Laughing Our Way Forward

These are hard times to pay attention to politics.  With all the anger, madness and discord in the air, it’s like our ship of state is sinking and we’re left to find our own lifeboats.  It’s easy to think we’re the first people ever to have known times like these.  Of course, we’re not.  Think back to the time of the Great Depression when anger, madness and division spilled over into every conversation, where the whole world appeared headed into oblivion.

Then, voices emerged from many different quarters and through them, people began to find their way.  Once such voice was heard on March 5, 1933, the day after Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated, in the syndicated column of the great humorist, Will Rogers:

“America hasn’t been as happy as it is today. No money, no banks, no work, no nuttin’ but now they got a man in there that’s wise to Congress, wise to our big bankers, and wise to our so-called big men. The whole country is with him. Even if what he does is wrong they are with him. Just so that he does something. If he’d burn down the Capitol we’d cheer and say, ‘Well, at least he got a fire started anyhow.’  We’ve had years of ‘don’t rock the boat.’ Go on, sink it if you want to, we just as well be swimming as like we are.” 

Will Rogers was determined to get the nation off its back and on the move again and he used humor to do it.

In the early part of the twentieth century Rogers was the definitive interpreter of all things American.  He matured when the world was in a similar time of radical transition.  The industrial revolution had driven his generation from the farm into factories and the old world monarchies in Europe were toppling like so many Humpty Dumpty’s.  People were mad as hell, scared as could be and more than a little confused.

Sound familiar?

His column, Daily Telegram, was read by 40 million and it was said to produce “less empty laughter or more sober thought” than anything written during his time.  Rogers’ weekly radio broadcast on Sunday evenings was the most listened to program in the country.  Through humor Rogers found the perfect means to turn that anger, fear and confusion into energy.

Compare these observations to today:

The election was lost four and five and six years ago. The money was all appropriated for the top in hopes that it would trickle down to the needy. Mr. Hoover was an engineer. He knew that water trickled down. Put it uphill and let it go and it will reach the driest little spot. But he didn’t know that money trickled up. Give it to the people at the bottom and the people at the top will have it before night anyhow. But it will at least have passed through the poor fellows’ hands. They saved the big banks but the little ones went up the flue.”

A few more choice lines:

  • We are the first nation to starve to death in a storehouse that’s overfilled with everything we want.
  • When the Judgment Day comes civilization will have an alibi, “I never took a human life, I only sold the fellow the gun to take it with.”
  • Be it pestilence, war, or famine, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The poor even help arrange it.
  • Ten men in our country could buy the whole world and ten million can’t buy enough to eat.
  • What the country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds.
  • We all can’t be heroes, for someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.
  • We are the first nation in the history of the world to go to the poor house in an automobile.

Perhaps he was best known for his 1931 radio broadcast, “Bacon, Beans and Limousines,”  wherein he dealt with the problem of unemployment.

Bacon, Beans and Limousines, Will Rogers ~ April 1931

In desperate times sometimes the only way to see the world clearly is through the lens of humor.  And that always begins with a good look in the mirror.

Just a thought…


Copyright © 2019 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.

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