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OPINION: The Great Saturday That Was

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by Jules Rabin, Plainfield

There was a 17-year-old high school kid at the table last night, along with half a dozen of us from the larger family; some young, some wizened. It was the kid’s birthday, and we had come together to celebrate him.

The kid was the only one of our little party who had been unable to join that self-same family group when it had come together the day before to join the vast and historical anti-Trump protest in little Montpelier, population 7,800. On that day, 15,000 to 20,000 people had packed into town, according to the State Police; in the process jamming up traffic on the adjacent I-89 Interstate for miles around. The kid had had to be at his job the day of the protest, and in consequence had missed out on being a part of the history that was made that day in Montpelier, following Trump’s inauguration, and in hundreds of other cities around the country and around the world.

That birthday dinner, though, on the evening following the unprecedented mass protest against the Presidency of the ever improbable Donald Trump, brought our youngster into the heart of the history that the 15,000 to 20,000 of us in Montpelier had made the day before. All through dinner, we talked and joked and laughed, basking in the great triumph of the day before, when we thousands upon thousands had jam-packed dinky little Montpelier to declare “NO! NO! NO!” and “Not In Our Name!” to the impending reign of Trump.

Because Trump is ridiculous, because Trump is preposterous, because Trump is pathologically narcissistic beyond any President before him; because he is so, remarkably unequipped for the mental complexities and considerations and intricate “think-throughs” that are incumbent on the President of the third-of-a-billion souls that we are … the rhetorics of joking, satire, and laughter have pushed forward in the political comment surrounding Trump (“What will he say next?”), as never before in our national politics. At the mammoth demonstration the day before, I had again and again been astonished and tickled by the original wit and sassiness and penetration of the posters I glimpsed, just glancing at the hundreds out of the great sea of them that crossed my field of vision: posters hand-made, posters homemade, posters witty and original, bobbing and wobbling above the mass of protesters.

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Could humor save us?

As I took in my sampling of those signs, I wondered whether we all, as heirs of the wit of Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken and Will Rogers and as contemporaries of John Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee and the slew of other comics rising up … I wondered, are we Americans after all endowed with an especially strong streak of humor, vinegared with satire? Will we split our sides with laughter nationwide when we perceive that our pudgy Emperor, with the piss-yellow cotton candy hair (made of what?) that is his trademark — when we perceive that he’s really, as you might say, naked, down to his little hands, and all?

We were merry that evening at the dinner table, elated; it was the kid’s birthday party, after all. And so, easily, and without our conscious intention, joking, satire, and laughter ruled the rhetoric and mood in our discussion with our birthday child, of the heady event in Montpelier that we had attended the day before.

We hadn’t had any conscious intention of bringing the politics of the day into our private birthday party, but there we all were, still aglow with the unexpected triumph of the day before. And so that’s what came out in our dinner conversation … a review of the profound surprise-and-pleasure we had felt the day before and still felt — at what we together had wrought in Montpelier, and so numerously around the country and the world, as well.

I think we educated our lad in two things during the non-stop conversation that we carried on at his birthday party, laughing and joking all the way, up to the concluding ceremony of the Happy Birthday song, and the parading in and dishing out of his be-candled 3-layer birthday cake.

First, he would understand that the kind of people we and our friends and associates generally are, would and will protest when we fear for our rights and our futures — protest on our feet and with our voices, protest on poster-board and cardboard, protest in the kind of venerable print-on-paper you’re reading now, and protest electronically, in the bargain. The young and very young women — girls, indeed — at the Montpelier protest — all the women present there, walking and standing — were something to behold, in their joyful militancy and, remarkably, in the wit of the homemade signs they raised in the air, everywhere.

A second educational point we unconsciously enacted, in our family party, was that when it comes to politics, the combination of jokes, satire, and straight-out laughter are in themselves a potent alternative rhetoric: an intelligent formulation of the case, of another kind. A seeing through to the heart of the matter, by another means.

So: slide yourself into the fray sideways, sometimes, just like that, on a good layer of jokes, and you may grasp the deeper nature of things — especially the preposterous things of the day like the President’s presumptive yellow toupee or his small hands. And his incessant fabulations.

Good jokes are another way into the heart of the matter. They disconcert, without drawing blood. They can be the best cousin of earnest, analytic prose. What a relief comes over us, when we “get it.”

So: could that trio, of jokes, satire, and laughter, that are together possibly one of our unique strengths as Americans, yield us a final, critical oomph in sliding our new emperor off his throne? Ever so gently, it could be; but with a thud, yes, at the end.

That’s what happened, isn’t it, to the emperor of no clothes, in the story? Duped himself by his tailors, he tried to get everyone else to fall in with his royal dupedness, and was laughed off the stage, naked and consigned to the far wings of history.