While I agree with Emily Nussbaum’s analysis of the nature of jokes in the modern era, I cannot agree with her assertions about the degree to which the nature of contemporary jokes contributed to Trump’s election.
The rise of the anonymous Internet commentator truly has changed the nature of jokes. While carrying a political connotation more often than not, comments from “trolls” can be found under nearly every kind of Youtube video from instructional cooking videos to video game trailers. This is indicative of the broader desire by these trolls to start arguments and rile people up on the internet.
While it is often talked about in a political context, much of this trolling is less specifically political and more to just insult people in general and hopefully get some kind of “amusing” emotional response out of them. This form of joking existed years before Trump was even remotely thought of as a presidential candidate. The anonymity of the internet is what encouraged people to engage in more offensive or politically controversial comedy because there were virtually no consequences for their actions. This “comedic” form did not emerge as a result of Trump’s political rise, as Nussbaum asserts.
This is not to say that Trump had no impact on these internet trolls. Once he became a prominent political figure, trolling comments became more politically focused, racial, and sex-oriented to a degree but trolling still isn’t mostly political.
Trolling as a comedic form has existed for a relatively long time. It existed and was political in the same way that it is now but to a lesser degree. While Trump’s rise may have led to an increase in political trolling, trolling is still used mostly to merely elicit an emotional response from people about anything rather than be specifically political.