NO JOKE

What Dave Chappelle Teaches Us About Donald Trump

There are elephants attacking elephants all over the place. Pass the popcorn.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

The zenith of Dave Chappelle’s brilliant new Netflix standup special “The Age of Spin” comes when he describes his vision for a movie about a superhero who can access his life-saving powers only by patting a woman’s vagina. This, as you can guess, puts the superhero in a horrible position—call it a Chappellean Dilemma, i.e., a comically absurd dilemma. On Chappelle’s Show such a dilemma might have been ‘What would a blind Klansman do after he finds out he’s actually Black?’ Here it’s ‘how should we feel about the sum total of the life of a man who does something horrible in order to do good?’

See, as Dave describes it, this superhero is not good-looking and he’s usually short on cash, so when he asks a woman if he can pat her vagina—so he can rescue people in a burning building or something—he gets the expected response. “Gross, get away!” But he needs to save lives! So what does he do? At this point in the joke Chappelle takes a long pause, looks offstage—here we go—then looks dead at the audience and tells us how his imaginary superhero solves his problem: “So he rapes them.”

Wow. Dave goes on: “He rapes but he saves! And he saves more than he rapes! And he rapes only to save!” The Chappellean Dilemma here is this: if you perform a lot of extraordinary acts does that balance out committing one of the worst acts a human can do? Of course, the answer is no. No amount of good can excuse rape, but Chappelle spins comedic gold out of the ridiculous question.

Where does Trump fit into that Chappellean Dilemma? Back in the election he was unmasked as an accused serial rapist, and the ease Trump feels about grabbing vaginas would only help Chappelle’s imaginary superhero. Also, during the election, Trump told us he wanted to save. He portrayed himself as someone who’d arrived to save America from the future. And by “America” he meant “working class white people” and “the wealthy.”

So Trump allegedly rapes and he allegedly aspires to save but since the election, Trump hasn’t been saving. Trumpcare would have taken health insurance away from 24 million people and its spectacular failure—its Hindenburg-like crash and burn—has led to a GOP Civil War. Trump against the Freedom Caucus and Bannon against Paul Ryan and maybe Ryan against the Freedom Caucus, too. There are elephants attacking elephants all over the place. Pass the popcorn. They say Democrats are ineffectual now because they don’t control any branch of government but so far the GOP has been ineffectual largely because they control every branch of government.

The modern GOP, at its core, is anti-government. These are people who believe government itself is the problem. This is a party that believes so deeply that government is the problem that they’ll happily sabotage government’s ability to function in hopes that the resulting mess and anger over government’s inability to function will fuel their argument that government is the problem. That’s what Republican obstruction of Obama was all about. Look, if the GOP and the Democratic party were mothers arguing in front of King Solomon over the fate of a baby called government, the GOP would be the mom who says, “Go ahead and cut it in half. I don’t care.”

To have DC controlled by a single group of people who believe DC is the problem—including many agencies run by people who believe their agency should not exist—is to welcome disaster. It’s hard for government to function effectively when the people in charge have disdain for it. Where Democrats believe in government’s ability to solve problems, the GOP wants government out of our lives, especially when it comes to health care.(They don’t want government out of our lives when it comes to a woman’s right to choose but that’s another story.)

The anti-government rallying cry was built for the campaign trail. It worked well when the GOP was the opposition party. But when you’re in office you have to lead, provide services, keep citizens safe, and manage the levers of power. You have to say yes to some stuff. And health care was especially challenging for Republicans to say yes to.

Repealing Obamacare has been a core promise of the GOP for over seven years, and it won them many elections, but when they had a clear kill shot they couldn’t pull the trigger because they never conceived of a serious replacement because that would require believing in government’s ability to solve people’s problems and crafting a program that makes people reliant on government. For the GOP, the answer is almost always to let the private sector and the free market figure it out.

In Europe they treat health care as a basic human right that must be accessible to everyone, but the GOP can’t do that and shrink government to a size where it can be drowned in the bathtub at the same time. Since their priority is attacking the very nature of government, they can’t reform health care and prove that government can fix people’s problems. They can’t do that but they can fight about whose fault the failure is because that bolsters their argument that government is the problem. And thus, instead of the health care reform they promised as the opposition party, we now no reform, we have just a government at war with itself.

So the president is accused of rape but, as of this writing, he isn’t being accused of saving anyone. And that makes a mockery of the Chappellean Dilemma because that means there’s no tension. Trump seems to feel that if women are not literally beneath him then they’re figuratively beneath him. And he doesn’t save—he doesn’t push programs that will lead to government helping people—because he has no respect for people who he feels are beneath him. Kellyanne Conway (remember her?) famously said after the election, “There’s a difference for voters between what offends you and what affects you.” Nowadays Trump is offending and not affecting. And the truth is we all would be better off with Chappelle as president. Yes, Dave is a comedian, but he’s a brilliant comic. Trump is a joke.