What­ever hap­pened to our sense of hu­mor?

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Froma Har­rop is syn­di­cated by Ca­gle Car­toons.

Colum­nist Froma Har­rop looks at one of the side ef­fects of the just-com­pleted pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

You’d think there’d have been more laughs. Hard-fought po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns drenched in sweat and tears usu­ally pro­duce mo­ments of lev­ity. But Amer­i­cans seem to have lost their sense of hu­mor, be­com­ing latenight an­gry, frus­trated and sick with anx­i­ety.

Mark Twain said: “The se­cret source of hu­mor it­self is not joy but sor­row. There is no hu­mor in heaven.” The prob­lem is that Amer­i­cans can’t agree on what to be sor­row­ful about. Many can’t even rec­og­nize as false the “facts” fu­el­ing their woes, so trapped are they in their al­ter­nate re­al­ity.

Po­lit­i­cal wit has tra­di­tion­ally pro­vided sparks of light in the dark­est of times.

Win­ston Churchill: “If Hitler in­vaded hell, I would make at least a fa­vor­able ref­er­ence to the devil in the House of Com­mons.”

Abra­ham Lin­coln dur­ing the Civil War: “I can make more gen­er­als, but horses cost money.”

Made to­day, such re­marks would eas­ily ig­nite de­mands for apolo­gies from groups feel­ing in­sulted — or, in many cases, feign­ing um­brage for po­lit­i­cal ef­fect. Of­ten the de­mands fol­low failed at­tempts at wit, which is too bad. Ef­forts to lighten things need en­cour­ag­ing.

Theodore Roo­sevelt poked Grover Cleve­land as “His Ac­ci­dency.” And when Ge­orge H.W. Bush per­sisted in liken­ing his op­po­nent Bill Clin­ton to Elvis Pres­ley, Clin­ton re­sponded, “I don’t think Bush would have liked Elvis very much, and that’s just an­other thing that’s wrong with him.”

Wit re­quires us­ing words and ideas in quick, in­ven­tive and hu­mor­ous ways. Don­ald Trump’s in­sults were mere stink bombs. And his alt-right cho­rus was a uniquely dimwit­ted bunch. The alt-right’s idea of funny is grossly worded memes tacked on ob­scene im­ages. Yuk, yuk, yuck.

Trump did show some comedic prom­ise at the Al Smith din­ner, de­liv­er­ing some de­cent jokes writ­ten for him. Self­mock­ery is not in Trump’s nat­u­ral reper­tory, but he got laughs com­plain­ing that ev­ery­one loved Michelle Obama’s speech but not his wife’s when she used the ex­act same (pla­gia­rized) words.

But then his rud­der broke off, as it so of­ten did, and Trump veered into leaden at­tacks on that “cor­rupt” woman. Trump’s own idea of funny wasn’t funny, but it some­times sounded that way be­cause of his New York pat­ter.

Bernie San­ders, though Jewish and from Brook­lyn, re­vealed no sense of hu­mor. Ver­mont must have beat it out of him.

That said, Calvin Coolidge of Put­ney, Vt., fired off some of the pres­i­dency’s most so­phis­ti­cated wise­cracks.

At a White House brief­ing, “Si­lent Cal” gave one-word an­swers of “no” to a string of ques­tions deal­ing with Pro­hi­bi­tion, the World Court and the farm sit­u­a­tion. As re­porters were leav­ing the room, Coolidge called out, “And don’t quote me.”

Hil­lary Clin­ton, mean­while, hasn’t said a sin­gle re­ally funny thing on her own. (Per­haps some­one can cor­rect me on this.)

Much of the left has re­placed hu­mor with snark, which is heavy and grouchy and does not zing. The one bright lift this sea­son came from the “Satur­day Night Live” skits mak­ing fun of Clin­ton, Trump, San­ders and the me­dia fig­ures cov­er­ing them.

What­ever hap­pened to the clever re­tort? What­ever hap­pened to the smart re­join­der? Por­trayed as a plod­ding man, Lin­coln said, “I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.” Not hi­lar­i­ous but a re­turn shot.

Per­haps we lost our abil­ity to laugh dur­ing the re­cent cam­paign be­cause we didn’t find our­selves to be funny. One of the nom­i­nees was a dan­ger­ously crazy man. Scarier than Trump him­self was that so many Amer­i­cans found him ac­cept­able.

Well, Churchill said, “If you’re go­ing through hell, keep go­ing.”

But also re­mem­ber Will Rogers’ nod to the op­po­si­tion: “Ev­ery­thing is funny, as long as it’s hap­pen­ing to some­body else.”

Froma Har­rop

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