Like all right-thinking Americans, Emily Nussbaum is suitably horrified by Trump’s election. But she grasps his appeal better than most. He won by being a better stand-up comic and shrugging off criticism by claiming he was just joking:
“Trump was a hot comic, a classic Howard Stern guest. He was the insult comic, the stadium act, the ratings-obsessed headliner who shouted down hecklers. His rallies boiled with rage and laughter, which were hard to tell apart. You didn’t have to think that Trump himself was funny to see this effect: I found him repulsive, and yet I could hear those comedy rhythms everywhere, from the Rodney Dangerfield ‘I don’t get no respect’ routine to the gleeful insult-comic slams of Don Rickles (for ‘hockey puck,’ substitute ‘Pocahontas’) to Andrew Dice Clay, whose lighten-up-it’s-a-joke, it’s-not-him-it’s-a-persona brand of misogyny dominated the late nineteen-eighties. . . . Trump was that hostile-jaunty guy in the big flappy suit, with the vaudeville hair, the pursed lips, and the glare. There’s always been an audience for that guy.”
Nussbaum pinpoints the problem: Whether you support or oppose him, how do you deal with a leader who always leaves open an “I was joking” escape route?