22-year-old Amanda Gorman becomes youngest to read poem at inauguration

22-year-old Amanda Gorman becomes youngest to read poem at inauguration

Katie Kindelan                               January 20, 2021


Amanda Gorman made history Wednesday as the youngest poet in recent history to read a poem at a presidential inauguration.

Gorman, 22, read her own poem at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

The Los Angeles native told NPR she finished writing the poem, titled “The Hill We Climb,” on the night of Jan. 6, hours after rioters took part in a siege on Capital Hill.

PHOTO: Amanda Gorman recites a poem during the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)


“I was like, ‘Well, this is something we need to talk about,'” Gorman told NPR’s Steve Inskeep ahead of the inauguration, adding it had been “really daunting to begin the poem” given how divided the country seemed after the 2020 election.

Gorman opened her poem Wednesday by saying, “We braved the belly of the beast.”

“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace and the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice. And yet the dawn is hours before we knew it, somehow we do it, somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished,” she said. “We, the successors of a country and a time, where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.”

“And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect,” she said. “We are striving to forge our union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man.”

“And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know to put our future first. We must first put our differences aside,” Gorman said.

Gorman, who said she was not given specific instructions on what to write in her poem, follows in the footsteps of esteemed poets like Maya Angelou and Robert Frost in reading a poem at a presidential inauguration.

She also delivered her poem at a historic inauguration that saw Harris sworn in as the country’s first woman vice president and first woman of color to serve in that position.

Gorman arrived on the presidential stage after being named the first Youth Poet Laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 and the country’s first National Youth Poet Laureate three years later.

Like Biden, who has been public about having a stutter, Gorman has had to work hard to overcome a speech impediment.

MORE: Garth Brooks on why he’s performing at Biden’s inauguration

She told NPR that because of her difficulty saying certain letters of the alphabet, she has to constantly “self-edit and self-police.”

“I would be in the bathroom scribbling five minutes before trying to figure out if I could say ‘earth’ or if I can say ‘girl’ or if I can say ‘poetry.’ And you know, doing the best with the poem I could,” she said, noting that other famous inauguration orators, like Angelou, have also overcome struggles.

PHOTO: National youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman arrives at the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)


“I think there is a real history of orators who have had to struggle, a type of imposed voicelessness, you know, having that stage at inauguration,” Gorman told NPR. “So it’s really special for me.”

Read Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem in full:

Mr. President, Dr. Biden, Madam Vice President, Mr. Emhoff, Americans and the world, when day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade. We braved the belly of the beast.

We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace and the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice. And yet the dawn is hours before we knew it, somehow we do it, somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.

We, the successors of a country and a time, where a skinny black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president, only to find herself reciting for one.

And yes, we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect. We are striving to forge our union with purpose, to compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters, and conditions of man. And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know to put our future first. We must first put our differences aside.

We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true, that even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped.

That even as we tired, we tried. That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious, not because we will never again know defeat, but because we will never again sow division.

Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.

If we’re to live up to our own time, then victory won’t lighten the blade but in all the bridges we’ve made, that is the promise to glade, the hill we climb if only we dare, it’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we stepped into and how we repair it.

We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.

And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith, we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption. We feared — at its deception. We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, but within it we found the power to author a new chapter, to offer hope and laughter to ourselves.

So, while once we asked, “how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?”, now we assert, “how could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?” We will not march back to what was, but move to what shall be, a country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free. We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation.

Because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation. Our blunders become their burdens. But one thing is certain. If we merge mercy with might and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change, our children’s birth right.

So let us leave behind a country better than one we were left with, every breath from my bronze pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one. We will rise through the gold-limbed hills in the west, we will rise from the windswept northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution. We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the Midwestern states.

We will rise from the sun-baked South. We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover, in every known nook of our nation, in every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful, will emerge battered and beautiful.

When day comes, we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.

The new dawn blooms as we free it for there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it

‘Betsy DeVos made a mess’ of the U.S. student loan system, teachers’ union boss says

‘Betsy DeVos made a mess’ of the U.S. student loan system, teachers’ union boss says

Aarthi Swaminathan            November 16, 2020


Fixing the U.S. student loan system goes beyond just debt forgiveness, according to one teachers’ union leader, and the current administration hasn’t done much to help borrowers.

“Look, Betsy DeVos made a mess of this,” Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, told Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “We have sued DeVos several times. We sued Navient. … But ultimately, just like mortgages, and just like other things, student loan debt needs to be transparent.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos listens during a visit to Florida Virtual School in Orlando on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos listens during a visit to Florida Virtual School in Orlando on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)


The burden of the financial aid “needs to be clear,” Weingarten added. “People need to know what their choices are. And then we need to try to mitigate it to actually make [sure] student loan debt is not a death sentence for people.”

‘There’s a lot that you can do’

Currently, roughly 44 million Americans hold nearly $1.7 trillion in student loan debt.

Multiple lawmakers have proposed — through various bills and even on their respective campaign trails — cancelling debt for 37 million borrowers holding federal student loans. These loans are owed by Americans to the U.S. Department of Education.

(Graphic: David Foster)
(Graphic: David Foster)


Most recently, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called for President-elect Joe Biden to use executive action to cancel “billions of dollars in student loan debt,” which she argued could be the “single most effective executive action available to provide massive consumer-driver stimulus.”

Weingarten stressed the same: “There’s a lot that you can do, executive action to clean this up.

Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com.

The Lincoln Project savages Trump’s debate claim that separated migrant kids are ‘so well taken care of’

The Lincoln Project savages Trump’s debate claim that separated migrant kids are ‘so well taken care of’

Catherine Garcia                               October 23, 2020


Just minutes after President Trump declared during Thursday night’s debate that migrant kids separated from their parents are “so well taken care of” inside U.S. facilities, the Lincoln Project released a searing four-second ad combining his words with the wails of children.

This week, lawyers tasked with reuniting migrant kids with their families told a court they haven’t been able to track down the parents of 545 children. They were separated under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, and when asked about this by moderator Kristen Welker, Trump claimed the government is working to find the parents, but added that many are smuggled into the country by coyotes and when kids are placed in U.S. facilities, they are “so well taken care of.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden pushed back, saying the children in question were ripped away from their parents, not smugglers, and called the act “criminal.” On Twitter, PBS NewsHour reporter Amna Nawaz said that she has “been inside the border processing centers where many kids and families were held. They were under resourced. Crowded. Staff overwhelmed. Groups of young kids crammed into windowless rooms.”

The Lincoln Project wasted no time bringing attention to Trump’s claim. Their video uses footage from facilities, showing young children wrapped up in mylar blankets inside cages, and the audio is Trump’s claim that “they’re in facilities that were so clean … so well taken care of,” mixed with the sounds of kids crying. Watch the ad below.

Evangelicals opposed to Trump step out of the shadows with new groups and ads

Yahoo – News

Evangelicals opposed to Trump step out of the shadows with new groups and ads

Evangelicals opposed to Trump speak out, including Billy Graham’s granddaughter.


President Trump “attempts to hijack our faith for votes,” the writer Jerusha Duford — Billy Graham’s granddaughter — said Thursday in a Zoom call sponsored by one of a growing number of evangelical groups that have formed to encourage Christians to vote for Joe Biden.

Trump’s “attempts to hijack our faith for votes, and evangelical leaders’ silence on his actions and behavior, has presented a picture of what our faith looks like that is so erroneous that it has done significant damage to the way people view Jesus,” said Duford on the call, which was sponsored by Not Our Faith PAC, a bipartisan group formed just this week with the explicit goal of trying to defeat Trump.

“I spent the better part of my life watching my grandfather look to be an example of Jesus, to how to conduct himself and how to treat people. Scripture talks about doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly, and these are tenets of our faith that I do not believe our president demonstrates in any way,” she said.

Her grandfather, the most famous evangelist of the 20th century, was friends with presidents of both parties and avoided direct involvement in electoral politics. Her uncle Franklin Graham is one of Trump’s most prominent backers on the Christian right.

A screengrab from the Not Our Faith PAC ad. (YouTube)
A screengrab from the Not Our Faith PAC ad. (YouTube)


White evangelicals backing Biden are still a small minority of a group that supported Trump overwhelmingly in 2016. Eighty-one percent overlooked his boasts about sexually assaulting women, his documented history of adultery, his association with the casino industry and his proclivity for golfing over church attendance on Sundays to vote for him. As recently as August he had actually improved his standing with evangelicals, to 83 percent, although more recent polling by the Pew Research Center showed it had slipped somewhat, to 78. Even a small falloff in evangelical support could have a major effect on Trump’s reelection prospects, which is what groups like Not Our Faith are hoping to achieve.

In a phone call to constituents that was leaked to the Washington Examiner on Thursday, a prominent Republican senator who is also a conservative evangelical Christian, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, succinctly outlined the case against Trump.

“He mocks evangelicals behind closed doors,” Sasse said, in remarks that a spokesman for the senator confirmed. “His family has treated the presidency like a business opportunity. He’s flirted with white supremacists.”

Duford said that in her experience, many evangelicals who might have voted for Trump in 2016 “went to the polls crossing their fingers, maybe holding their breath.”

But, she said, “now that we’ve had four years of it … I think that’s going to change their perceptions.”

The most noticeable change from four years ago among some number of white evangelicals is their willingness to vote for a Democrat. In 2016 they might not have voted for Trump, but they were deeply uncomfortable voting for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Biden doesn’t inspire the same discomfort.

A screengrab from the Not Our Faith PAC ad. (YouTube)
Screengrab from the Not Our Faith PAC ad. (YouTube)


Not Our Faith was formed earlier this week by Michael Wear, a former faith adviser to President Barack Obama, and Autumn Vandehei, a former Republican congressional staffer for Tom DeLay, who was House majority leader from 2003 to 2005. (Vandehei is also married to Jim Vandehei, the co-founder of the political news website Axios.)

The PAC’s first digital ad is targeted to likely voters in Michigan and Pennsylvania. “Christians don’t need Trump to save them,” the ad says. “The truth is that Trump needs Christians to save his flailing campaign.”

Another organization, Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden, was formed earlier this month by a group including senior officials at several influential conservative evangelical seminaries and from Christianity Today magazine.

“As pro-life evangelicals, we disagree with Vice President Biden and the Democratic platform on the issue of abortion. But we believe a biblically shaped commitment to the sanctity of human life compels us to a consistent ethic of life that affirms the sanctity of human life from beginning to end,” the group states on it’s website. “We believe that on balance, Joe Biden’s policies are more consistent with the biblically shaped ethic of life than those of Donald Trump. Therefore, even as we continue to urge different policies on abortion, we urge evangelicals to elect Joe Biden as president.”

That announcement was mocked by the conservative satirical website the Babylon Bee, which ran an Onion-like item about a fictional group called “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Moloch” — a heathen deity in the Old Testament who is associated with demands for child sacrifice.

In August, John Kingston, a former corporate lawyer and executive who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts two years ago, formed a group called Christians Against Trumpism and Political Extremism, along with Joel Searby, a Republican political strategist who worked on Evan McMullin’s independent candidacy for president in 2016.

John Kingston in 2018. (Winslow Townson/AP)
John Kingston in 2018. (Winslow Townson/AP)


“Right now we are bound up as people of faith in this Trumpist sort of prison, sort of thinking, ‘Oh, if we only get that much more political power, if we only get that much more, if we’re willing to compromise this much, then we can actually get someplace,’” Kingston said in an interview. “That triumphalist approach is antithetical to the sacrificial Christianity, the way of the cross which Jesus teaches us.”

Kingston and Searby’s group has a sizable leadership committee that includes several well-known figures inside evangelical Christianity, such as the authors Lisa Sharon Harper, Nancy French and D.L. Mayfield; Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine; former Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C.; and Wheaton College professor of theology Vincent Bacote.

“Even if the president loses in November, I think we’re in a multi-year fight over what has now been unleashed,” Kingston said.

Amy Sullivan, an author and journalist who worked for Yahoo News from 2015 to 2017, has started an organization called This Is My Story, focused on giving Christian women a platform to express independence.

“Many conservative Christian leaders have told women for decades that their faithfulness was demonstrated through purity and character. But when they had a choice between protecting their power or standing up for the women in their pews, they threw women under the ‘Access Hollywood’ bus,” Sullivan told Yahoo News. “So now women are speaking for themselves.”

Sullivan, author of a 2008 book on Christianity and the Democratic Party called “The Party Faithful,” produced and released a video on Friday morning showing several evangelical women, including Jerusha Duford, repeating in their own voices what Trump was recorded saying in the “Access Hollywood” tape that emerged four years ago. In that video, Trump boasts in vulgar language about how as “a star” he can get away with kissing and groping women.

Jerusha Duford in an new ad "Speak For Yourself". (This is My Story/YouTube)
Jerusha Duford in a new ad, “Speak for Yourself.” (This is My Story/YouTube)


After the women in Sullivan’s video repeat Trump’s words, the text on screen says, “Even after hearing these words, Christian pastors and leaders told women it was our duty to support Trump. They made it clear what they really valued. It wasn’t us. It’s time we speak for ourselves.”

All of these groups are made up largely of Christians who come from a theologically, culturally and politically conservative milieu.

There are also a number of groups headed by Christian leaders who are more politically progressive, such Vote Common Good, the New Moral Majority PAC and Faith 2020.

Those groups are seeking to influence more conservative Christians too. New Moral Majority PAC is organizing Operation Family Meeting, asking Christians who grew up as pastors’ kids or missionary kids, or who were youth group leaders or worship leaders, to talk with immediate family members who might be supporting Trump.

“We want to believe that many of the values that we were raised with still matter. That honesty and kindness are still the hallmark of leadership and that we are called to look after the least among us. But the rise of Trump has caused painful divisions in our families and many of us have quietly distanced ourselves from the communities we came from out of hurt and embarrassment,” the group says.

“We need to engage with them over the hurt their allegiance to the President has caused us because we are the only ones they might listen to.”

President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he visits outside St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House on June 1, 2020, in Washington. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
President Trump holds a Bible outside St. John’s Church across Lafayette Park from the White House on June 1. (Patrick Semansky/AP)


Even secular groups like Republican Voters Against Trump have enlisted Christians to make faith-based appeals for Biden.

Elizabeth Neumann, who was an assistant secretary for counterterrorism at the Department of Homeland Security until this past year, introduces herself in one video as “first and foremost a follower of Jesus Christ.”

“I’m a wife and a proud mom. I voted for Trump in 2016 primarily because of the pro-life issue,” Neumann says.

But Neumann says she concluded that Trump’s rhetoric has increased the threat of white supremacist terrorism. “We are less safe today because of his leadership. We will continue to be less safe as long as he is in control. And this year, I’ll be voting for Joe Biden,” she says.

What if this is the last election in U.S. history?

Chicago Suntimes

What if this is the last election in U.S. history?

People and entire organizations are working to discourage the American people from voting so the power elite can control the outcome and silence the working stiffs.

On Sept 3, workers prepare absentee ballots for mailing at the Wake County Board of Elections in Raleigh, N.C. Nearly 10,000 North Carolinians had their mail-in ballots accepted in the first week of voting, according state data. North Carolina was the first state in the country to send absentee ballots to voters who requested them.
 Gerry Broome/AP


What if this were the last time you ever had a chance to vote? If your children and grandchildren and future generations were to look back on November 2020 as the end of free elections in the United States, would you fail to pick up a ballot this year?

There are those who say it doesn’t matter who you vote for, both political parties are corrupt, their candidates are unworthy and the election process itself is a sham.

That’s a bunch of garbage!

For decades there have been people, entire organizations, working to discourage the American people from voting. It is a political strategy called suppressing the vote, so the power elite can control the outcome and silence the working stiffs.

Should you choose to stay home don’t tell me you didn’t take sides, because you absolutely did.

You chose the side that is trying to destroy our democracy. You chose the side that favors political repression. You chose the side that wants to silence those who would use their voice to defend the defenseless.

Centuries ago, people came here because kings and queens, czars and emperors decided how people would live and how they would die.

Most people were not paid for their work. If they killed a deer to feed their families, they were executed. When there was a war, they were rounded up, handed a spear or a pitchfork and told to go to die for their beloved monarch. This went on for centuries.

People eventually left such places to come to America. They risked their lives on tiny ships trying to reach a hostile country that offered nothing but hope. And once they were here, they created a new kind of government where people had the right to vote for their leaders.

Slaves came here in ships as well. They did not choose to make the voyage. They were placed in chains, sold like cattle and made to work for people who would become rich off their blood, sweat and tears. They were beaten, whipped and lynched for trying to run away.

They dreamed of a better life. Of freedom. One day they were granted that right and tried to exercise it at the election polls.

Black people were burned alive in churches just for holding meetings where they talked about voting. They were shot on the streets walking to the polls. They were lynched from trees because they dared to run for office.

Still, they tried to vote. Still they fought for the right to cast a ballot. And you dare wonder today why you should bother to vote.

There are women who took their small children and walked in the streets campaigning for the right to vote. They worked 18 hours a day in sweatshops, came home and were forced to turn over their money to husbands who beat them and spent their savings at local bars.

They had almost no rights. They couldn’t even own their own homes in some places. But they realized at the ballot box, if they had the vote, they might be able to change that for all women in the future.

They were verbally and physically abused and sent to prison. Some died trying to make the dream of universal suffrage a reality. All so you could vote.

Yet, today there are some women who don’t care to vote. It is their right, they say.

The fate of our country is at stake this November. There are those who may try to stop the election, or at the very least stop you from casting a ballot. You must take a stand and tell your friends and neighbors in other states to do the same.

We vote for all of those who have suffered and died for this right. We vote to preserve this legacy for future generations. We vote to protect the most powerful revolutionary tool in the history of the world: The election ballot.

‘Borat 2’ Trailer: Sacha Baron Cohen Returns to Annihilate Donald Trump’s America

Indie Wire

Zack Sharf         October 1, 2020


Ready or not, here comes Borat. Amazon has premiered the official trailer for Sacha Baron Cohen’s comedy sequel, officially titled “Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm.” No, the rumored title of “Borat: Gift of Pornographic Monkey to Vice Premiere Mikhael Pence to Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan” was not true. The film picks up with Cohen’s Kazakh journalist Borat following the blockbuster success of the 2006 movie as he returns to America with his daughter hoping to “gift her to someone close to the throne” (aka someone in the orbit of Donald Trump’s White House).

Cohen shot the “Borat” sequel in secret over the summer. Fans of the comedian started to wonder what he was up to after news broke in June that Cohen crashed a far-right rally in Olympia, Washington, and convinced the crowd to sing a racist song with him. Cohen appeared dressed in overalls and a fake beard and sang about injecting kids with the “Wuhan flu.” The event was for the Washington Three Percenters, a far-right militia group known for its gun advocacy.

Another Cohen prank leaked after New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani revealed in July that Cohen ambushed his interview at the Mark Hotel in New York City. During the middle of Giuliani’s interview, a man believed to be Cohen stormed in “wearing a crazy” outfit that included “a pink bikini, with lace, underneath a translucent mesh top.” Giuliani called the prank “absurd.”

In addition to far-right groups and Giuliani, Cohen is also expected to take aim at Mike Pence, Donald Trump, and Jeffrey Epstein in “Borat 2.” Deadline reported in September that Cohen risked his life on multiple occasions to film the “Borat” sequel, including wearing a bulletproof vest on at least two full days of filming.

The original “Borat” was a box office winner in 2006, grossing over $260 million worldwide. Cohen won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Comedy or Musical, and the film went on to land an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 79th Academy Awards. The film is often referred to as one of the best comedy films of the 21st century.

“Borat 2” will be released October 23 on Amazon Prime. Watch the official trailer for the comedy sequel in the video below.

Randy Rainbow: I Won’t Vote Trump

Randy Rainbow

Repeat after me: #IWontVoteTrump ✋🏻
This one’s a fundraiser on YouTube for


which uses music and culture to engage Americans with democracy. Donate if you can at the link below and visit Headcount.org to #RegisterToVote or verify your address! 🗳🇺🇸🧚🏻🎶

To Beat Trump, Mock Him

New York Times – Opinion

The lesson from pro-democracy fighters abroad: Humor deflates authoritarian rulers.

By Nicholas Kristof , Opinion Columnist               September 26, 2020

Credit…Andrew Aitchison/In Pictures, via Getty Images


Can critics of President Trump learn something from pro-democracy movements in other countries?

Most Americans don’t have much experience confronting authoritarian rulers, but people around the globe are veterans of such struggles. And the most important lesson arguably is “laughtivism”: the power of mockery.

Denouncing dictators has its place, but sly wit sometimes deflates them more effectively. Shaking one’s fist at a leader doesn’t win people over as much as making that leader a laughingstock.

“Every joke is a tiny revolution,” George Orwell wrote in 1945.

American progressives have learned by now that frontal attacks aren’t always effective against Trump. Impeaching Trump seemed to elevate him in the polls. A majority of Americans agree in a Quinnipiac poll that Trump is a racist, yet he still may win re-election. Journalists count Trump’s deceptions (more than 20,000 since he assumed the presidency) and chronicle accusations of sexual misconduct against him (26 so far), yet he seems coated with Teflon: Nothing sticks.

America has had “Baby Trump” balloons, “Saturday Night Live” skits and streams of Trump memes and jokes. But all in all, Trump opponents tend to score higher on volume than on wit. So, having covered pro-democracy campaigns in many other countries, I suggest that Americans aghast at Trump absorb a lesson from abroad: Authoritarians are pompous creatures with monstrous egos and so tend to be particularly vulnerable to humor. They look mighty but are often balloons in need of a sharp pin.

Even before it collapsed, the moral authority of the Soviet Union had been hollowed out by endless jokes. In one, a secret policeman asks another, “What do you think of the regime?” Nervously, the second policeman replies, “The same as you, comrade.” At that point the first one pulls out handcuffs and says, “In that case, it is my duty to arrest you.”

Are the stakes too serious to laugh? Does cracking jokes devalue a democracy struggle? I don’t think so. One of the most successful examples of laughtivism came two decades ago when university students took on the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. Milosevic committed genocide and isn’t an obvious target of humor — but the students’ wit helped topple him.

A typical stunt: They taped a picture of Milosevic on the side of a barrel and invited passers-by to take a swing at it with a baseball bat. The resulting photos of the police “arresting” the barrel and hauling it away were widely publicized and made Milosevic seem less mighty and more ridiculous. In 2000, Milosevic was ousted and handed over to an international tribunal to be tried for war crimes.

Here in the United States, we’ve also seen the power of wit. One of the most effective critics of “Boss Tweed” and Tammany Hall in the 19th century was Thomas Nast, the cartoonist. And Senator Joseph McCarthy’s nemesis, and the man who coined the term “McCarthyism,” was the cartoonist Herblock.

(Don’t tell my editors, but cartoonists, now an endangered species, are often more incisive social and political critics than columnists.)

In South Africa, the cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro skewered President Jacob Zuma so deftly and often that he was arguably one reason Zuma was forced to resign in 2018. Zuma sued Shapiro, whose response was a cartoon in which Zuma rages that he will sue for “damage to my reputation.” Shapiro coolly responds, “Would that be your reputation as a disgraced chauvinist demagogue who can’t control his sexual urges and who thinks a shower prevents AIDS?”

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak was toppled the same year in part because of the work of another cartoonist, Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, who persevered despite prosecutions and physical attacks.

That’s one gauge of the power of humor: Dictators fear mockery. The Committee to Protect Journalists says it has intervened this year alone to defend seven cartoonists around the world who were arrested, threatened with prosecution or threatened with death.

In Russia, the dissident Aleksei Navalny uses withering sarcasm in his efforts to bring democracy to Russia. Navalny, now recovering in Germany from what apparently was an attempt by Russian officials to murder him with Novichok nerve gas, responded to Russian suggestions that he had poisoned himself:

“I boiled Novichok in the kitchen, quietly took a sip of it in the plane and fell into a coma,” he wrote on Instagram. “Ending up in an Omsk morgue where the cause of death would be listed as ‘lived long enough’ was the ultimate goal of my cunning plan. But Putin outplayed me.”

Leaders like Trump who pose as religious are particularly easy to skewer, as Iranians have shown in their use of humor to highlight the hypocrisy of their own mullahs. Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi is still nicknamed “Crocodile” because of a cartoon many years ago by Nik Kowsar, who now lives in exile in America because hard-liners arrested him and threatened to murder him.

No, I won’t be drawing cartoons or trying stand-up. I know my limitations. But I’m frustrated by the lack of traction that earnest critiques of Trump get, and I think it’s useful to learn lessons about how people abroad challenged authoritarians and pointed out their hypocrisy with the simple precision of mockery.

I’m also frustrated that some forceful criticisms of Trump sometimes come across to undecided voters as strident or over the top. People like me are accused of suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, and our arguments are dismissed precisely because they are so fervent

Something similar happens in many countries. Citizens who aren’t political are often wary of pro-democracy leaders who are perceived as radical, as irreligious or as over-educated elitists. But those ordinary citizens appreciate a joke, so humor becomes a way to win them over.

“The grins of the people are the nightmares of the dictators,” wrote Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 while in prison. He is best-known for his eloquent essays calling for democracy, but he argued that humor is also essential in undermining authoritarian rulers.

Liu generously added — and this may be relevant to a polarized country like the United States — that satirizing an authoritarian is good for the nation because it makes the eventual downfall and transition softer and less violent.

“A clown needs less revenge than a monster does,” he observed.

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