Was Donald Trump making a joke Saturday when he told supporters at a private fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago that America should consider the idea of a president for life just like China? Yep. But if you think Trumps joke didnt reveal his true feelings, you simply dont get comedy.
There are different forms of comedy. You have the scripted type like Trump engaged in at Saturday nights Gridiron dinner. Those jokes are written in advance, typically by professional comedy writers. We dont know if Trump had any input into the crafting of the comedy material, but clearly he reads them in advance and has to approve them. For example, this joke Trump told at the dinner was funny and calculated to make Trump more likable because of its self-deprecating nature: "My staff was concerned that I couldn't do self-deprecating humor." Trump then quipped, "And I told them not to worry, nobody does self-deprecating humor better than I do."
Then there are the jokes that people tell that are not part of any script. Rather, these jokes often reveal what the person truly believes. Weve all told jokes or made comedic comments that are simply truth wrapped in humor.
We have all heard the concept that theres often truth in jest. Thats not just a line often attributed to Shakespeares King Lear (In jest, there is truth) but more importantly, psychologists have backed up this theory.
As one psychologist and college professor laid out in an article for Psychology Today, Sigmund Freud believed that jokes very well could indicate the tellers true feelings. These jokes, as Freud noted, served the purpose to expose unconscious desires of the joke teller, such as a lust for power or a simply a lust for lust.
Freud wouldve had a field day with Trump. He couldve written volumes of books about Trump analyzing everything from his words to his youthful sexual exploits, which Trump has likened to his own personal Vietnam.
But you dont need to be a world renowned mental-health professional to get that Trump would love to wield more unrestrained power. This is a guy who has openly attacked the safeguards of democracy, from the judiciary to the free press to even bemoaning minor protections like the 60-vote rule in the Senate to pass legislation. Add to that, Trump has publicly applauded strongmen leaders who have little regard for democracy, from Vladimir Putin to Turkeys President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who shut down numerous media outlets and imprisoned political adversaries and journalists.
And before you consider Trumps praise of China's President Xi Jinping on Saturday, keep in mind under Xis leadership, China has purged thousands of his political opponents, strangled civil society and established a 21st-century surveillance state. In fact, as one foreign policy expert put it, Xi has upended traditional rules of Chinas politics in a way that makes him unchallengeable by other politicians for the rest of his life.
So what did Trump jokingly tell the crowd at his private country club? Trump first commented about Xi power grab: "He's now president for life. President for life. No, he's great. And look, he was able to do that. Trump then added, I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot someday."
Yes, the crowd in the room laughed as Trump delivered those lines with a smile. But outside the regal walls of Trumps castle/country club, not everyone was laughing–and nor should they be. As Joe Scarborough bluntly put it on MSNBC Monday morning, When Republicans ignore the fact that this man [Trump] is talking about being president for life, if they think that Donald Trump is joking, then theyre fools. Others in the media echoed Scarboroughs concerns.
But not all media outlets were worried. As you might have guessed, Fox News, Trumps de facto state-run media, defended Trump on Sunday morning. Rachel Campos-Duffy, one of the weekend co-hosts of Trumps sycophant TV network put it: Its a joke! Its a joke. And the President loves to, you, know, entertain wherever hes at.
Fox News unintentionally makes me laugh all the time, undermining the notion that there are no conservative comedians. (Of course, Fox News is trying to be serious.)
Do you think Fox and their friends would have defended President Obama if he joked about taking away peoples guns? They wouldve gone ballistic! We would have heard Fox Newss hosts equating this to the end of days as Obama was coming to get you. But when Trump jokingly praises a communist leader who has increasingly grabbed power and now made himself president for life, its a giggle fest.
I love comedy. And Im the first to push back against the instant, faux outrage over a joke that was clearly well-intentioned. But given Trumps history, if you think he was just joking about following Xi's lead of becoming an authoritarian president for life, you are laughing at your own peril.
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