Donald Trump

Did political jokes about Donald Trump help to get him elected? From the Simpsons Bart to the Future in 2000 to the 2015/16 “South Park” episode where Mr. Garrison is elected on a grossly anti-immigrant platform, there is growing consensus that the jokes helped Trump. Now the question is “What can we learn from this?”

Back in March 2016, an article in The American Prospect examined Trump’s appeal. The article was titled Trump-l’œil, a pun on the French trompe-l’œil, “deceive the eye”, an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions (Wikipedia.) The author argues that “Trump’s celebrity is thus the ultimate Trump-l’oeil. It deceives his followers into thinking that if they elect him, opposition both political and material will simply melt away.” One of the Wikipedia examples of trompe-l’œil is Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874 

The Trump-l’œil article was part of a trend to make jokes about the idea of Donald Trump as US President. A 19 April 2017 article in The Telegraph UK, The Simpsons: 27 times real life has imitated Springfield, has the 2000 episode  Bart to the Future in first place, noting  “Under Trump’s management, America in 2030 had been crippled financially and was relying on bail-outs from China and Europe. The country’s only chance? The victory of presidential candidate Lisa Simpson. The person who actually saves the day, however, is her down-and-out brother Bart, whose experience in dodging debts gets America out of its deficit.“

In an article in the January 23, 2017 issue of the New Yorker, How Jokes Won the Election,  author Emily Nussbaum confesses “what killed me last year were the jokes, because I love jokes—dirty jokes, bad jokes, rude jokes, jokes that cut through bullshit and explode pomposity…. But by 2016 the wheel had spun hard the other way: now it was the neo-fascist strongman who held the microphone and an army of anonymous dirty-joke dispensers who helped put him in office.”

The article pays particular homage to “South Park”: “No show has been more prescient about how far a joke can go” and in particular Seasons 19 and 20, where Mr. Garrison is elected on a grossly anti-immigrant platform (some clips are still available on YouTube, e.g. here and here, but be warned: these are POLITICALLY INCORRECT.) Nussbaum notes that “As prescient as “South Park” could be, it clearly counted on Clinton’s winning: a dirty boy requires a finger-wagging mom. After Election Day, the writers quickly redid the show, and the resulting episode, “Oh, Jeez,” exuded numbness and confusion.”  The article gives more examples of how jokes worked to boost the Trump campaign.

So where do we go from here? Advice on taking action is coming from various sources but the general approach is to get more facts via further analysis. A January 27, 2017 Media Matters Blog,  STUDY: Evening Cable News Devoted Nearly 250 Segments To Wikileaks Emails In The 5 Weeks Before The Election, reveals the details of how ”In the five weeks before the November 8 presidential election, evening cable and broadcast news, major newspapers, and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows combined to flood the media landscape with coverage of hacked emails released by Wikileaks”.

Further analysis of the Trump Wikileaks campaign appears in a 24th January 2017 The Monthly  Blog by Robert Manne, The Muscovian Candidate? Donald Trump and Russia. This Blog gives details and links relating to evidence that the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin was involved first in a complex plan to damage the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and later as well to assist the candidacy of Donald Trump. There were several methods deployed, but by far the most significant was Russian intelligence hacking into the emails of the US Democratic Party.” The Blog also gives a link to a declassified assessment by the NSA, CIA and FBI, “The three US intelligence agencies assessed with “high confidence” that Russian military intelligence was behind anonymous hacking entities Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks.com, and relayed to WikiLeaks data stolen from prominent Democrats. WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange has denied receiving any material from the Russians.”

The report on the declassified assessment, Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution, identifies the Key Judgments and gives the reasons they are assessed with high confidence. The conclusion is: “We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.”

A bleak prediction, but our intelligence agencies are also applying lessons learned. The Fear The Geeks article in our March 2017 gave some recent examples of progress by our good geeks. The jokes are still coming, including ‘The Simpsons’ mock Trump’s first 100 days in office, serving to remind us that comedy has always played a key part in keeping spirits up during troubled times.

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