Joan Rivers crushed 9/11 terrorists by laughing. So should you.
If the doyenne of dark comedy were still alive, the Republican Party would win the 2016 presidential election by nominating Joan Rivers. First, because the GOP would be running an octogenarian grandmother against a slightly younger grandmother (Hillary Clinton) and Democrats could not accuse Republicans of attacking Clinton’s age, sex or grandmotherhood. Second, because Rivers had a self-depreciating sense of humor whereas Hillary has a mean streak (think Clinton’s dismissal of cookie-baking housewives or her “What difference does is make?!” screech). Third, Rivers would have been more adept at handling the fusillade of terrorism threatening America.
Sadly, Rivers passed away last week at the feisty and energetic age of 81. However, as we approach the anniversary of the 9/11/01 and 9/11/12 (Benghazi) attacks, let’s take a cue from Rivers’ healthy but unconventional approach to tragedy.
Rivers’ mechanism for coping with casualty was laughter. And Rivers was no stranger to misfortune. She was fired (more than once). Her husband and manager committed suicide. When Rivers was in her sixties, she discovered that her 70-something fiancé Orin Lehman was cheating on her. As a Jewish-American woman from New York, she was panged by 9/11 and the Holocaust yet she remembered and honored the victims of both calamities with humor. She used jest to fight back; she defeated pain by inciting laughter.
Even her darkest humor was never an attempt to trivialize catastrophe. She had a serious side as well. Rivers had “6M” tattooed on her inner arm to honor the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. Rivers once explained her motivation for encouraging Americans to find humor in 9/11 to her friend Kit Hesketh-Harvey: “I’ve got to do it. Because unless somebody does, America will go mad. Unless we laugh, they’ve won!”
Rivers was right. Fear is debilitating. Fear compels Americans to accept futile government regulations (think pat-downs from TSA Snooper Troopers even as a terrorist manages to board a plane with a bomb in his underpants). On the other hand, humor is empowering and keeps us grounded. For example, a president with a sense of humor would be too grounded to blurt out ‘red line’ ultimatums that he would have to retract five seconds later.
Humor is a particularly powerful tool for fighting modern strains of terror. Psychological warfare is the primary weapon of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). ISIL thugs are employing videos depicting the beheadings of American journalists like James Foley and Steven Sotloff to paralyze Americans with fear.
President Obama’s approach to foreign policy is not grounded. Narcissism rather than humility (which is bred from a sense of humor) seems to drive his decision-making. Photo ops take precedence over the U.S. Constitution when it comes to foreign policy (think his decision to bypass Congress and release five high profile detainees from Guantanamo Bay).
We now have a proud president who bypassed Congress to authorize military intervention in Libya and ouster Moammar Gadhafi. Result? Libya is no longer safe for American diplomats, and we have pulled Americans out of the country entirely. Meanwhile, members of the Islamist-linked group Libyan Dawn just released a video showing their militants hooting with laughter as they party in the former U.S. Embassy in Libya. Unless we elect a new president with a healthy sense of humor, America will continue to lose her place as a world leader.
You and I must find a way to honor and remember the Americans who died on 9/11. One way we can do this is by sharing the true story of Benghazi with our Millennials in a language that will resonate with them so they do not vote for Hillary Clinton. The 95-million-strong Millennial generation will determine the results of 2016 presidential election, and we must educate them now. The second thing we each can do is to develop a Joan Riversesque sense of humor.
If Americans view terrorism through Rivers’ lens, we will be less likely to be taken advantage of by U.S. politicians who exploit our fear to push new regulations upon us at home—or by ISIL psychological warfare abroad.
“I love when they say I’ve crossed a line,” Rivers once told Times of London journalist Tim Teeman. “On the scale of 1 to Osama bin Laden, I didn’t blow up buildings. I made a joke about Sharon Stone.”