A NOT-SO MODEST PROPOSAL (OR THE DOWNFALL OF MANKIND AS WE KNOW IT)
- the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc. (Dictionary.com)
In order words, the best kind of comedy.
Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, formally known as A Modest Proposal For Preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick, is a classic satirical essay published by Swift in 1729. In his writing, Swift suggests a solution to the economic crisis the impoverished Irish were enduring – selling their children as commodities for wealthy ladies and gentlemen and as food to eaten by them (Swift 2435). Any intellectual would understand the essay’s purpose was to mock the attitude towards the poor and the British policy towards the Irish. Remnants of A Modest Proposal are apparent in rhetoric within our current political sphere, as evident in one degree or another with the speech used by Donald J Trump, 45th President of the United States of America, businessman, and political newcomer.
Since the beginning of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has used fear as propaganda to insinuate veiled attacks against communities of color. He has rallied supporters who sense their privilege is being threatened and wish to “Make America Great Again,” a phrase coined from Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign.
Trumps’ pseudo-label for “Make America White Again” has led to not only his election, but the implementation of policies that significantly affect a mass majority of the American population. Less than two weeks after his inauguration, Donald Trump and his regime instituted a travel ban targeting Muslim Americans, Muslim immigrants, and asylum seekers from war-torn countries in the Middle East. Reactions to his policies were instantaneous. However, the most amusing, and perhaps useful response came from comedian and talk show host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah.
Trevor Noah is well-known for his enthusiasm to debunk political policies and ridicule the foolishness of representatives. Donald Trump is no exception. Following Trump’s inauguration, The Daily Show uploaded a video titled “Welcome to President Trump’s Reality.” In the video, Trevor Noah critiqued Trumps’ first interview since taking office. He stated that since Trump’s inauguration, the public had yet to see the newly elected president in action until his spontaneous interview praising Fox News and expressing his thoughts on the news in general. Trump said that ‘fake news’ is news that is critical of his actions, while ‘real news’ praises his choices. Noah retaliated stating, “He doesn’t want to read; he doesn’t want to have briefings; he watches Fox to get his news. You realize the reason we [the public] need the news is because we don’t have what the president has, which is all the information…You [Trump] are the news” (Noah, “The Daily Show”). Noah continued, later saying, “Here we are, one week into Trump’s presidency, and the realization is beginning to dawn – the difference between candidate Trump and President Trump is that now we [the public] have to live in his crazy reality…We’re all his hostage. He’s taken over our world” (Noah, “The Daily Show”).
Trevor Noah’s remarks are a form of satire, most famously used by Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, “The Lady’s Dressing Room,” and A Modest Proposal. Though discussing drastically different time periods and political realms, the two sets of commentary are similar in that they both critique their respective political systems and offer insight into the flaws of their society.
The credibility of Jonathan Swift as an author allowed him to attack the political opinions of the Irish and propose rather inhumane remedies for Ireland’s economic and social instability to stir conversation in A Modest Proposal. Swift’s first solution failed in the public eye because it was unlike his previous works. In response, the writer instead used his signature style of satire, and parody to protest the inefficiency of the Irish government, the hypocrisy of the wealthy and their misuse of commodities, the degraded environments the Irish people were forced to accommodate, and the tyranny of the English. Swift’s essay shows how he views both the English and the Irish people and government responsible for the current state of Ireland. He makes his point negatively by twisting the morals and ideals of basic humanity. Swift’s essay first shocks readers and then forces them to think critically about policies and their values. The speaker seems to demonstrate no awareness of the proposal’s absurdity, adding the satirical effect. So much of its impact as satire lies in the fact that it presents itself as a serious solution to the problems Swift mentions, while also clearly functioning on an absurd logical level.
Unlike Swift, Trevor Noah didn’t provide solutions to the travel ban instituted by Donald Trump for example. He did, however, force his viewers to think critically about the actions of our new and previous presidents. The United States wouldn’t have to host refugees if our government and military stopped destabilizing their countries. Though my reaction to Trump’s ban is critical, many people support the ban and are countering the dehumanization of migrants with story-lines of color-blindness and white migrant exceptionalism. Most commonly used is stories of people being able to successfully assimilate into American culture because of their preferred religion or skin color. Said people fail to realize that they discredit themselves. Human rights are not a meritocracy. Trevor Noah is not so much using irony to call attention to political problems, like Jonathan Swift, as he is directly critiquing Trump’s rhetoric.
Ultimately, through satire, both Swift and Noah can critique the political rhetoric of the individuals representing the public and remark on their policies through a comical lens. The parallel between the two allows for a deeper analysis of the success of Trevor Noah’s comments and helps the viewer develop their response to President Trump as a politician and the decisions he has made for the “betterment” of our nation.
“Satire.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/satire. Accessed 7 Mar. 2017.
Swift, Jonathan. A Modest Proposal. 1729. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. Fourth Edition. Vol. 1C. New York: Longman, 2010. 2430-37. Print.
Noah, Trevor. “The Daily Show – Welcome to President Trump’s America.” Youtube, uploaded by The Daily Show, 27 January 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2YLS80Nmls.
Palo, Mike. Twitter/@mike22p. 2017. The Hollywood Reporter, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/donald-trump-defends-immigration-ban-as-joker-surprisingly-seamless-parody-969678. Accessed March 2017.
BeeIsHappy. “25 seconds of encouragement with Trevor Noah” BeeIsHappy, 8 Nov. 2016, http://beeishappy.tumblr.com/post/152981009014/tds-20161108-25-seconds-of- encouragement. Accessed 7 Mar. 2017.