The Best Response To Demagogues – Make Fun Of Them

By Susan Kuebler

Demagogues, defined by Merriam-Webster as “political leaders who try to get support by making false claims and promises and using arguments based on emotion rather than reason” are inherently insecure.  They know their arguments are not true and depend on the blind devotion of their followers, rather than the rational support of the educated, to achieve power and, because deep inside, they know their power, their position is based on a tissue of lies.

Their greatest fear is that someday, someone, will expose them for who they truly are.  So they continue to build a “legend” around themselves.  Their “believers” buy into the legend, and sometimes the demagogues themselves begin to believe it themselves.  Attacks from others, whether they be political opponents or the new media, are turned into self-justification for their actions and further rationale for their supporters to continue supporting themselves.

There is only one weapon they truly fear – the only one they cannot fight – and that is mockery.  Mockery exposes the frailty of their very existence.  Having no sense of humor themselves (have you ever seen a demagogue or a dictator tell a good joke?) they lack the ability to either laugh off jokes at their own expense or reply with a witty riposte.  If they it nearly always falls flat.

We don’t have to go far back into our history to find examples.  Richard Nixon was skewered unmercifully on The Smothers Brothers show.  The network censors worked overtime trying to keep those comedians under control.

When Nixon decided to appear on the popular TV program “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In” saying their signature line “Sock it to me” it fell resoundingly flat.

Today perhaps only film students are familiar with Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 classic “The Great Dictator” where he satirically portrayed his version of Adolph Hitler.  His final speech from that movie should still be required viewing for today.

The noted comedian Jack Benny used his comedic wit against the Nazis when he starred in the movie “To Be or Not To Be” in 1942 with the immortal Carole Lombard.  Set in occupied Poland during WWII, he and Lombard portrayed a couple who led a group of stage ham actors matching wits with the Nazis.  Take a look at a few scenes from this classic:

The dangers of using humor against petty tyrants are still with us today.  The Daily Mail reported in April of this year that several North Korean soldiers had been arrested and faced the death penalty for telling a joke about that nation’s leader Kim Jung-un – and that is no joking matter.

It is a possibility that Donald Trump seriously began considering his run for the presidency after being roasted by then President Obama, followed by SNL comedian Seth Meyers at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.  Washington Post reporter Roxanne Roberts shared her experience of sitting next to Trump during the dinner and Trump’s reaction to it in an article published in April of 2016.

Today the news is filled with reports of young Nazi white supremacists holding a torch-carrying rally at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.  While they are certainly a despicable group of people emboldened by Trumpian rhetoric to go public with their particular brand of hatred, the better response to this nonsense is to expose it exactly for what it is.

Just a bunch of young white jerks wearing polo shirts and khakis,carrying Tiki torches cause they can’t get a date on a Friday night.  You know – Tiki Torchi Nazis – Citronella Cowboys.  Don’t make them an enemy with power – make them a joke!


One comment

  1. I love that Charlie Chaplin speech. When it comes down to it, it’s still very relevant (except now it’s more apt to say “we FEEL too much and THINK too little.) And even after watching the film several times, I know many people thought the ending just wasn’t right, but I really can’t think of another way to end that movie than with a heart-to-heart to the audience, a plea for sanity.

    But yes, you have to laugh at them. Heaven knows there’s sneering and mockery in their minds that’s of the most vicious sort. violence and hatred beget more violence and hatred…discount that and laugh it off.

    I usually tell people when it’s a totally sucky day, or something really gross or bad is going on (and I start shaking my head and snickering) that “I can either laugh about it or cry about it–and I know what I’d rather do.” How we answer–or don’t–is meaningful.

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