The 2016 US Election: Have We Finally Entered Post-Humour?

Niall Flynn /
Nov 7, 2016 / Opinion

No matter how crazy British politics gets, we can always rely on America to make sure they remain that fair chunk crazier. Seriously, every time. They’ve never been outcrazied. Ever.

Regardless of the unwavering head-fuckery doing the rounds at any given time on the British Isles, it’ll always be dwarfed by the correlating mind-bogglingly incomprehensible socio-political shit storm entertained by our Transatlantic neighbours. They never fail. I imagine that this was probably one of the founding principles of the ‘special relationship’ during the Blair-Bush era. After all, there had to be something in it for the former.

Okay George, fine. We’ll do the whole Iraq thing, but you have to promise me that you’re going to stay crazy. You have to be madder than us. Promise me, George. Promise me!”

“Tony, relax. This is America, remember.

Actually George that’s a fair fucking point you make. Let’s drop some bombs, you nutcase.

Take this summer, for example; British politics was in disarray. Britain was leaving the European Union, Cameron was standing down, Labour were disintegrating, Boris was probably going to be the new man in charge, except that he wasn’t anymore, because it’d be Gove, except that it wouldn’t be him either, because it was going to be a woman. Which woman? Andrea Leadsom? Well, hold your horses, because Farage is off too. Who on earth is Andrea Leadsom? Forget it. Theresa May, come on down – best of luck with this one. Rather you than me.

Ha! Take that, America! 2016 is ours! We’re the crazies, now! Try and out-do us this time, you – …  Jesus wait a minute is that Donald Trump?

Tah-dah. And once again, the special relationship had earnt its corn.

As a nation, Britain can always take solace in the fact that no matter how bad it gets, somehow – inconceivably – it could always be a lot, lot worse. Often, it’s the one thing keeping us from full, unadulterated breakdown. When it all gets too much, all we have to do is type Fox News into YouTube and suddenly, things don’t seem all that bad. If nothing else, it makes us laugh.

But here’s the thing. If, tomorrow, Donald Trump wins the US Presidential Election, does that spell the end for fighting the awful with the funny? When Trump was racist, we made him into a punchline. When he was misogynistic, we turned him into a meme. When he promoted violence and fear, we shared videos of Barak Obama being charismatic and witty. Because of Trump’s unfathomable awfulness, it always seemed easier to ridicule rather than directly challenge. He was so skin-crawlingly horrid that the prospect of him ever being elected into the position of leader of the world’s most powerful nation seemed completely unfeasible. Yet here we are, a day away, and it’s impossible to call. He could win it. A man, who was chosen as his party’s candidate on the sole claim that he’d build a wall to keep Mexicans out, could actually fucking win it.

Sure, we’ve condemned him. But each condemnation seemed to come accompanied by a tongue-in-cheek sideswipe, fed by the overarching notion that he could never really be a thing. If anything, it seemed to cloud our sensibilities. The fact that he was an individual so culturally engrained in an environment of satire seemed to form everyone’s immediate approach to dealing with him. The jokes contributed to never truly taking him seriously, and us never taking him seriously was his secret weapon. You see, there are entire classes of American people who feel that they’ve never been taken seriously. Trump tapped into that. “I’m one of you – an outsider,” he’d tell them, masquerading that he was as comfortably inside as anyone else in the country. The more we tried to neutralise him with a morally superior kind of humour, the more he was able to avoid genuine political confrontation.

Which brings us to the idea of post-humour. If he wins – which, as we’ve mentioned, he very well could do – does the joke just stop? At the weekend, a friend of mine dressed up as The Donald for a Halloween party. When buying parts of the outfit in a London charity shop, the American cashier asked her what the items were for. When said friend informed her of her costume’s identity, her response was sharp:

I’m American, and we’ve stopped finding that funny.”

The thing about good, effective satire is that it has to be semi-rooted in the fictional as much as it is the everyday. If David Cameron and George Osbourne had have genuinely initiated a mass-murdering of Britain’s working class, then jokes about the Eton Mafia pushing the ‘start’ button on Austerity Britain with a silver spoon nicked from a Bullingdon dinner wouldn’t have been okay. But, there was a balance. There, hyperbolised humour was often used as an important tool to draw attention to a very real problem. The second that Osbourne’s treasury had started building camps, that’s when we’d have gone “actually, we probably ought to stop drawing cartoons and do something about that.” Obviously, they didn’t. But with Trump, that moment seemed to come too late.

If, by the end of this week, Donald Trump’s on his way to the White House, do we only have ourselves to blame? His sheer, unimaginable lunacy allowed him to slip under the radar as a divisive, bigoted megalomaniac. He was an idiot first, and genuinely, actually, really fucking dangerous second. We should have been focusing on the latter much earlier. If he doesn’t win, the point still remains. If Hilary Clinton is elected the 45th President of the United States, she inherits a country brimming with post-Trump toxicity. He has instigated hatred like no other in the modern, Western political world. If Trump stomps tomorrow, the trail he’s left is only just getting started.

Soon, either way, all will be clear. Even if by the end of the week, Donald Trump is once again resigned to television cameos and social media feuds, a small part of the joke will still be on us. It happened on our watch, folks. Should we stop laughing now?

Words by Niall Flynn

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