One of the great strengths of a democracy is the freedom of its citizens to laugh at themselves.
Humor helps us cope in tough times. American comedians have recently noted the boost given to their profession by the current political upheavals.
Dictators may feel threatened by humor directed at them, but satire and political cartoons have been around since at least the 1700’s in both Great Britain and America. Television and the internet have increased the possibilities for humor. Humor releases tension and sometimes causes us to notice absurdities we didn’t see before.
Even presidents understand the need for humor to lighten the mood. President Lyndon Johnson once said, “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.’”
Ronald Reagan is reported to have said, “I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency—even if I’m in a Cabinet meeting.”
From George W. Bush: “These stories about my intellectual capacity really get under my skin. You know, for a while I even thought my staff believed it. There on my schedule first thing every morning it said, ‘Intelligence Briefing.’”
Barack Obama: “There are few things in life harder to find and more important to keep than love. Well, love and a birth certificate.”
The White House correspondents’ dinner, begun in 1920, became an occasion for ribbing between the President and the reporters who covered him for the press. In 1924, Calvin Coolidge was the first president to attend. Since then, every president has attended at least one dinner during his time in office.
President Donald Trump refused to attend the first one of his tenure. Too bad he can’t recognize the value of humor, the cleansing humbleness of laughing at oneself.