Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: ‘What a Force Is Laughter’

December 2, 2019 Updated: December 2, 2019


Sometimes, when all appears to be lost, Providence intervenes to expose corrupt human enterprise and give us the backbone to laugh in the face of those who would imperil our democracy.

Such was the case on Thursday, Nov. 21, when California congressman and frustrated presidential candidate Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) appeared on the MSNBC show “Hardball” with Chris Matthews. The congressman’s appearance came at the close of a week-long assault on President Donald Trump led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), one of the present House majority’s most aggressive inquisitors.

Swalwell’s intention was to spin the results of a five-day inquiry, which had called upon 11 career civil servants and a recently appointed ambassador to make the case that the president of the United States had wrongly interfered in U.S. foreign policy by resisting the advice of permanent state actors and temporarily withholding foreign aid to the Ukraine.

In the president’s defense the White House asserted that recent Ukrainian administrations have had a well-known history of corrupt practices, and President Trump had a responsibility to assess the sincerity of promises made by newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky to clean things up.

But habitual detractors of President Trump focused on the possibility that an investigation of corruption in the Ukraine would include examining the suspicious involvement of Hunter Biden with Burisma, one of Ukraine’s largest gas companies, while his father was serving as vice president. They said that any suggestion of investigating Hunter Biden amounted to an abuse of the president’s power in order to disadvantage Joe Biden’s bid for the Democrat Party nomination in 2020.

Ironically, Time Magazine reported, “Burisma’s connection to Hunter Biden has made it much harder for Ukrainian authorities to investigate the company for corruption. … In that sense, Burisma is still getting its money’s worth for the reported $50,000 per month it paid the younger Biden to sit on its board from 2014 until earlier this year.”

Time suggested that the sensitivity around the Biden conflict-of-interest issue and the subsequent Schiff impeachment inquiry have made it more difficult for the Ukrainian government to look into claims of corruption against Burisma and the questionable activities of its American board members.

By the close of the House impeachment inquiry, supporters of the president were left frustrated and angry. After some three years of baseless allegations, tendentious investigations, and outright bullying by a cabal of permanent state actors such as Jim Comey and Robert Mueller, and hyper-partisan Democrat politicians such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Schiff, they wondered whether or not the duly elected Republican president would ever be allowed to get on with the business of the nation.

And then: Eric Swalwell went on MSNBC. In the familiar earnest, smug, and grossly inaccurate manner of a consummate never-Trumper, he got off to an aggressive start: “The evidence,” he said, “is uncontradicted that the president used tax-payer dollars to ask the Ukrainians to help him cheat on an election.”

Unfortunately for congressman Swalwell, his shocking allegation was punctuated in mid-sentence by a flatulent blast that, unlike the legendary shot fired in 1775 at the Battle of Concord Bridge, was heard, and replayed over the next 24 hours, in just about every living room in the English-speaking world. Even the U.S. mainstream media couldn’t ignore the story, choosing instead to blame the foul episode on Chris Matthews himself or the errant movement of a studio coffee mug.

The Power of Laughter

On the evening after the notorious petard, my wife and I attended a taping of “The Greg Gutfeld Show” at Fox News studios in New York. We anticipated some humor being directed at the embarrassed congressman and were not disappointed.

Greg Gutfeld referred to the MSNBC episode as a “whiff of impeachment.” Referring to Swalwell he quipped: “Best thing to ever come out of him.” With unmistakeable reference to the entire impeachment process, he said: “It stinks to high heaven.” The show even included a parody of laboratory research conducted to test the capacity of moving coffee mugs to duplicate the sound of breaking wind.

William Brooks (R) shares a good-humored New York moment with Fox News contributor Tyrus, who is a regular guest on “The Greg Gutfeld Show.”

The cathartic comic-relief shared by Gutfeld Show contributors, the studio audience, and millions of Americans underscored the liberating power of humor over tyranny.

The iconic Soviet-era dissident and author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn understood that nothing was more dangerous to the bureaucratic abuse of power than for people to confront it with contemptuous laughter.

Since the congressman’s performance on MSNBC, President Trump has been confidently declaring that he looks forward to a trial in the Senate where witnesses disallowed by the House could be subpoenaed for testimony. The pusillanimous Schiff has been reconsidering the merits of articles of impeachment in favor of a partisan vote of censure in the House of Representatives.

Political tormentors and thugs in general fear and despise humor. They know instinctively that comedy provides a broader perspective on their selfish behavior and the way it’s received by honest citizens.

The only way to convince people to believe risible hoaxes like “Russian collusion” or an inter-presidential “quid pro quo” that produced neither “quid” nor “quo” is for everyone involved to treat such obvious absurdities as deadly serious matters. When false narratives are discredited by humor, the reputation of their purveyors falls into disrepute.

So, thanks in part to the involuntary bodily functions of a California congressman, the Democrat Party may have to return to thinking about what they appear to regard as unthinkable: fighting Donald Trump in a fair election and the possible outcome of a second term for the president. 

William Brooks is a Montreal writer and educator. He currently serves as editor of “The Civil Conversation” for Canada’s Civitas Society.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.