It’s no mystery why he’s gotten so far while being vicious to the handicapped, minorities, and women whose appearance he doesn’t like: Millions of people among his base of support have been lapping this stuff up for years.
Of all the outrageous, unprecedented things Trump has said and gotten away with on the campaign trail, the most amazing has got to be his ridicule of people for their disabilities. There was his spastic caricature of a New York Times reporter who has a congenital joint disease, and his counterattack at pundit Charles Krauthammer, who is paralyzed from the waist down (“I get called [out] by a guy that can’t buy a pair of pants, I get called names?”)
Trump’s audience seemed to love his imitation of the Times reporter; it certainly didn’t cost him any support, nor did his putdown of Krauthammer. How does a presidential candidate get away with such cruelty? The injunction against public ridicule of disabled people is one of the most absolute, iron-clad taboos in civilized society, yet breaking it didn’t hurt Trump at all; if anything it enhanced his reputation for “telling it like it is.” I wondered – how could this be?
And then I remembered a video I saw of Larry the Cable Guy (stage name of Daniel Lawrence Whitney), the first big star of contemporary, right-wing “redneck comedy,” doing his version of Christmas carols at one of his concerts. “Hark the harelip angels sing,” he begins, then splutters through the next line like he figures a person with a harelip would sing it – and the audience is laughing like crazy. Then, to the tune, of “Frosty the Snowman,” he sings, “Donny the retard, had an eight-pound waterhead,” finishing up with an imitation of a severely retarded person, and again the audience is cracking up.
This was not at a nightclub filled with drug-addled young people; from the YouTube of the skit (which has over 4 million views) you can see that this was a big auditorium filled with moms and dads, a Grand Ole Opry crowd. And it was uploaded in 2006 – before the global recession, before Obama, before gay marriage, before “safe spaces,” at a time when George W. Bush was in the White House, so I don’t want to hear about the anger of the white working class. This was just pure, elemental meanness, and the audience was loving it – a preview of heartland America’s embrace of Trump’s abusive style.
The Christmas carols skit by Larry the Cable Guy featured another theme that was considered off-limits in a presidential campaign until Trump famously made it work: overt racism. “O come, all ye illegal immigrants / Come and get your green cards / And learn some damn English / And then how to drive,” sings Larry, and this time the audience isn’t just laughing, it’s cheering.
For some reason, Trump hasn’t ridiculed gays, nor hinted that Hillary is a lesbian, even though much of his base – white, non-evangelical, right-wing Middle Americans – are no doubt itching for him to do it, and Larry showed how it’s done. To the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”:
You better watch out, I think she’s a guy, / I ain’t quite sure, but somethin’ ain’t right, / Hillary Clinton’s comin’ to town.
So it’s not a mystery why Trump has gotten so far in American politics even while being vicious to the handicapped, minorities, and women whose appearance he doesn’t like: Millions of people among his base of support have been lapping this stuff up for years.
I’VE ONLY LEARNED about “redneck comedy” from Googling, so I’ve only seen the tiniest fraction of what’s out there – but the Christmas carols video wasn’t the only one in which Larry the Cable Guy ridiculed the disabled. In this one, which has had almost 700,000 views since it was uploaded in 2008, he calls the public toilet for the handicapped the “cripple stool.”
This style of entertainment is not a fringe phenomenon in American culture; Larry the Cable Guy has had seven albums that went to No. 1 on the Billboard comedy album chart. And he’s not the only Trump-mean “redneck comedian” who’s done it; the No. 1 comedy album on the Billboard chart today is “Redneck Shit” by Wheeler Walker Jr. (stage name of Ben Hoffman). Vulgar and stupid beyond words (Larry, by contrast, is very clever), mainly about sex, the album’s title song includes this lyric:
Takin’ pictures of my mama when she’s trying’ to take a shit, / Then I’m throwin’ rocks at cripples and I laugh when they get hit.
Another song on the album is titled “Which One of You Queers Is Gonna Suck My Dick?” The No. 1 comedy album in America. And people are shocked at Donald Trump’s candidacy for president.
Then there’s country singer/comedian Rodney Carrington, who’s had a No. 1 comedy album and twice hit No. 2. He’s got a song called “Rap Star,” in which he slags off black hip-hop performers for singing about “pimpin’ ho’s” and for bragging about their “bling,” which is fine by me; black hip-hop lyrics tend toward the disgusting. But then, in explaining rap terms to his audience, he says the word “ax” means “to pose a question,” which simply demeans black people. Naturally the crowd, which is at least 99.9% white, loves it.
This is Trump’s base on their own, enjoying themselves. In Carrington’s skit “Radical Islam,” in which he refers to Allah as “Allah Jackson,” he adds:
I’m not talking about all Muslims, for all you Muslims who are in here tonight, because God knows I’ve got a big following of them. I’m huge in Egypt.
Then he does a bit about going to “some Japanese, Chinese, fuck they all look the same restaurant,” and the rest of the sketch is based on making fun of Asian people talking English.
I knew your legs were missing, by the knot in your pants. / But that didn’t stop me, I asked you to dance. / I danced while you sat there. / Danced while you sat there …
BASED ON THE limited Googling I’ve done, I’m happy to say that not all country comedians are sadistic assholes onstage. Three very popular ones who’ve toured with Larry the Cable Guy on the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour,” Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Ron White, don’t make fun of vulnerable people; White, in fact, does a bit in which he takes down homophobes.
Obviously this penchant for laughing at people over their disabilities, their looks, their race, religion or sexuality isn’t shared by all of Middle America’s cowboys and cowgirls – and maybe not by most, either. But it is certainly shared by many. (Recall the scene in “Borat” when the patrons at a country music bar in Tucson, Arizona sing along merrily as Borat performs “Throw the Jew Down the Well.”) It is more than acceptable among the people of Trump’s base; it is greatly rewarded, in pop culture as in politics.
Larry the Cable Guy, Rodney Carrington, Wheeler Walker Jr. and who knows which other country comedians think that dissing people in wheelchairs is defying PC, like ragging Obama. Last October Larry told one of his fans, Fox News’ Sean Hannity, that he didn’t listen to people who tell him “you shouldn’t have said that,” or that he was “dumbing down America and all this kind of stuff,” and that he agreed with Hannity that Americans had “lost their sense of humor.”
In that same interview, when Hannity asked him, “Do you like Trump?” Larry didn’t go so far as to endorse him – this was back in October – but he did say:
Yes I do like Trump. … Here’s why I like Trump: He’s shoving a knife right into political correctness. People will finally realize that’s why he’s popular. People are sick and tired of that garbage.
Finally, I suppose inevitably, a couple of months ago, Rodney Carrington released a song called “Vote For Trump”:
He understands the working man, / Tells the truth that we can understand. / If you don’t like it you can all just kiss our ass.