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Wake up, America: Laughter is healing

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Many social movements fail because they go one step too far. In the case of the woke cancel culture, it took two steps. First, they robbed us of a cultural attribute that truly makes America great — our sense of humor. Then, they started eating their own.

Americans choose to laugh more often than to be enraged. We have been effective at using laughter to lower the temperature. Remember Chevy Chase tripping his way through skits about President Ford on Saturday Night Live? Or Daryl Hammond mocking President Clinton’s empathy affectation, or the incomparable Tina Fey’s hilarious skits about Sarah Palin? Their skits all had a grain of truth in them, and both Democrats and Republicans laughed. Laughter is a shared American value, ignited by good comedy that exempts no one.

Yet, comedy began to die in 2009 with President Obama’s tenure. Humor was deemed to be criticism that was seen as racist, so Saturday Night Live and news networks began to steer clear of it. In 2017, comedy took an ugly turn toward mockery when the sour and malicious Alec Baldwin played President Trump on Saturday Night Live. Stephen Colbert took this to another level with his cartoon parody of the Trump administration in his series, “Our Cartoon President.”  Many comedic giants, including Jerry Seinfeld, walked away from gigs because comedy simply didn’t work anymore. It was now offensive.

Within the context of America losing its sense of humor, the woke cancel culture was born. It replaced humor with dogma — which is no laughing matter — and tried to erase anyone who disagreed.

As cancel culture became emboldened, drunk on its perceived power, it went too far by trying to erase history, cancel celebrities and target others — Dr. Seuss, Disney, “Gone with the Wind,” iconic Latino brand Goya, author J.K Rowling, and New York Times editor Adam Rubenstein, to name but a few. As Victor Davis Hanson wrote, “What was yesterday’s orthodoxy is today’s heterodoxy and tomorrow’s heresy.” No one was safe.

This brought together a new coalition of classical liberals, conservatives, Republicans and Trump populists with a goal to save free speech.

Alex Berenson spoke at last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). A former reporter at the New York Times and best-selling fiction writer, he is by no means conservative. In fact, Berenson said in an interview that his voting history would qualify him more as a speaker at an American Civil Liberties Union gathering. But he has been “canceled” by the woke mob — progressive cable news outlets CNN and MSNBC, and Amazon, which refused to sell his pamphlets on COVID-19 for a time.

Berenson is joined by other liberals, including Glenn Greenwald, Bari Weiss, Matt Taibbi and Bill Maher, who are all speaking out against the woke cancel culture’s deleterious effects on freedom of speech and press. On a recent program, Maher called on liberals to “stand your ground … so that when the woke mob comes after you for some ridiculous offense, you’ll … stop apologizing, because I can’t keep up anymore with who’s on the s— list.”

Maher concluded, “Mature people understand humans are continually evolving, as opposed to Wokeville, where they’re always shocked we didn’t emerge enlightened from the primordial ooze. … Memo to social justice warriors: When what you’re doing sounds like an Onion headline, stop.” Maher is a social critic who is also funny. Making fun of movements that do stupid or dangerous things is as American as apple pie.

Maher likely will not be the last social critic to voice support for core American values. There’s an encouraging flow of thought moving toward freedom and away from the woke orthodoxy. Perhaps Americans realize that our nation cannot prosper by tearing itself apart based on race and gender while discouraging free speech and accepting compromised, increasingly partisan news outlets.

President Biden wants Americans to unify. Here are a few simple suggestions to attain that goal: Embrace journalists who want to save journalism, those who will honestly report on the divisive cultural impacts of the woke cancel culture movement. Welcome unfiltered and uncensored conversations from which new ideas will flow and old solutions will be regenerated. And bring our comedians out of the darkness to help us laugh and heal together.

Dennis M. Powell is founder and president of Massey Powell in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., which provides strategic communications services to organizations. He has been involved in more than 300 political campaigns doing strategy, messaging, polling and fundraising. Follow him on Twitter @dennismpe.

Tags Bill Maher Cancel culture Comedy Donald Trump Joe Biden Progressive politics Stephen Colbert woke

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