I don’t get it

by John Holbo on March 5, 2018

Maybe someone could ask Sarah Huckabee Sanders (or someone who’s in charge of this stuff) to explain the joke?

The comment was made behind closed doors, and appeared to be in jest: President Trump told donors on Saturday that China’s president, Xi Jinping, was now “president for life,” and added: “I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll want to give that a shot someday.”

The remarks, confirmed by a leading Republican lobbyist who attended the luncheon at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, were first aired by CNN, which obtained an audio recording of his comments.

The statement, which drew laughter from those in attendance and was said by a smiling president, according to the lobbyist, was given on a day when Mr. Trump was out for laughs.

With so many people laughing, surely at least one person must be in on the joke. We on the outside, looking in, want to know.

Is it one of those ‘it’s funny because it’s true’ type things? The inevitability of someone – possibly Trump himself – overthrowing the constitutional order and becoming President For Life is the new ‘the VCR is inevitably going to blink 12:00’ kind of gags?

Or is it one of those ‘ha ha I’m an awful person but aren’t we all awful in our hearts, the things we wish for, so this is actually kind of deep – I’m a symbol of human nature itself, I contain dark multitudes’ things?

Or is it just one of those ‘politicians give the people what they deserve, good and hard’ jokes

Or is kind of a higher synthesis of those last two: ‘you know I want it, but I know you know I know I can’t ask for it, so I’m just, like, wink-wink’ type things? So the joke is it’s not a joke but an ask, plus deniability?

Asking for a friend.

{ 94 comments }

1

Ted Lemon 03.05.18 at 4:13 am

There are lots of different ways of reading the future. Entrails. Tea leaves. The position of the stars at the time of your birth.

All of these have a higher signal-to-noise ratio than attempting to predict the future based on what Trump says. If you’re seriously worried about this, just get to work doing what you can to prevent it. Surely you know that cheetos are made with hot air?

2

John Holbo 03.05.18 at 4:20 am

“If you’re seriously worried about this …”

There’s the problem. Right there. I failed to explain my joke. How ironic.

3

derrida derider 03.05.18 at 4:23 am

Gee, lighten up. Trump’s ACTIONS are appalling enough without also picking on him for some very rare self-deprecating humour on his part.

If Obama had said it he would no doubt have said it with much better comic effect and wit. And it would have passed without comment. Do US politicians have to add “only joking folks” after every little bit of banter these days?

4

John Holbo 03.05.18 at 4:26 am

“some very rare self-deprecating humour on his part.”

Is it self-deprecating? How so? I’m obviously way more worried about other stuff he does but I guess I think jokes are kind of telling. The telling thing here is there’s no way to read it as self-deprecating. Or is there?

5

Ted Lemon 03.05.18 at 4:26 am

I think it’s more like “that joke isn’t funny.” We’ve been practicing haruspicy ever since Mr. Orange and full of hot air landed in office, and what has it got us so far? For god’s sake, find something else to talk about. I don’t know, like maybe what he does as opposed to what he says?

6

John Holbo 03.05.18 at 4:29 am

“I think it’s more like “that joke isn’t funny.””

His or mine (or both)?

“For god’s sake, find something else to talk about.”

I would think, after a week of posting about the word ‘galaxy’ in poetry and late 18th century erotic scientific plant poetry, I could at least have some credit in the ‘not posting about Trump’ bank.

7

BruceJ 03.05.18 at 4:43 am

“It was a joke” is, by now the standard reflexive explanation for “getting caught saying something offensive”; it’s right up there with “That statement doesn’t reflect how I am” after being caught saying something horrifically racist or sexist. It’s the new “That statement is not operative at this time…”

Like “I’m not a racist…” is a key indicator that something definitely racist is about to fall from the utterers piehole.

And if Obama had said this we would STILL be hearing the howls of poutrage from the right. Anyone remember the terrorist fist bump incident, or the ghastly time he asked for gasp dijon mustard on his five guys burger???

8

John Holbo 03.05.18 at 4:56 am

“And if Obama had said this we would STILL be hearing the howls of poutrage from the right.”

This is true but – sorry to explain my joke: I think you get it, BruceJ – Obama wouldn’t have told it, not just because he never would have heard the end of it, but because it wouldn’t have struck him as a funny thing to say. Even in a world in which he could have gotten away with it.

But mostly I made a joke about a joke because, dammit, the left can’t take it’s own side in an argument, and it can’t take it’s own funny side in a non-argument. If you can’t laugh at a joke that is absolutely not funny in any way, no matter how you look at it, what CAN you laugh at?

9

GrueBleen 03.05.18 at 5:28 am

I can’t say I quite get your joke (which part if it is funny ?) but I was thinking about Making Donald Great Again. I don’t for a moment consider he’d be capable of ‘self deprecation’, so I took his remarks as basically ‘self aggrandisement’ along the lines of: see Xi can’t win his way to power so he has to steal it to stay the big man indefinitely. Whereas I, Trump, win free elections by record margins.

In short, a Xi Jinping putdown – which he emphasises by recapping the sentiment “No, he’s great.” as “I think it’s great.” Or something like that.

The real joke – that dictators for life sooner or later make major stuffup(s) and screw their countrymen (think Stalin, Mao and most monarchs throughout history etc) would most likely be quite lost on Trump.

10

Scott Paterson 03.05.18 at 5:30 am

Hi John Holbo,

We laugh when we are nervous. Its a natural reaction that sort of negates our fight or flight reaction. The story teller allows us to experience something that is frightening or makes us uncomfortable enough to react. Maybe it’s just gas escaping from our brains when the dopamine takes over.

I saw the tape and the CPAC (right?) people laughed when DT mentioned Xi Jinping. Perhaps they were laughing over the confusion and hyperbole of the Western press who has decided a missing phrase in a translated speech means the Chinese President now wants to be a dictator; perhaps they were nervous when a wanna-be dictator shows his limited expertise on foreign policy. Lets get real! Xi does not look that healthy. He only looks healthy and powerful because he is compared to our Great Leader.

But the Trumputeers howled at the President for life remark for many reasons. They know very well that his time in office is nearing an end. And they know the Donald is not long destined for this world by the looks of his body, and his eating and sleeping habits. But most of all that gas in their brains went off because nobody’s sure who will get him first: Robert Mueller or the Grim Reaper.

11

ph 03.05.18 at 5:34 am

The Obama ‘joke’ in 2009

2010 – Tea Party smashes Dem majority and re-animates zombie GOP with Palin at Helm

Tea Party IRS applications stall – Deny, deny, deny, deny, deny, deny, deny-deny-deny.

Obama’s post-2012 ‘anger.’ – ‘Did we do that?

2015 Obama-controlled DNC signs over control of all finances to HRC before a single primary vote cast. DNC head resigns at Democratic convention over election interference.

Trump fixed the election!!

Just kidding!

12

John Holbo 03.05.18 at 5:47 am

“I can’t say I quite get your joke (which part if it is funny ?)”

Surely the VCR bit is evergreen. (But maybe, since ‘gruebleen’ is your handle, your mileage may vary.)

“In short, a Xi Jinping putdown”

You see, that’s the thing. I don’t – I can’t – read it that way at all. He is so admiring of Xi. There doesn’t seem to be a negging quality to it. Xi’s a great guy!

Since he really IS saying it’s great that Xi is President for life, then what’s the joke supposed to be if not ‘we all know it would be great if we overthrew the Constitution and made me dictator for life, but isn’t it ironic that we can’t say it?’ But it’s crazy that he actually said that, in effect. Not the worst thing he’s done, but maybe a bit too on-the-nose?

13

christian h. 03.05.18 at 5:49 am

Didn’t Obama tell that hilarious “joke” about drone striking someone or other at some WH correspondents dinner? I don’t recall much outrage about that outside the usual suspects on the left internet, despite the fact that he was in fact having people killed by drones, in contrast to Trump, who, loathsome as he is, hasn’t so far proposed to change the 22nd amendment. So I agree this wasn’t funny in any way, but I think the idea that Trump is being given a pass where Obama wasn’t isn’t reflecting reality on our planet.

14

John Holbo 03.05.18 at 5:54 am

ph, I think you are confused either about the referent of the proper name ‘Obama’ or possibly the meaning of the word ‘joke’. Or both.

15

John Holbo 03.05.18 at 6:00 am

“Didn’t Obama tell that hilarious “joke” about drone striking someone or other at some WH correspondents dinner?”

Did he? Well, alright, that is a joke in bad taste. But at least I can explain it: drones are a terrible thing, but necessary. Joking about it is black humor, making light of necessity by suggesting, absurdly, that we should start droning lightly. What makes it bad is that, in fact, we were droning too much already. By contrast, you can’t even explain why Trump’s joke was supposed to be funny without saying something – to explain its jokiness – that’s just as a bad as if it wasn’t a joke at all.

16

Adam Hammond 03.05.18 at 6:05 am

It is (mildly) funny to muse about something, as though you had only just thought of it, when everyone knows that it is actually your hearts desire. “Hmm, do I want to eat this cookie?” says Cookie Monster. There is dissonance between word and anticipated action that can be used to comedic effect.

That’s my best guess.

17

John Holbo 03.05.18 at 6:06 am

(ph and I always go around like this. He has the advantage of me, using language as he does.)

18

John Holbo 03.05.18 at 6:19 am

““Hmm, do I want to eat this cookie?” says Cookie Monster.”

That is a very apt analog, Adam.

19

ph 03.05.18 at 6:39 am

Hi John, like you I err in being too oblique for my audience.

Here’s Obama clearly joking about auditing people he doesn’t like:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhxmIxJBTmQ

Here’s the ‘angry’ Obama who ‘improperly screened’ Tea Party folks ‘he won’t tolerate’ this kind of behavior: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exGoP5DWT6s

And here’s a raving right-wing PBS report on Eric Holder promising to investigate his own party and administration’s IRS abuses. At the end of the report, we have Democrats complaining about Obama administration attacks on the free press.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6NPAVyh-60

Obama’s scandal-free administration! No joke!

20

Jason Weidner 03.05.18 at 6:58 am

It’s a bit like his joke at the Gridiron dinner:

“I won’t rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un, I just won’t. As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that’s his problem, not mine.”

Is the humoristic premise that people think Trump is the crazy one of the two, or the opposite?

21

bruce wilder 03.05.18 at 7:11 am

I used to think it was telling when conservatives could not detect satire.

22

Faustusnotes 03.05.18 at 7:19 am

Derrida’s idea that of Obama had made this joke noone would have cared is hilarious. Such naivete. Is it possible,or is derider deflecting? Hmmm. Also the idea we should focus on what Trump does rather than what he says… On certain topics (racism and things that benefit him) what Trump says and what he does are closely related. You can guess what he’s going to do by what he says,which is why we care about what he says. I find what Trump says terrifying because so far he has acted on his threats to North Korea, and his latest threat was something “that would be unfortunate for the world”. I live in Tokyo so what Trump says matters to me if it has any potential future relationship to what he does.

This is not a joke, which is why John is having difficulty understanding the joke. The Republicans would love to abolish term limits if they could reliably suppress the vote enough to benefit from them. The only reason it’s funny to these people is that they know they can’t do it yet. Its also nervous laughter because everyone in that room knows they’d love to replace American democracy with their version of Chinese authoritarian system, but they can’t say so, and Trump just said it for them. Nervous laughter when someone says what everyone’s thinking, and they all know it’s bad.

The only joke here is that if America had no term limits Obama would still be president.

23

John Holbo 03.05.18 at 9:20 am

ph, so far as I can tell the IRS scandal turned out to be nothing – or at least not definitely something, right?

https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/auditreports/2017reports/201710054fr.pdf

Do you know better?

As to why Obama would joke about it? In my new (and heretofore unanticipated) role as joke-explainer, I believe I can solve the conundrum: Obama was mocking people for crediting a non-existing scandal. This is similar, in humoristic structure, to the whole “Lion King” thing he did. You remember that?

Now perhaps it wasn’t non-exist, but he claimed it was. So that explains the logic of the joke. I hope this helps.

(If Trump were known for his belief that Xi should NOT be President for life – rather than for his admiration for Xi – then one might infer that ‘maybe we should try that here’ was bitter satire rather than, as one assumes, wishfulness. Of a Cookie Monsterish sort.)

24

ph 03.05.18 at 9:48 am

Well, Lerner wants her testimony sealed permanently, Obama fired people. The clip makes clear that Obama’s IG found enough for heads to roll, and I included the PBS clip for a reason. Turns out to be nothing covers a great deal of the past. As someone who’s not American, every time you folks elect an ‘entirely new kind of president’ the end results turn out to be pretty much the same as every other president. So, if you’re willing to put Trump’s election into the same category, I suppose you’re right – IRS targeting conservative groups, Obama admits as much, (blames bad apples, bad communication, and bad law). A case can be made that a large part of the ‘enthusiasm gap’ and the strength of Trump’s base resides in the fact that one part of America considers ‘their president’s’ persecution of US citizens to be ‘nothing at all.’

Just kidding, depends a lot on whether one is on the receiving end of the joke. The Obama WH stunk to high-heaven, but many called that roses. Scandal-free is all in the eyes of the beholder, I’m sure you’d agree.

Our only real difference, from what I can tell, is that I consider Trump very much a run of the mill US president – better in many respects. He just sounds different.

25

fgw 03.05.18 at 11:49 am

What’s definitely not a joke is any President of the United States expressing open admiration for Xi.
What might be a joke is wondering how many in the room were thinking “yeah, four more years of Obama is looking pretty good right now” while politely laughing

26

casmilus 03.05.18 at 12:09 pm

The humour of Hop-Frog’s master.

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/poe/hop_frog.html

27

Layman 03.05.18 at 12:11 pm

ph: “Obama admits as much…”

This is yet another reason why the Obama approach – to be polite and conciliatory and accommodating to his political opponents while they are unreasoning ideologues – should be tossed on the scrap heap.

28

nastywoman 03.05.18 at 12:48 pm

– as there is this theory that the Orange Orang Utan only ran -(seriously) for President BE-cause Obama made such hilarious fun of him and and you for sure must know this theory – and your question for an explanation of Trumps ”joke” seems to be purely ”rhetorical” –
YES!! –
The f… Moron is making fun of US!
He is making fun of all US idiots who erected him!!

29

nastywoman 03.05.18 at 12:50 pm

”He is making fun of all US idiots who erected him!!”

Especially of Ph!
-(and the great thing is that dudes like Ph don’t get it)

30

John Crowley 03.05.18 at 1:04 pm

I have no insight into Trump’s remarks or what genre it belongs in — all seem possible to be in play at once — but I’d like to know what ‘the VCR is inevitably going to blink 12:00’ gag is, in order to establish the genre.

31

steven t johnson 03.05.18 at 1:52 pm

Comedy is conflict, which is why humor is a form of aggression. Aside from explaining why so many esteemed humorists are reactionaries, this explains why farting can provoke gales of laughter. Saying anything that breaks convention in an implicitly (or explicitly) way can strike someone as funny. As to why some jokes get a laugh? Like pillow talk or porn, humor is very idiosyncratic. De gustibus non disputandum. My best guess is Trump got laughs because he was the President and you’re supposed to respect the President (especially if he’s your kind of guy) and if he jokes, you laugh, even if you can’t quite say what the joke is.

In this perspective, the widely accepted wisdom that the good people are laid back and funny and laugh a lot is self-admiring twaddle. The logic plays out in things like the unspoken assumption that because David Hume is a genial writer, then he’s not a historian intent of making sure the bad old days of the Puritan Revolution never come back, vaunting skepticism to dull the critical edge of the then unnamed Enlightenment.
Thus, if Trump can tell a joke, it means he’s human. Indeed, he is…but humor isn’t worth diddly-squat.

32

steven t johnson 03.05.18 at 1:54 pm

“implicitly (or explicitly) aggressive way”

Seriously, not an incompetent typo but a subtly ironic meta-joke. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

33

Ted Lemon 03.05.18 at 3:21 pm

I feel like I’m watching Lucy hold the football for Charlie Brown.

When you talk about someone reading entrails, and you seriously entertain either the position of the entrails or what is said by the entrail-reader as if they are valid things to consider, you have already gone off the rails. You are already a crazy uncle. Just stop it. You get no credit for etymologizing “galaxy.” Sorry.

We are witnesses at a ghastly feast. The problem is the ghastly feast. Discussing the conversation between the celebrants is buying into the validity of having the feast. That the conversation will be pointless, idiotic and vividly alarming is a given. There is no need to continue remarking on it.

34

Alan White 03.05.18 at 4:02 pm

Johnny Cash got it partly right in “A Boy Named Sue”–sometimes what your name is informs everything about your life. Was it entirely accidental that my phy ed teacher in high school was named Mike Sweatfield? And when you have a name “Trump”–meaning one-upmanship as used in cards and argumentation–what else to expect?

35

PatinIowa 03.05.18 at 4:55 pm

Just gonna leave this hear. Make of it what you like.

“If this were a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier… as long as I’m the dictator. Hehehe.”
― George W. Bush

36

PatinIowa 03.05.18 at 4:56 pm

“here” Dammit.

37

GrueBleen 03.05.18 at 5:29 pm

John Holbo #12

It appears my kilometerage does indeed vary, your VCR reference is a complete ‘whooshies’ I’m afraid. As is most of what Trump goes on about, but then I suspect it’s really a whooshies for him too.

Anyway, it does seem to me that Trump is happiest when he’s doing putdowns, especially for a live audience. Since I can’t quite imagine Trump’s chosen audience laughing at him praising Xi, I still reckon it was basically the opposite. The idea of ‘damning with faint praise’ comes to mind.

Though I suppose it is faintly possible that Trump’s audience thought it was laugh-worthy that he was hinting at how wonderful having him as a life dictator would be. On the other hand, maybe the supremo of ‘The Apprentice’ thinks he’s basically achieved that without having to leave Faux Noise occasionally to go into the Oval Office.

38

nastywoman 03.05.18 at 5:40 pm

”Aside from explaining why so many esteemed humorists are reactionaries,”

What?!

and I always thought that so many esteemed reactionaries have absolutely no humor as nearly every humorist (”comedian”) is NOT a reactionary and that’s what seems to be so difficult for the f… Moron to take – that from time to time he tries to do some misfired jokes too?

39

Jacob Steel 03.05.18 at 6:46 pm

I’m afraid I think it’s mostly funny – or, at least, I find it quite funny – because of threads like this.

The idea that Trump might declare himself president for life is obviously absurd, but a surprisingly large number of people who ought to know better write as though they take it seriously (how many actually do, and how many are just signalling the strength of their contempt for Trump, I’m not sure).

I think that Trump is mocking that hysteria by intentionally playing up to it.

40

Theophylact 03.05.18 at 6:48 pm

It’s like that nisi prius nuisance, the judicial humorist. You fail to laugh at the Judge’s jokes at your and your client’s peril. That’s why Trump’s “jokes” are “funny”.

41

Shirley0401 03.05.18 at 7:06 pm

Trump’s whole shtick is variations of “I’m an awful person but aren’t we all awful in our hearts,” isn’t it? I mean, that’s kind of what he ran on.
I remember…
“Sure, I screwed over some contractors. What are they going to do, sue me? Ha.”
“Of course I ripped off the idiots who thought Trump University was worthwhile. They deserved it for being rubes!”
“Complicated tax avoidance? That shows I’m SMART. Paying taxes is for lames.”
And so on.
What’s infuriating is how he is *still* treated, to a degree, like he’s some sort of “especially highly successful everyman,” one who doesn’t bother to pretend he’s got ethics or a moral compass or a commitment to high ideals or hell, even a coherent worldview or ideology. Underlying that narrative is the suggestion that we’re *all* selfish grasping insatiably power-hungry awful people, deep down, who wouldn’t be satisfied with President if we thought we could be King.
We heard a lot of concern about normalization during the primaries, then during the general, then during the first few months. Then, very little. Now, I barely hear it at all. It’s just normalized. I worry that, barring a truly catastrophic November for the GOP, there’s no coming back from this.

42

Shirley0401 03.05.18 at 7:18 pm

Jacob Steel @ 35

The idea that Trump might declare himself president for life is obviously absurd, but a surprisingly large number of people who ought to know better write as though they take it seriously.

I remember when the idea that Trump might think people would take his campaign seriously was absurd. Remember how absurd that was? The escalator? All the gold? The failure to understand that HE was the joke? Ha!
Then, I remember how absurd the idea that he thought he had a chance at the nomination was. Come on. So many highly-qualified candidates.
Then, there was the absurdity of even harboring the hint of a suspicion that he had a chance beating the Most Qualified Candidate Ever (TM) in the general. Ludicrous, right?

If there’s one thing I think I might have learned since this nightmare started, it’s that lots of things that *should* be absurd end up not having been so absurd after all in retrospect if the person responsible for the absurdity isn’t in on the joke.

43

Older 03.05.18 at 8:09 pm

This is definitely a place for one of our family tropes, wherein the offending party says “I’m sorry, it was a joke.” And the other person replies “I’m sorry it was a joke too.”

44

anon/portly 03.05.18 at 9:13 pm

I have to admit this thread is way over my head. John Holbo alludes to a joke he has made, but I have no idea what it was. Trump makes the most anodyne, obvious joke possible – one probably every president since Washington has made some variation of, probably multiple times, except maybe William Henry Harrison, and maybe even him. And so there’s obviously some sort of meta-joke in pretending that it’s not obviously a joke or that it isn’t really funny or whatever, but for the life of me I can’t figure it out.

Possibly the last line, “[a]sking for a friend,” means that the joke is that JH is pretending that it’s the “friend” who doesn’t see why the joke is funny, i.e. the friend, not JH, is the caricature of the humor-impaired lefty (or the lefty for whom any utterance of Trump’s can only impart dread or gloom).*

It’s a bit dry….

And also I can’t tell which if any of the commenters are in on the meta-joke. If Faustusnotes is in on the joke, the second half of 22 is mildly funny. If not, the second half of 22 is pretty scary.

Maybe partly the problem is that the meta-jokiness dissipates as soon as ph/kidneystones shows up with his usual insipid comments. I know that sounds like an ad hominem, but c’mon, obviously if you really dislike HRC and want to annoy left-wing blog readers, there’s one and only one effective line to take, and ph/kidneystones disdains to take it. That line is, HRC lost to the worst, most ignorant, most disliked (even many who voted for him didn’t and don’t like him) major-party candidate ever (or at least in some time). What does that loss say about HRC and the current state of the Democrats?

The line ph/kidneystones does take, that Obama is or was particularly corrupt or incompetent in some meaningful way, especially compared to Trump himself – why would that annoy anyone? I mean, we’re talking about the guy who just tweeted this:

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/969525362580484098

*Other than being a lefty, that kind of describes me, but I am still capable of making logical inferences like (1) if anyone else said it, it would be a joke; (2) as often as Trump says nutty things, Trump still says “normal” things all the time; (3) Trump is not such a strange person that he doesn’t understand the “joke” concept, in fact jokes are a useful rhetorical tool for people of his sort, and in fact Trump has made jokes in the past; (4) people laughed; (5) therefore it was a joke.

45

anon/portly 03.05.18 at 9:26 pm

And another thing: as I recall back in the early 90’s JH made a similar post about Pat Buchanan’s idea of using “Why not the Beast” as his campaign slogan. So this is recycled.

46

Scott Paterson 03.05.18 at 9:53 pm

Hi Jacob Steel,
I get into these streams of consciousness because it affords communication with intelligent people. I come to Crooked Timber for the suggested reading list but stay for the threads.

47

Heliopause 03.05.18 at 11:43 pm

You’re a real hoot at parties, aren’t you.

48

nastywoman 03.05.18 at 11:47 pm

– or could we say that WE Americans have such a great sense of humor that we erected a completely humorless Moron as President – who now feels the need to prove that he actually can crack a joke too?

49

John Holbo 03.05.18 at 11:57 pm

OK, the VCR thing was supposed to be this: way back in the 80’s there was a ‘doncha hate it how …’ laziness to the routines. ‘Doncha hate it how VCR’s are impossible to program so they always blink 12:00’. But it isn’t hard to program VCR’s, so the joke isn’t funny. But it’s sort of funny that you would think that was funny. And now I can’t remember which comedian it was from the 80’s – or early 90’s – who made fun of comedians who make fun of how hard it is to program VCR’s. Even YouTube doesn’t seem to know. I guess it wasn’t so evergreen after all.

50

John Holbo 03.06.18 at 12:02 am

I just want to make sure John Crowley gets what he wants even if everything else in the thread goes to hell because John Crowley is a genius. So that’s the VCR thing. Apparently I had hallucinated a genre. As you were.

51

kidneystones 03.06.18 at 12:42 am

@44 I’m NOT saying Obama was particularly corrupt. I’m saying he was as corrupt as every other politico right up to the tune of his 400 k post-presidency speaking fees, and Chelsea Clinton’s six-figure part-time jobs. The Obama post-presidency tour explicitly brands itself as ‘THE scandal-free administration’ and the fact that this meme is swallowed and propagated by his hagiographers and the uncritical.

I’m certainly plenty of politicians have tried to rig primaries, and to use the civil service to punish folks they don’t like. Obama is not at all exceptional in this respect.

My explicit claim is that all your presidents seem the same in terms of ‘integrity.’ Bill Clinton, who was a breath of fresh air compared to Reagan and Bush, was still dumb enough to deregulate banking and clear the way for the great housing crisis. He exploited his position of power to have interns blow him (never happens ANYWHERE else!) and made sure he’s never going to have live in Arkansas again. So, that’s the normal, I’m talking about.

Presuming elites are somehow imbued with a moral authority that’s usually hard to discern in the most humble seems delusional, at best. Obama recast as a combination of Mother Theresa and MLK only with a 15 k Rolex on his wrist is cool, but Trump’s gilded furniture and penchant for meat-loaf offends, and the way he speaks? Ooh-la-la!

Libya was a war of choice, and Democrats have demonstrated the same enthusiasm for bombing the weak as any Republican, and employ the precisely the same sanctimonious intonations of ‘necessity’ and ‘reluctance’ before letting fly. Pushing back against globalization and violent regime change as policy is about all I hope for from any leader these days.

If you expect the pigs to voluntarily step back from the trough that’s your affair.

52

J-D 03.06.18 at 12:59 am

Shirley0401

Trump’s whole shtick is variations of “I’m an awful person but aren’t we all awful in our hearts,” isn’t it?

‘Good can imagine the possibility of becoming evil … but Evil, defiantly chosen, can no longer imagine anything but itself.’
WH Auden, ‘At The End Of The Quest, Victory’, The New York Times, January 22, 1956 (Review of The Return Of The King, by JRR Tolkien)

53

Cranky Observer 03.06.18 at 1:10 am

“The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
— Salena Zito, Taking Trump Seriously, Not Literally, “The Atlantic” Sept. 23, 2016

That turned out well.

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John Holbo 03.06.18 at 1:58 am

“but Trump’s gilded furniture and penchant for meat-loaf offends, and the way he speaks? Ooh-la-la!”

OK, here’s my dilemma. Meatloaf? Has kidney read a newspaper since February, 2017? But: is it worth it? So I’d like to just stipulate that I’ve made a comprehensively cutting response to kidney and move on. You can imagine it for yourselves, or not.

Ted Lemon: “You are already a crazy uncle. Just stop it. You get no credit for etymologizing “galaxy.” Sorry.

We are witnesses at a ghastly feast. The problem is the ghastly feast. Discussing the conversation between the celebrants is buying into the validity of having the feast.”

Ted is objecting to telling jokes about Trump (I take it). On the ground that Trump being President is no joking matter. On the one hand, I agree: it’s serious. But I can’t bring myself to tell no Trump jokes. And I object to the implication that all people who tell jokes about Trump – hence myself – are crazy uncles. I object to this on the ground that that’s not what a crazy uncle is. A crazy uncle is someone with a bug in his ear about something, who takes some non-serious thing too seriously. Telling jokes about Trump is literally the opposite of that. If I’m doing anything wrong, it’s taking a serious thing non-seriously. So I’m a non-crazy non-uncle. (If we want to introduce this technical designation for this sort of thing.)

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Glen Tomkins 03.06.18 at 2:07 am

All of your theories are possible, but they are all also irrelevant, because Trump suffers from dementia. His mind these days is the midnight in which all cows are black. All of the dynamics you suggested could be at play, or none of them, or some of them plus ten others you didn’t mention. But there’s no bottom to this that you can get to by working back from his statements, because he can’t keep any threads together, of communication or obfuscation or humor or anything else.

This is what dementia is like. There is still thought going on, it is just not organized because even in this middle stage of dementia the demented can’t keep all the threads together that need to be woven into all but the simplest thoughts about this complicated world we live in. He can still get through dinner, but these days it can’t be more complicated than a Big Mac. Something as complicated as applying 4th grade Civics to his current job is beyond him now. There’s no more to the matter than that.

Well, there’s no more to the matter of Trump’s pronouncements having anything to do with reality. But the case of Trump’s pronouncements is very different from that of some random demented person’s mutterings in that he is President of the United States. Someone is exercising the powers of the office in the name of a person who can’t understand anything more complicated than fast food. That imposture is what we should be paying attention to, not the irrelevant content of the mutterings of the demented person.

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faustusnotes 03.06.18 at 2:19 am

I see that the idea Clinton and Obama rigged the primaries to exclude Sanders has arisen again. Since we’re at this sad juncture again let’s dispense with this bullshit immediately: Sanders was given a sweet run. Sanders is not even a democrat but he was allowed to run for the Democratic nomination. That is the explicit opposite of clearing the field for Hilary. Any riff-raff were allowed into that primary. Do you think an Australian or a Canadian or a Japanese or a German member of a political party would even consider allowing a non-party member to run against them? Sanders was the beneficiary of a massive program of affirmative action for old white men, and he still screwed it up. And immediately after he screwed it up he went back to being independent.

What a churlish, posing little prima donna he is.

I also see that more people are pushing the idea that we should ignore what Trump says, that it’s just a “ghastly feast” and we should not care what people say. What a uniquely stupid position! Let’s try this with some other leaders, shall we? We can ignore what Xi Jinping says about term limits or repression because it’s just a ghastly feast. It didn’t matter when Cameron said he’d hold a referendum on brexit because obviously we should only pay attention to what he does, not what he says. Right?

What a crock of shit. Trump acts on what he says. Muslim ban, removing temporary protection, aggressive deportations, check. Trade war with China, check. Leaving NAFTA, check. The only thing he said he would do that he hasn’t is “drain the swamp.” But when it comes to racist actions and militarism and trade protectionism he has been a man of his word. It’s very important to listen to what he says, and just because you can’t always separate his bullshit ideas from his promises that’s no reason not to try.

Honestly, are you people teenagers? The naivete on display here is exceptional.

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Ted Lemon 03.06.18 at 2:35 am

@56 “given a sweet run” is not something that happens in a democracy. In a democracy, you don’t have to ask permission to run from some gatekeeper. So when you say something like this, you are really agreeing that the primary was rigged. These accusations about rigging are not that votes were lost or something. It’s not even that it wasn’t run according to its own internal rules. It’s that the process was undemocratic. We really don’t know what the people would have chosen if the primary had been run in a democratic manner, because it wasn’t. Personally I think the outcome would have been the same, but I find your dismissal of peoples’ concerns about it sad.

We should ignore what Trump says because getting fussed about what he says is how he won the election. Whether it’s due to dementia or craft, the way he speaks games our minds. We wind up engaging in the wrong battle.

To John’s point in @54, I am not objecting to you telling jokes about what Trump says. I am objecting to you (a) paying attention to what Trump says, because you’re better than that, and (b) sharing what Trump says with us, because it tempts us to waste our attention it instead of on something that matters.

What I mean by it being a grisly feast is that the wildebeest is already dead, and the jackals are at it. We can’t save that wildebeest, and watching the jackals feast on it doesn’t help us. Not only is it grim and upsetting, but it takes time and mental energy away from pursuits that could save the next wildebeest.

It may be a form of self-soothing, but I think what it really is is just histrionics. That made sense in November of 2016, but it’s 2018 now, and we have an election going. Now it’s time to pay attention to that. What is being done by Trump literally does not matter. It is written. We can’t do anything about it. What we can do is take his power away from him as soon as bloody well possible.

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Faustusnotes 03.06.18 at 2:50 am

No ted.in a functioning party non party members don’t get to run for anything, full stop. That’s not rigging or cheating or anything else. You wanna run you pay your dues. Sanders got by without doing that, which means he got special support from the party that noone else got. So ditch the bullshit about it being undemocratic.

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Doctor Memory 03.06.18 at 2:53 am

“Pushing back against globalization and violent regime change as policy is about all I hope for from any leader these days.”

I see, it is still mid-2016 and we are still mulling over the idea that Trump might in his heart be some sort of foul-mouthed, ass-grabby crotchety uncle version of Justin Raimondo who for all of his personal faults is somehow committed to a non-interventionist, “anti-globalist,” nay even implicitly pacifistic foreign policy.

Well, I suppose some fantasies are enduring. Much like, ironically, the American drone campaign and our military involvement in just about every civil war currently bubbling in the middle east.

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nastywoman 03.06.18 at 2:56 am

@
”Honestly, are you people teenagers?”

Ohhh do I wish I were… and about ”the naivete on display here is exceptional.” – that’s not true as one commenter – like always ONE – has Trump precisely down down to his ”meat loaf” and the ”gilded furniture” which proves that he for sure colluded with Putin and his “penchant” for nouveau rich interior design.

And that always was the ultimate proof that Trump actually is NO American at all – but actually one of these most dangerous foreign Aliens who poison our soul – the great American Soul -(AND landscape) with golden toilets – and sorry to say P-diddy or P-kidney or whatever y’all want to call yourself Obama NEVER EVER would have done that – and for everybody who excuses the Orange Orang Utans behavior with dementia – that doen’t fly either because as there are really ”Mean Drunks” -(or really ”Nice Drunks”) there are are really ”Very Mean Demented Dudes” and really ”Very Nice Demented Guys” and F…face Von Clownstick is as mean as the worst German Rentners in the Bus from the Marktstätte to the Universität – when they sit on old Ladies Pooodles!!

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nastywoman 03.06.18 at 3:08 am

– and as this here is for sure the current Comedy Thread can’t y’all at least try to be – at least – as funny as the kidney-man?
Or as the famous German Philosopher (ME) said: ”It’s the furniture” –
It’s ALL in the furniture!

Or as this very nice Lady in front of the El Tovar Hotel at the Greed Canyon told US – when she saw Queen Ann –

”I’d rather next time vote for such a nice piece of furniture as President”!
-(and I hope y’all know what a ”Queen Ann” is?!)

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Icastico 03.06.18 at 3:14 am

He wasn’t joking. So there is that.

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Ted Lemon 03.06.18 at 3:16 am

@58 probably pointless to respond, but you are failing to understand what I am saying. A democratic process is one in the public chooses, not one in which you have to “pay your dues” to run. The question should not be “who paid their dues” but rather “who do the majority of registered voters in that party want as their candidate?” When the party leadership chooses on behalf of the electorate, that is not a democracy. I don’t really see how that could be any more obvious. Do you think that when the party chooses the candidates rather than the electorate, that that’s a democracy? If so, what does the “demo” in “democracy” mean to you?

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John Holbo 03.06.18 at 3:58 am

“I don’t really see how that could be any more obvious. Do you think that when the party chooses the candidates rather than the electorate, that that’s a democracy?”

Not to muck up a good comments dust up with poli sci, but it really depends on the role (ideal and optimal and actual) you see parties playing in a democracy – i.e. how essentially you want to build parties into the process. On the one hand, you might want to say that it’s not about the party, it’s about the people. In that case, the party should be perfectly permeable to the people’s preferences, whether they are party members of long-standing or not. Ted is assuming this is the only possible view. The Democratic Party has no right to defend itself against ‘outsiders’, as it were.

But this is actually not the only possible view. Think about the logic of ‘super delegates’ – that much-maligned force in the Democratic primary. What’s the point? Well, you could say: to protect the Old Guard from legitimate grassroots challenges. Then it’s bad. Or you could say: to keep potential wreckers and hijackers from bum rushing an established organization with long-standing positions and constituents and so forth. It’s not crazy to build a party that is insulated from sudden change from outside. You are then placing values on continuity and stability and so forth. You are insulating not just the Old Guard but old values and commitments from those who would toss that aside, as it were.

Of course, I don’t consider Bernie Sanders a wrecker in the least. But you don’t build rules with particular individuals in mind. You are thinking about likely dynamics. Should we build the Democratic Party so it is capable of sudden turns, or so that it is incapable of sudden turns (so it’s resistant to hijacking.)

If the Republican Party had more ability to resist sudden insurgent challenges from outsiders, we wouldn’t have Trump for President. (Not that I would care for President Rubio either.)

It’s actually a more fraught question than it looks, especially when the two major parties are so hard-wired into the whole election process, in the US. If that weren’t the case, you could definitely allow them some ability to defend the organization’s integrity against insurgent outsiders. No party should be obliged to leave itself open to a bum rush take-over by those who aren’t obviously stakeholders in what the party has stood for until now. As it stands, how do you best balance considerations of legitimate party integrity and stability – how do you give a nod to the stalwarts and loyalists and long-term interests and interest-groups – without giving the cold-shoulder to everyone else?

It’s a tough design problem.

(Obviously someone is going to accuse me of saying that Bernie was a bum, bum-rushing the Democratic Party. Obviously I’m going to say – so I’ll say it in advance: you’re an idiot! And I’m right.)

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John Holbo 03.06.18 at 4:04 am

Here’s another way to think about it: the direct referendum process was once a progressive dream. Work around those corrupt parties! Go straight to the people. But referendums have their own structural problems. Designing parties so they are filters, not merely venues for direct referendums, is not crazy. You are letting yourself in for all the problems – the cronyism, the old guardism – that people are frustrated by. But you aren’t just trying to be corrupt. You are worried about the sorts of problems that have plagued the direct referendum process – in California, for example.

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Ted Lemon 03.06.18 at 4:07 am

Good points, of course, but that requires that parties have less power than they now have, or else there is no democracy. As things stand now, it is, I think, almost literally impossible for a third party to gain enough votes to get any candidate elected. There are tiny exceptions here and there in local elections—Vermont, with a total state population of under a million, has elected Progressive Party candidates a few times. But almost never at the national level. Sanders is an exception, but he’s an exception because he’s a senator from a very small state populated by people with a peculiar view of democracy. I know—I live here too.

So from a U.S. perspective, parties really have to be democratic, or else elections aren’t in any way democratic. If we could switch away from first-past-the-post, that would help, but bootstrapping that when the two-party system doesn’t want it is nearly impossible without first taking over one or both of the parties.

And that is the model that we have in the U.S. The Tea Party has taken over the Republican party. Sanders is trying to sack the Democratic party. I hope he succeeds, because the Democratic party as it stands is worse than useless. They don’t actually seem to care about winning elections or serving the electorate, just about keeping the kleptocracy functioning.

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Ted Lemon 03.06.18 at 4:28 am

BTW, as for whether democracy or parties are better, this is definitely an interesting question, but at present we have a pretty clear existence proof that parties in the U.S. absolutely suck. I’m 54 years old, I think I’m pretty in touch for an old guy, but the Democratic party is being run by my parents’ generation. I think they literally don’t understand many of the issues they are discussing. I don’t mean that they have wrong views on these topics—I mean that they are trying to govern an alien culture. Even most people my age are effectively illiterate. It’s interesting to talk about the stress that kids face today, and when you mention “social networks” all the heads swivel, because they know that’s something that’s bad. These are not people you want making policy. They think they understand, but they really, really don’t.

So by completely shutting out and dismissing younger voters, the Democratic party is making itself incapable of governing. And the Republican party, the younger party, is still mostly run by people in their fifties. Paul Ryan is a youth at 48.

Young voters shouldn’t be running the country, but they really need to have a strong voice in how it’s run.

It’s true that the direct democracy of California doesn’t work very well, but it’s quite possible that it could be tweaked to work better. That is, it may not be the idea, but the implementation, that is the problem. It’s seductive to think that having an elite in charge serves as a useful filter, but the Democrats have been useless for a really long time now. Obama was considered a triumph, merely for being competent, even though he utterly failed to turn his party into an effective tool for enacting policy.

This really needs to be approached from the direction of information theory, not by talking about which of two broken alternatives we prefer. Given the system we have now, how can we tweak the information flow so that it functions better? Can we? This is why I’m hassling you about joking about Trump: it’s a bad information flow.

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GrueBleen 03.06.18 at 5:36 am

John Holbo #49

Oh, ok, I kinda get it now. “Doncha hate it when …: is a very recognisable genre from Lucille Ball through to Seinfeld – and beyond. Especially applying to those great exemplars of the GOP, Homer and Bart.

So, Trump is one of those always lamenting “Doncha hate it …”. Kinda like Beavis and Butthead rolled up into one.

I guess therefore that it is just vaguely possible that Trump would be admiring Xi and his lifetime rule, and thinking it funny because Trump might just do that himself (even though I still think he reckons he’s already done it, and Xi is just a slow on the uptake initator).

Yes, I know the conversation has moved way on from there, but …

[Incidentally, I was aware quite some time ago that all (Ras)Putin wanted was to be the Czar of All the Russias, and now he is. What I missed was that Xi wanted to be the Emperor of All the Chinas, and now he basically is. But then perhaps he should note some pseudo Chinese wisdom: “Heaven is high, and the Emperor is far away” and nobody has ever ruled so many people ever before.]

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Faustusnotes 03.06.18 at 6:38 am

So ted, any arsehole can run for the nomination? Why not just open it up to every citizen regardless of their policies, their suitability or their loyalty to the party? Ridiculous. Every party has a screening process for nominations and the obvious one (enforced by every other party in every functioning democracy) is party membership.

Also having been allowed in where he shouldn’t have been, Bernie lost democratically. He had his arse handed to him in democratic elections I. The south and never had a chance. Why should this surprise you? He’s not a party member, so why would you expect party members to vote for him? Perhaps if he wanted their vote he should have join ed the party, worked with the party, done the hard yards, and got their attention instead of waltzing in, demanding (and getting) special treatment, then complaining when southern voters didn’t know who he was – and unleashing his unhinged followers to complain about how it was all stitched up, as if he was entitled to the thing from the start.

Or he could have started his own party 30 years ago and spent his political career doing the hard boring work of building a party. Way easier to hijack the Dems and then whine when they don’t give you what you want,isn’t it?

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Faustusnotes 03.06.18 at 6:43 am

Also what’s this junk about the Dems only way ting to keep the kleptocracy functioning? This is the party of the Medicaid expansion. What a ridiculous thing to say. If you can’t understand anything about politics and you think everything you see on RT is God’s own truth I guess this kind of faux cynicism sounds cool, but all it does is disarm you and leave you vulnerable to the kind of bullshit that got Trump elected. (As does the idea that nothing a politician in the “ghastly feast ” says matters). By your own admission you’re 54, drop the teenage faux cynicism and learn to analyse the parties you have to vote for. “They’re all in it for themselves” is wrong and ultimately disempowering bullshit.

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John Holbo 03.06.18 at 6:54 am

“Oh, ok, I kinda get it now. “Doncha hate it when …: is a very recognisable genre from Lucille Ball through to Seinfeld – and beyond. Especially applying to those great exemplars of the GOP, Homer and Bart.”

Well, I’m glad we are getting on the same page. The general template is comedy that takes off by inviting the audience to take note of an allegedly self evident but not widely acknowledged fact, when in fact the reason for its wide-spread non-acknowledgement is it’s a more or less self-evident falsehood.

‘Isn’t it funny how much better the US would be if it were a dictatorship?’

‘Isn’t it funny how we could save a lot of money if we just didn’t eat. But we don’t. Everyone eats.’

‘Isn’t it funny how we could get around by just flapping our wings and flying, but we all drive cars. Like a bunch of monkeys.’

Obviously this is why political partisanship makes a lot of comedy unfunny to the other side.

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MFB 03.06.18 at 7:35 am

A minor point, perhaps, but Xi Zhinping is not “president for life” of China. He still has to get elected by the Communist Party every five years, which is not very different from winning an American primary (although infinitely better organised). In this sense, every U.S. President before Eisenhower was “president for life” because until Roosevelt’s third term nobody discussed term limits. (The decision to do away with term limits in China probably has at least as much to do with resistance to adopting the American methodology behind term limits, as it has to do with Xi’s desire to rule for life.)

A major point, perhaps: why waste time fantasising over a politician making a joke about how he’d like to rule forever? Every politician would like to rule forever.

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John Holbo 03.06.18 at 8:48 am

“A major point, perhaps: why waste time fantasising over a politician making a joke about how he’d like to rule forever?”

Because I thought of a joke about it?

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John Holbo 03.06.18 at 8:51 am

Telling jokes is a waste of time. Telling jokes about jokes is a waste of time. Telling jokes about jokes that aren’t funny in the least is a waste of time. In a certain sense, all this is undeniable and must weigh in the scales against my post.

And it is true that Xi isn’t yet President for Life and we should restrict ourselves to speculating that he is merely likely to be that. That’s fair.

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Layman 03.06.18 at 10:46 am

kidneystones: “I’m NOT saying Obama was particularly corrupt.”

Can anyone but you be blamed for thinking you are, when you write things like this?

“The Obama WH stunk to high-heaven…”

“…I consider Trump very much a run of the mill US president – better in many respects…”

You’re not even trying for consistency or clarity, are you?

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Layman 03.06.18 at 10:54 am

Ted Lemon: “Sanders is trying to sack the Democratic party. I hope he succeeds, because the Democratic party as it stands is worse than useless. They don’t actually seem to care about winning elections or serving the electorate…”

If Sanders is trying to sack the Democratic Party, then that’s what he cares about, not winning elections or serving the electorate. If you want him to succeed, then that’s what you care about, not winning elections or serving the electorate. There are lots of reasons why Trump won, but ‘people on the left sat on their hands and didn’t vote because they were angry with the Democratic Party and wanted to sack it’ is surely one of them.

The party is, after all, people. Sack the party and those people have to go somewhere else. If they split up and go in different directions, then we have a Republican majority for a generation. If they all go together to a new party, then how will that party be different than the one we have now?

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Faustusnotes 03.06.18 at 11:01 am

Yes China’s problem is that their leader is not elected, not that there are term limits. Without term limits. Nowhere else has them …

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nastywoman 03.06.18 at 12:00 pm

”Explain the joke”

Why do (old dudes?) always feel this need to talk about something completely else -(like ”Bernie” or ”Democrats”) when the issue is ”I don’t get Trump”?

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nastywoman 03.06.18 at 1:35 pm

– and it might be time to explain my (currently) favorite Trump joke – which actually used to be a kind of nasty joke about Presidents of so called Third World Countries.

So here it is:
At a World Wide Conference of World Leaders from all over the World a friendly old dude from a very small Third World Country asks the President of our huge country:

”Do you have elections”?

And Trump answers:

”Yes every morning”

and let me explain – and excuse why I like this joke so much – BE-cause it explains everything about the Joke Trump.

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Nigel 03.06.18 at 2:47 pm

Bush, Obama and Trump walk into a bar. The barman says: ‘Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop huffing glue.’

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PGD 03.06.18 at 7:29 pm

Ironically Holbo lives happily in a country with a Prime Minister for life (or even longer than life, since Lee Kuan Yew’s son is now in the position) and never makes a peep about it in any of his writings. So maybe he shouldn’t be so alarmed.

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John Holbo 03.07.18 at 12:52 am

PGD, forgive an old expat who lives, in his head, in the Old Country, Ameriky, even to the point of telling jokes about how things are bad in the Old Country!

I don’t know whether you are seriously wondering (hoping?) whether Trump might bring the Singapore model to the US, and whether that might work, hence we should lighten up and hope for that. Probably you aren’t being serious. But if so: I think that is complete nonsense on stilts for a variety of reasons. Politics on this little red dot isn’t Trumpish, nor could it be, successfully. It’s hardly more likely that Xi is eyeing Singapore as a model.

If the point is rather: isn’t it hypocritical to be worried about autocracy in the US but not in Singapore, then I think the answer is – not so much so. Partly it’s just because I identity as an American, not a Singaporean, so I live in my head in America. (Thanks, internet!) But also: given the vanishing unlikelihood of Trump turning the US into Singapore, it wouldn’t be reasonable for me to relax my worries about Trump in the hopes he’ll turn the US into Singapore. (Again: if you really think that’s the joke – he’s secretly hinting he’s going Singapore on us, and it’ll be fine – well, I commend your athletic originality in joke exegesis!)

If what you are wondering about is just plain Singapore: I think the political economy issue, going forward, is not the fate of the Lee family but the viability of a particular technocratic, managerial, illiberal democracy model. It’s made the island very prosperous for the last 50 years, and it’s gradually gotten more, rather than less liberal, which is good, in my eyes. (I live here because I’ve got a good job, but I’d much rather live in Oregon, if you’ve got a good job to offer me there.) For a variety of reasons, the model of governance and growth that has worked here, making citizens richer while providing stability, couldn’t be exported, even if it endures (nothing is for sure.) It isn’t just because the place is small, and the model would never work on a big scale. It’s also because the place is small, with a particular ethnic mix, next to some very big neighbors, with different ethnic mixes. It also has to do with Singapore’s openness to, hence dependence on, international business and finance. As globalism goes, so goes Singapore. That’s pretty baked in. Checks and balances means not being able to ignore what other people want you to be doing, and Singapore is, in its way, subject to a lot of external checks and balances. The concern about Presidents for Life is dangerous impunity. The degree to which – going forward – any one person can govern Singapore with that kind of impunity, with any hope for economic, hence political, stability, is pretty constricted. The threat posed by Xi and, frankly, by the ‘it can’t happen here’ outside risks that Trump’s nationalist populism poses seems to me a lot greater. An America gone very wrong, or a China gone very wrong, is a much bigger threat both to the respective citizens of those countries and to the world, than is a Singapore persisting more or less on the path its on.

Again, you have the advantage of me, insofar as I don’t know whether you are a Singapore booster or a skeptic, or a MAGA-head or anti-Trump. But I hope this satisfies you, whichever way.

And now: back to the Trump jokes!

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derrida derider 03.07.18 at 4:24 am

“if Obama had said this we would STILL be hearing the howls of poutrage from the right. Anyone remember the terrorist fist bump incident, or the ghastly time he asked for gasp dijon mustard on his five guys burger”
Gee, so you want to lower yourself to the standards of the alt-right? Neither wise nor moral, I’d say.

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F. Foundling 03.07.18 at 5:27 am

@ John Holbo 03.07.18 at 12:52 am
>Checks and balances means not being able to ignore what other people want you to be doing…

Umm, I’d say the question is *which* other people.

>The concern about Presidents for Life is dangerous impunity. The degree to which – going forward – any one person can govern Singapore with that kind of impunity, with any hope for economic, hence political, stability, is pretty constricted.

If impunity = not being punished, I’d say the question is not being punished *by whom* and *for what*.

The idea seems to be that dictatorships / authoritarianism / unaccountability are OK in small countries, because their dictators / autocrats / unaccountable leaders are controlled / highly limited by external forces anyway. I do not agree (to put it very mildly). ‘Accountability’ to external forces is not a replacement for accountability to one’s own population, when it comes to preventing all sorts of local abuses and general unfreedom (as opposed to just not starting WW3 and suchlike). I’m a citizen of a small country, which has always been very intensively influenced and restricted by external forces, has had periods of varying degrees of authoritarianism and (un)accountability, and the degree of authoritarianism and (un)accountability certainly has mattered and does still matter to the population a lot quite apart from the intensive external influence and restrictions.

Then again, I’m a democrat.

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John Holbo 03.07.18 at 5:40 am

“I do not agree (to put it very mildly).”

Nor I. But I don’t especially worry about Singapore getting worse, going forward. I hope things will get better and better here. I am worried about things getting worse in the US. (And the world.)

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John Holbo 03.07.18 at 5:47 am

“The idea seems to be that dictatorships / authoritarianism / unaccountability are OK in small countries”

Just to be clear: I don’t mean this.

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F. Foundling 03.07.18 at 6:08 am

@ John Holbo 03.07.18 at 5:47 am
>Just to be clear: I don’t mean this.

Oh. Well, it’s all right then, I suppose. :)

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GrueBleen 03.07.18 at 5:17 pm

John Holbo #71

Well thank you for your patient explanation.

And now, for the joke of the week: Yuan Shikai

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anon/portly 03.07.18 at 6:57 pm

The general template is comedy that takes off by inviting the audience to take note of an allegedly self evident but not widely acknowledged fact, when in fact the reason for its wide-spread non-acknowledgement is it’s a more or less self-evident falsehood.

‘Isn’t it funny how much better the US would be if it were a dictatorship?’

‘Isn’t it funny how we could save a lot of money if we just didn’t eat. But we don’t. Everyone eats.’

‘Isn’t it funny how we could get around by just flapping our wings and flying, but we all drive cars. Like a bunch of monkeys.’

I think it’s telling that a “comedic template” is invoked, followed by three examples which have no comedic content. To be a joke, it has to be funny – or at least so I have always believed.

The problem with the proposed template in my view is the word “falsehood.” The actual template Trump was using (or so I believe) had to do more with “inviting the audience to take note of an allegedly self evident but not widely acknowledged fact, when in fact the reason for its wide-spread non-acknowledgement is it’s a more or less self-evident” uncomfortable or inadmissible half-truth.

Imagine President Truman meeting some members of Congress. The Secretary of State talks about the President of some country or other bumping off the leader of the opposition.

Truman, interjecting: “hmm, is that such a bad thing?”

Congressmembers: “ha ha ha ha ha.”

It’s not funny because it’s a falsehood, or because it’s a truth, it’s funny because it’s a falsehood that contains a kernel of truth. “It’s so frustrating dealing with you people.”

Similarly when Trump makes a joke about being president for life, the context is not “how much better off the US would be if it were a dictatorship” – that wouldn’t be funny. The context is “how much better off I would be if I were a dictator.” If the audience felt there was a serious undertone to the remark, they wouldn’t have laughed, they probably would have shuddered.

4 Is it self-deprecating? How so? I’m obviously way more worried about other stuff he does but I guess I think jokes are kind of telling. The telling thing here is there’s no way to read it as self-deprecating. Or is there?

There is no touch of vanity in suggesting to people you should be president for life? There is no touch of satire in Donald Trump himself suggesting to people he should be president for life? Of all the ways in which Trump is obtuse, is “completely un-self aware of his own persona” actually one of them?

Obviously this is why political partisanship makes a lot of comedy unfunny to the other side.

Brother, “you ain’t kiddin’.” But shouldn’t that be “unintelligible?” It’s not that I think JH’s joke is unfunny, my problem is I can’t identify anything that qualifies as a “joke.” But perhaps for academic philosophers, the hallmark of a real thigh-slipper is its recherché quality. Nothing like “my wife decided she likes talking during sex – the other night she called me from a motel” for them.

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anon/portly 03.07.18 at 7:08 pm

I should add that of course Trump’s joke is a bit moronic and offensive, making light of something serious (Xi’s actions). But then it’s not like an audience of Republican donors or Trump himself would have any serious notion of what Xi’s actions mean for China’s future. If Trump was making extended remarks, would this joke likely have cracked the “most moronic” top ten?

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GrueBleen 03.08.18 at 1:11 am

anon/portly #89

To be a joke, it has to be funny – or at least so I have always believed.

Ah well you’ve never watched ‘The Vicar of Dibley’ then.

Everything we say (or write) is just another exercise in entangled, indeterminate deconstruction. Dont’assume that your intensions are, in fact, meanings. Or, IOW, my extensions may differ.

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John Holbo 03.08.18 at 1:22 am

anon/portly “I think it’s telling that a “comedic template” is invoked, followed by three examples which have no comedic content.”

If it weren’t for unfunny jokes, some folks wouldn’t have any fun at all. But in response your proposed emendation to half-truth. I think you are effectively reverting to the ‘kernel of truth’ ‘it’s funny because it’s true’ varietal, per the OP.

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anon/portly 03.08.18 at 8:03 pm

But in response your proposed emendation to half-truth. I think you are effectively reverting to the ‘kernel of truth’ ‘it’s funny because it’s true’ varietal, per the OP.

But no. The “truth” in the joke according to the OP is ” inevitability of someone – possibly Trump himself – overthrowing the constitutional order and becoming President For Life.” If that were the kernel, the joke would be unfunny, and no one would laugh (maybe some would click their heels and salute, or something).

The “truth” in the actual joke is the elevation in status or aggrandizement or vainglory of Donald Trump in particular.

Brad Delong has been making the point that the worry of Trump is not Trump himself, but a competent version of Trump in the future. What if the Republicans stopped being the Stupid Party and became the Sinister Party? But if you’re the kind of person who believes that the Republicans, or even one actual Republican in particular, that you could identify, would “love to replace American democracy with their version of Chinese authoritarian system, but they can’t say so, and Trump just said it for them,” I guess I can see why it would be hard to see Trump’s joke for what it was.

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nastywoman 03.09.18 at 12:05 pm

@
”What if the Republicans stopped being the Stupid Party and became the Sinister Party?”

Now that was a pretty good one (‘joke’!) as I my second favorite joke currently is every joke which jokes about something which already… ‘is’…

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