The Elephant Not In The Room… by Tom Sumner

The Elephant Not In The Room… by Tom Sumner

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Sunday, 30 April 2017
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I like my Presidents funny. So, every year, I am one of a small number of people who watch The White House Correspondents Dinner to watch the President be funny.

But this year, as Daily Show Senior Correspondent comedian Hasan Minhaj observed, there was “an elephant not in the room.”

The White House Correspondents Association holds an annual dinner in the nation’s capitol, usually carried on C-Span and watched by a small audience of people like me, and Flint’s premiere political pundit Paul Rozycki. In addition to recognizing journalists with awards, a featured comedian “roasts” the guest of honor – The President of the United States – who then has an opportunity to swing back.

President Donald Trump (aka “45”) turned down the Correspondents Association’s invitation and chose instead to hold a campaign style rally in Pennsylvania. He is the first President to miss the dinner in 36 years when a bullet from an assassination attempt kept President Ronald Reagan from attending. And “the Gipper” managed to get in a couple good lines from the gurney and his hospital room.

Fortunately, for Presidential humor fans like me and Paul, Reagan survived to make it to other correspondents dinners. At one he observed that the President and the media have a unique relationship. “As President, it’s my job to solve the world’s problems and it’s your job to make sure that no one finds out about it,” Reagan said.

Last year, President Obama thanked Vice President Joe Biden “for not shooting anyone in the face.” (A reference to a hunting accident involving Vice President Dick Cheney)

This year, the correspondents heard Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters that broke the Watergate break-in scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. They talked about the importance of investigative journalism and “following the money…and the lies.” They weren’t funny, but poignant with the night’s theme of defending and promoting freedom of speech.

Comedian Minahj roasted POTUS, with a few shots at the media, and spoke to defending and promoting free speech. He had some funny lines, but his set was darkened by the shadow of “the elephant not in the room.”

Meanwhile, POTUS was slamming Hollywood and the media at his campaign rally. I’m often baffled by “45s” strategy. Does it seem obvious to anyone else that without Hollywood and the media he never would have been elected? I haven’t seen anyone “bite the hand that feeds them” this ferociously since Michael Moore berated the Motion Picture Academy after winning an Oscar for “Roger and Me.”

Past Presidents have gathered comedy and speech writers from around the country to put together a set of top notch political humor. But they had something that “45” doesn’t seem to have – a sense of humor.

But why hold a campaign event?

All I can guess is that he needs the adoration of a crowd he controls. Or perhaps he feared the probability that he would have dropped the “mother of all bombs” at the dinner. Maybe it hasn’t sunk in that he won the election and the campaign is over. It was in all the papers.

While the media was roasting “the elephant not in the room” and POTUS was reliving the 100 days before his first 100 days (the good ones that weren’t so hard), I was at the New McCree Theatre in Flint watching some young performers exhibiting real talent and courage.

Last night was the preview of “Needle In A Haystack – The Story of The Velvellettes” written by McCree Director and Motown music lover Charles Winfrey. It was a fund raiser for the community theater where I got to see young women act out the lives of the recording artists with the original Velvellettes sitting in the front row.

It was inspiring how much courage it took for these girls to perform in front of the very stars they were impersonating. It must have been thrilling for these girls when The Velvellettes joined them on stage for the bows side by side with the actors who had just told, sang and danced their story.

I was home in time to watch a replay of the White House Correspondents Dinner. I heard the remarks by Woodward and Berstein and the “set” by Hasan Minahj. I was a little let down by the shadow of “the elephant not in the room.”

It’s depressing that the President can’t balance policy positions with punchlines like his presidential predecessors. Humor reminds us of their humanity and it allows them an exercise in humility. It seems as though “45” didn’t bring these qualities to the White House.

He sure didn’t bring the funny. That I can tell you. Sad.

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