When “Just Kidding” is Actually Psychological Abuse
Sarcasm as communication can be funny when done right. That is, when it’s: a.) under the right circumstances, b.) with appropriate company, and c.) executed well. Perfect example: when President Barack Obama would speak every year at the White House correspondents dinner — a relaxed, fun evening for the president, the press pool, and some of their “big name” celebrity friends.
The annual WH correspondents dinner was, after all, created to celebrate freedom of the press and the First Amendment. Created in 1914, the White House Correspondents Association held its first official “dinner” in 1920. Four years later, Calvin Coolidge became the first president to attend, and since then, every U.S. President has made at least one appearance during his tenure — except Donald Trump.
Specifically because this was a light-hearted celebratory event, over time it became appropriate to inject a little more wit, humor, and even sarcasm into the ceremony. One of the most memorable (and perhaps best) parts is the tradition of the current president delivering a comedy routine-ish speech or monologue, followed by the keynote speaker — generally a prominent or up-and-coming comedian — and for this night, it’s their job to “roast” the president, among others.
We see this tradition regularly on TV as well. Presidents have always been the inspiration for some of Saturday Night Live’s funniest skits and impersonations. Punching-up humor comes with the territory. Haven’t all presidents come to expect being picked apart and imitated by greats like Chevy Chase, Will Ferrell and Phil Hartman? Over several decades, Richard Nixon was caricatured by actors ranging from Dan Aykroyd to Darrell Hammond.
Good presidents are good sports about this. They take it in stride. They’re able to laugh at themselves specifically because of their self-confidence. Bad presidents are bad sports about this. Because they lack self-confidence, they don’t find the humor at all. These type of leaders seem to have not learned important lessons about holding power to account — and sometimes that’s done through humor. Instead of taking it in stride, these type of presidents (Nixon, Trump, for example) end up feeling…