The Donald. Tiny Hands. Drumpf. F**kface Von Clownstick.
And my personal favorite, Cheeto Jesus.
Until last week, these were funny names for a Republican primary contender.
But when the last knee bent at the RNC and Donald Trump took his seat at the right hand of Reagan, these became shorthand for The Official Republican Candidate for President of the United States. Which makes this a good time to look back, reflect, and realize we have handled this all wrong.
I Googled a few versions of the phrase "Trump not funny" and found these headlines:
"OK, This Trump Thing Isn't Funny Anymore"
August 27, 2015, The Daily Beast
"Donald Trump isn't funny anymore, and we all have to stop him"
February 28, 2016, The Washington Post
"The Trump Jokes Aren't Funny Anymore"
March 1, 2016, The Huffington Post
"There's Nothing Funny About Donald Trump's Candidacy"
June 14, 2016, Women's Health
"This Isn't Funny Anymore. American Democracy Is at Stake."
July 14, 2016, Esquire
In each case, Donald Trump passed some benchmark no one thought possible or breached some standard no one thought conceivable, and a writer tried to declare in the midst of snickering that Trump's candidacy was officially "Not funny anymore."
Then he passed another benchmark, so another article was published. Then another benchmark, another article, another benchmark. And so on. Over the past 11 months the publications, the competitors, and the stakes have all changed but one thing has not: we're still laughing.
My question is: why?
It was understandable in the beginning. We giggled at watching him effortlessly dismantle the clown car primary with playground insults--maybe we even rooted for him on some level. We jeered and gleefully tuned in, thinking we'd get our kicks for a bit and then he would collapse. Surely people would wake up to the insanity of this.
I think we're laughing for a different reason now. How else to deal with the gut-turning uneasiness of this situation? Our prognosticators were wrong, the political redundancies have failed. The safety systems are shot. We do not want to believe President Trump is a real possibility, so we joke to reassure ourselves and laugh to ease the tension. Surely this is not happening.
But it is.
The fuel of disenfranchised whites and Clinton-haters, the desperation of a ruling class irate at their waning power has stoked a hotter fire than anyone anticipated. And Donald Trump is human accelerant.
On Monday, the "Now-cast" on FiveThirtyEight showed that if the election were held today, Donald Trump would win--by more than a little. And no matter how people will try to explain that away, with every other unreachable benchmark passed with ease the uncomfortable question poses itself: why not this one too?
Nothing that people have tried to stop Trump to this point has worked. Not covering him didn't work, insulting him didn't work, fact-checking him didn't work. Even treating him like a normal candidate didn't work. It would seem that the anti-Trump side is nearly out of ammunition.
But there is one thing that hasn't been tried yet: stop joking about it.
I mean that literally. Completely. Call it a comedic boycott. No more nicknames and no more hand jokes. No more laughing at his hair-brained lies or cashing in on orange-faced impressions; no more gleeful mockery or self-assured snideness.
We had our fun, and likely for too long. Worse than stoking the hate of his supporters, humor has de-fanged Donald Trump from the beginning. It made him seem innocuous. Impossible. A fever dream.
It paints a barbarian as a buffoon, just to make us feel like everything will be okay. There is no truth in that feeling.
To people who think this over-states the danger, I can say only this: assuming Trump's impossibility is the surest path to his inevitability. And if this concern is for nothing, we can have a hearty laugh about it on November 9th. I'll buy the drinks.
Until then, there is no joke worth the cost. If we aren't willing to give up this comfort for four months--to wake up from this enabling stupor and take seriously a deadly serious candidate--we will own part of the blame for his victory in November.
Nothing will be funny then.