Paul Waldman on Trump’s aversion to being the laughingstock of the world.
It is Trump’s gift to future biographers that he makes so little attempt to hide his psychological issues, but the desire to avoid being laughed at truly stands out. Perhaps there was some childhood trauma that led to this obsession, a schoolyard incident in which a bully pulled down Donny’s short pants to the guffaws of the other tots (particularly the girls!). It would be only fitting if Trump, the world’s foremost avatar of anxious masculinity, lived in terror of women’s laughter, but he seems concerned with everyone’s laughter, whether it comes from people or governments. As much as he cares about winning and getting the better of someone, defeat is marked by the ultimate humiliation of being laughed at.
Yet ironically, no president in history has ever been laughed at as much as Trump. Long before he ran for the White House he was considered a cretinous buffoon, one of the world’s least serious people trying to convince everyone how serious he is. Even Trump’s cartoonish hair, which looks like what you’d get if you put three separate comb-overs into the Large Hadron Collider and smashed them together at the speed of light, seems to be in large part an effort to avoid being laughed at for being bald.
And today there is without a doubt not a single human being on planet Earth who is laughed at more than Donald J. Trump. He’s laughed at by ordinary people and by other politicians, by the rich and the poor, by Americans and residents of other nations, by Christians, Muslims, and Jews, by one and all. The Center for Media and Public Affairs, which has tracked the jokes in late-night monologues for years, found that in his first 100 days Trump was the target of over 1,000 jokes from Fallon, Kimmel, Colbert, et al, on pace to easily surpass the record set in 1998 when in the midst of the irresistibly salacious Lewinsky scandal the hosts told 1,700 jokes about Bill Clinton. Comedy Central even commissioned a weekly show starring a Trump impersonator, so viewers can laugh at him for an entire half hour at a time.
Not every politician is equally mockable — Barack Obama’s reserved cool made him harder to mock than did George W. Bush’s goofy cluelessness or Clinton’s omnivorous smarm. But everything about Trump invites derisive laughter, from his spray-tanned skin to his overlong ties to his TV-watching habits to his Russian-mobster taste in decor to his overcompensating for his insecurities to his general stupidity and ignorance. If anything, Trump is hard to satirize because the actual person is so absurd to begin with that exaggerating his foibles is nearly impossible.
This is his — and every narcissistic bloviator’s — Achilles heel. The one thing they can’t endure is being laughed at. It comes from taking themselves far too seriously and from a need to be not just loved but feared. Ironically, the more he tries to demean and destroy those who mock him, the louder the laughter and the derision. To quote the immortal Hawkeye Pierce: “He invites laughter; it would be rude not to accept the invitation.”