A memorial service isn’t the most likely place to be reminded of why laughing matters so much in life – and in politics.
But that’s exactly what happened on Wednesday in Washington when former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson delivered a eulogy for his friend, former President George H.W. Bush.
“Humor is the universal solvent against the abrasive elements of life,” said Simpson, reminding the crowd assembled at the National Cathedral that one of the most important qualities of the late president was his ability to laugh – especially at himself.
Amen to that.
There’s a sentiment that has gained traction over the last decade or so that politics isn’t serious enough. That these are SERIOUS times and they require SERIOUS people – both in politics and in the media who cover it. Having fun, enjoying yourself, laughing at the ridiculousness of something or someone or yourself are strictly verboten.
I think that badly misses the point. Of course the work of politics and policy is a serious endeavor with real stakes. But being able to share a laugh or poke fun at yourself is the lubricant that many of our best – and most successful – politicians have used to make the gears of government whir into action. Whether it was George H.W. Bush or his son, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama, all of those men knew how to tell a joke, and how to take one, too.
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Laughing wasn’t for them a sign of unseriousness. Rather, maintaining a sense of humor – about themselves and the world – was how they kept themselves sane, how they coped with a job and a world with many varied challenges.
I’d argue that one of President Donald Trump’s biggest weaknesses is that he has very little sense of humor – especially about himself. Fired FBI Director James Comey wrote about Trump’s lack of mirth in his memoir, and told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos of Trump: “I’ve never seen him laugh. Not in public, not in private. And at a dinner with someone – I mean, I’m not a comedian but I occasionally say something that’s funny that people chuckle with each other.”
Here’s the thing. As Simpson notes, laughter isn’t a sign of unseriousness or weakness. It’s the most effective and important way we deal with the “abrasive elements of life.” And we all – especially in politics – have to deal with abrasive elements all the damn time.
The Point: Laugh. Chuckle. Giggle. Grin. We all need it.