A reliable metric for the timelessness of a joke is how it holds up under repetition. I don’t know about you, but, “Washington and his troops storming La Guardia airport with 100 lost – including luggage,” or variations on that theme in meme form, got old fast. I know why it did with me. The idea that the president of the United States thought that battles fought during the American Revolution included the capture of pivotal airports is about as funny as five year old Tommy getting hold of daddy’s loaded pistol.
Donald Trump’s explanation, that the teleprompter was both obscured by rain so he couldn’t see it, and damaged by rain so it displayed the wrong message, misses a vital question. The real question is, why doesn’t Donald “Stable Genius” Trump, of whom it may be said that “nobody knows history better,” didn’t know instantly, reflexively, without even having to think about it, that there were no airplanes during the Revolutionary War? I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know that. When the president of the United States doesn’t know it, well, we have a serious problem on our hands.
A competing meme of Ivanka Trump in various historical settings – the Yalta Conference, the lunar landing, the Last Supper – similarly leaves me cold. As unwelcome as she is unqualified, her inappropriate appearance at the G20 conference and other places nonetheless symbolizes something truly disturbing, the groundwork-laying contrivance for a totalitarian dynasty.
While Donald Trump was planning a multimillion dollar Fourth of July extravaganza in tribute to his own ego, his lawyers were busy explaining why the country couldn’t afford blankets, soap and toothpaste for children, children who were torn from their parents without due process. While Donald Trump jokes with Vladimir Putin about murdering journalists, Putin continues to cyber-infiltrate American politics through troll farms and disinformation.
If any of this is funny to any of you then I don’t get it. Naturally I don’t begrudge anyone’s making jokes, particularly when they are at Trump’s expense. But the darker connotations behind the humor makes it hard for me to laugh.
Meanwhile Donald Trump has no sense of humor. Making a joke at his own expense simply is beyond his capacity. It would mean having to actually admit that he’s human. He isn’t, of course, but for reasons different from what he thinks.
As I say, Trump could have saved himself if he’d simply caught the mistake, fixed it while joking about it, and moved on. If you want to know how a real President does it, check out what John F Kennedy said during a speech bringing the American people up to date about the progress in the space program. “Next month,” Kennedy said, “when the United States of America fires the largest booster in the history of space … fires the largest payroll – payload – into space, giving us the lead.” Notice the President caught his mistake, then he corrected it immediately, substituting “payroll” with “payload.” Then, reflecting on the humor of the misstatement he made a joke at his own expense when he added, “It will be the largest payroll … and who should know that better than Houston?” Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is how a President with class does it. That’s humor both funny and timeless.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.