Can A Popular Card Game Stop Donald Trump?
“If Trump is so rich, how come he didn’t buy this billboard?”
Cards Against Humanity, America’s crudest and most popular form of competitive fill-in-the-blank games, is no stranger to the 2016 presidential election cycle. In May, the company released the “Donald Trump Bug-Out Bag,” a duffel bag packed with emergency food rations, a gas mask, an application to become a Mexican citizen, and other tools for surviving “the collapse of civilization after Donald Trump is elected President.” In August, Cards released two themed expansion packs, one for each major party’s nominee, as a way to raise money for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The promotion raised almost $400,000.
But in October 2016, the company went one step further, announcing the creation of its own super PAC, the type of political organizing committee enabled by a 2010 Supreme Court decision to spend unlimited amounts of money on political speech. The company dubbed it “The Nuisance Committee,” named after Cards Against Humanity co-creator Max Temkin’s grandfather Ira Weinstein’s experience during World War II. While interned in a POW camp in Germany, Weinstein formed with other prisoners the “Nuisance Committee,” designed to irritate their captors.
A press release announcing the super PAC’s formation noted, “The comparison here between Trump and Hitler is intentional.”
In its first move, the present-day Nuisance Committee bought a billboard outside Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport that read, “If Trump is so rich, how come he didn’t buy this billboard?” to promote a now-defunct website outlining Trump’s failure to pay income tax — which seems especially prescient considering an Oct. 1, 2016, New York Times report. Trump flew into Chicago the morning after the billboard went up.
Image via Cards Against Humanity/Tumblr.
GOOD talked to Temkin about the challenges of satire, the Nuisance Committee’s plans, and the importance of taking an absurd political reality seriously.
What inspired Cards Against Humanity’s foray into politics?
We had been thinking about how to do this election pack for a really long time. We had assumed it would be some sort of Clinton vs. Bush pack or Sanders vs. Cruz pack. We had the loose template of one pack for the Republican, one pack for the Democrat. People could pick between them, and we'd give all the money to the winning candidate. When it became clear that Trump was going to be the nominee, we just couldn't get our heads around it.
We really started to feel like the election was choosing between some sort of authoritarian fascism and American democracy. On the off chance that Trump's supporters buy more packs — or just from a comedy point of view, (as) people might be more interested in buying the Trump pack than the Hillary pack — ethically, we are not going to be able to sleep at night if we give this money to Trump.
How did these ideas develop into an actual political organization?
We knew that some of that money (from the America Votes expansion pack) we wanted to give to the Clinton campaign. We knew that some of that money, we wanted to gift to nonprofits and organizations that are working on issues like getting money out of politics and increasing transparency in American politics.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]The whole notion of having a super PAC is contrary to a lot of what I believe. But … you do materially what you can to win.[/quote]
But we also started thinking, we have an ethical responsibility to use all of the tools at our disposal — design, comedy writing, copywriting, all these things that we're good at — to do whatever we can to resist Trump.
That's where the idea of the super PAC was born. We created this super PAC as a way to do media buys, spend money, and organize against Trump. This political organization that is funded by Cards Against Humanity, but (is) an independent organization that can go out and try to get these issues into the news.
Why a super PAC?
The whole notion of it is disgusting. The whole thing is disgusting. Citizens United is a disaster for American democracy. The whole notion of having a super PAC is contrary to a lot of what I believe. But also, I'm sort of a progressive materialist. If you believe in the cause, you do materially what you can to win.
If your opponent is going to be spending tons of money and using all of these legal tools to outflank you, to say that we're going to stand on principle and we're not going to spend any money and we're not going to fight back and we're not going to advocate for our values using all the tools that the system provides, then how much can you really care about the cause? I feel so strongly about Trump that I will use whatever tools are legally available to try to stop him. Unfortunately, where we are in American democracy right now, that includes all these things that nobody likes.
What are The Nuisance Committee’s goals?
We have two mandates with the PAC. The first is: Get out to vote. You gotta get out to vote for Hillary. That's how we'll win the election. We are very involved in get-out-to-vote efforts. We're especially looking at college towns in swing states. You can expect us to have a lot of media buys in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia. We're also looking at Utah and Arizona.
The other thing is the media has this insatiable thirst for Trump-related stories and trivia. Trump exploits that. He sort of arbitrages the media's unstoppable need for Trump stories by saying crazy stuff and getting millions of dollars of earned media whenever he tweets. A presidential candidate told the American public to go look at a sex tape on Twitter at 3:20 a.m. Not healthy. But meanwhile, every network is talking about Trump's tweets. I feel like we are able to exploit the media's thirst for Trump by doing these sorts of jokes. The more we can pick these provocative issues and do them in a surprising way, the more we'll get our share of the media on the other side. Turn that tactic that's been working really well for Trump against him.
Has comedy failed in this election? What makes jokes politically productive?
[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]The more we can pick these provocative issues, and do them in a surprising way, the more we'll get our share of the media on the other side.[/quote]
Satire didn't work in this election because here we are. The way you satirize a public figure, you find something that is absurd or exaggerated about them, and you take it to an absurd conclusion. You imagine the craziest thing that Trump can do, and then you posit that he does it. Well, you can't do that with Trump because he could plausibly say or do anything. There's nothing you can make up about the guy that he might not do tomorrow. He's a singularly difficult character to satirize.
I think where Cards has found some purchase and where we're trying to do something a little bit different, is we're trying to make jokes about ourselves. We're trying to look at our own perspectives and reactions. That's always going to be something that's honest. For example, talking about how we're really scared of Trump or what he means to us given our family histories, Jewish history.
Literally listen to what Trump says he's going to do and take it seriously. Don't exaggerate it comedically. Just listen to what he's saying. It's comically, brazenly evil. The mistake people make is they don't take it seriously.