible sources of funding, with attached strings that remain unknown to this day. Moreover, in the White House he is gambling with taxpayer money, not his own. That guarantee should build his confidence and undoubtedly does. Except that the obstructionists foil his ploys.
The support of the Republican Senate under Moscow Mitch is indispensable to carrying out the Trump agenda even from the bureaucratically encumbered Oval Office, but now there is oversight from the democratic Congress that doggedly noses into legal and financial trails however Trump dodges them. Ever worse is the piercing, prying eye of the pesky American Constitutionally protected right of a free press. With all America’s mighty powers at his fingertips and yet thwarted by safeguards, Trump vents his frustration by pivoting from outright aggressive policies to insults he claims are humor.
A common feature of the 1960-70’s insult humor form of entertainment was self-deprecation. The comic admitted a flaw in himself and then took an adversersarial position with a target in the audience. As equals, the comic and the mark carried out a ritual of “festive abuse.” Rodney Dangerfield made a career out of working out his aggressive tendencies that resulted from some inferiority affliction through such exchanges. “I was so ugly when I was born that the doctor slapped my mother,” Rodney joked before he insulted anyone in the audience.
Donald Trump could never be a Rodney Dangerfield however he insults people in the outmoded Dangerfield tradition. The Trump trademark is gasconade, an elaborate boasting about abilities he doesn’t have.
For however long Trump holds his office as President of the United States, it is better that he work out his aggressions as a pretender to the title of insult comedian than for him to sit in the Oval Office. The country gets into trouble when Trump assumes the dignity of his office to conjure new plans for how to create moral mayhem to insure that the media spotlight stays on his antics and not on his machinations.
However odious to many and however disingenuous the claim of humor for downright offensive and incendiary comments, that is among the least of Trump outrages. As long as the Trump rally doesn’t mind being ridiculed, it is more worthwhile to point out to the more objective audience at home that Trump is a failure, even as a stand-up insult comic.