Humor Is Hard to Find These Days, Especially in Politics. Also Journalism.

From a Wall Street Journal column by Lance Morrow headlined “An Unfunny Thing Happened on the Way to 2021”:

Humorlessness has become a national comorbidity. Besides the other afflictions of 2020, the country is suffering from a comic deficiency that has weakened the social immune system. “A horse walks into a bar . . .” Forget it—bars are closed. . . .

Even before the masks and shutdowns, American humor had been suppressed by the totalitarian taboos. Political correctness and cancel culture have woven entire new value systems around a thousand grievances, inflating them with self-importance, to produce an intensely intolerant and humorless new political culture. . . .

Joe Biden is mostly good-humored, which is better than nothing, but not the same as being funny. He’s 78, and one feels the touch of winter. Donald Trump is a showman, but sometime after going into politics, he buried his real sense of humor beneath layers of his other shtick—ego, aggression, bad manners, scorn. Has he ever emitted a truly spontaneous laugh? His preferred idiom is sarcasm, which grows tedious, relentless, mean. . . .

Lyndon Johnson was a savagely funny man, but he was King Lear as cowpoke and in his regime the country practically fell apart. JFK was witty. Richard Nixon was hopeless. Ronald Reagan came to politics from show business. His taste in jokes was eclectic. . . .

Bill Clinton is neither here nor there in the story of presidential humor. But his wife’s hammering humorlessness (at least in public) became historic: part of the reason America got Donald Trump. Barack Obama has a light touch; he is funny in an elegantly self-centered way, in the style of a 1930s comedy. For eight years, his status as the first black president gave him partial immunity from the honest and probing ridicule to which any American chief executive is entitled.

Laughter is the first casualty of ideology, and here we are. . . .

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