Brother Jonathan Runs for President: Spoof Campaigns, the Janus Laugh, and the Rise of Donald Trump

Main Article Content

Judith Yaross Lee


Since the 1830s, mock-campaigns for President of the United States have featured comic candidates descended from Brother Jonathan, the eighteenth-century folk figure who characterizes the ordinary American as the quintessential democratic citizen. Jonathan’s rustic innocence and virtue distinguish him from the corrupt politicians who arise from the elite, and thereby contribute to the two-faced joke—the Janus Laugh—underlying the past century’s many spoof campaigns: elitism in the form of populism. Via the reverse logic of irony and humor, nominations for unlikely spoof candidates endorse the status quo of seasoned politicians by implying that the alternative to elite leadership is a joke. Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy demonstrates that the ideology of spoof campaigns also animates authentic runs for American political office.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Yaross Lee, Judith. 2023. “Brother Jonathan Runs for President: Spoof Campaigns, the Janus Laugh, and the Rise of Donald Trump”. AMERICANA E-Journal of American Studies in Hungary 19 (1).
Author Biography

Judith Yaross Lee, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, USA

Judith Yaross Lee is Distinguished Professor Emerita at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, USA, where she taught in the Rhetoric and Public Culture Program of the School of Communication Studies from 1990-2019. An interdisciplinary Americanist with a special interest in humor, Lee has published six books and five dozen book chapters and journal articles, including Seeing MAD: Essays on Mad Magazine’s Humor and Legacy (2020), “American Humor and Matters of Empire” (Studies in American Humor, 2020), and Twain’s Brand: Humor in Contemporary American Culture (2012). “Brother Jonathan Runs for President” grew from research conducted at Leiden University in the Netherlands, where she was 2016 Fulbright Senior Professor of American Culture.