So Much to Satirize

The late night comedy shows have an inordinate influence on public opinion, much as the editorial cartoons of Thomas Nast and Herblock used to have back in the Gutenberg age, and of course they spend most of their time ridiculing President Donald Trump. The late night comedy shows are all written and performed by show biz types who are naturally inclined to ridicule any old Republican who happens to occupy the the White House, and Trump is an unusually ridiculous Republican who willingly provides the writers and performers with fresh material every day, so they’ve been having a grand old time of it.
The program that has most provoked Trump’s “tweeted” wrath is the National Broadcasting Network’s “Saturday Night Live,” which somehow retains both a hip cachet and a status as one of television’s most venerable institutions, and has frequently poked some painfully pointed barbs at the president. They’ve also made much fun of the Democrats, on the other hand, and Trump should be pleased that on Saturday night they unleashed a very well-done and withering satire of the entire field of Democratic contenders.
“SNL” has a remarkably talented cast these days, no matter what you think of their politics, and they shined in the long skit. The gifted Kate McKinnon perfectly skewered Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s scary overeagerness to make everything right. A nicely understated Colin Jost somehow captured South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s essential boringness, even though he’s the only homosexual and one of only two combat veterans in the race. As usual the lovely and talented Cicely Strong was dead-on in her portrayal of Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the other combat veteran in the race and a comely but troublesome wild card in the Democratic race. Asian cast member Bowen Yang played Asian candidate Andrew Yang with stereotypical nerdishness, which we thought amusingly transgressive. The underused black guy Chris Redd’s bug-eyed portrayal of New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker was probably more devastating than he intended.
The show even brought back some revered former cast members to roast the Democrats. The formidable Fred Armisen was funny as a soft drink-sipping former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, daring Trump supporters to come up with a conspiracy theory about a Jewish billionaire with a media empire. Always hilarious Maya Rudolph came back to portray California Sen. Kamala Harris as a candidate always playing to the cameras. Our favorite among the Democrats is centrist Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, but the reliably funny Rachel Dratch had us laughing at her nervous twitch. Former cast member and current movie star Will Ferrell returned as the unblinking billionaire Tom Steyer, who has spent millions trying to get Trump impeached, and despite his open contempt for Trump Ferrell portrayed Steyer as a lunatic.
Bona fide movie star Woody Harrelson reprised his role as former Vice President Joe Biden, once again portraying him as an amiable but hopelessly out-of-touch old man who keeps getting his life confused with movie’s he’s seen, and the brilliantly cranky old Jewish guy comedian Larry David reprised his impersonation of the crazily cranky old Jewish Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, which is eerily true to life. It took some long-earned show biz pull, but Saturday Night Live of all of shows managed to make the entire Democratic field look ridiculous.
By next Saturday night they’ll probably have aging movie star Alec Baldwin back for his dead-on impersonation of a bumbling and tongue-tied Trump caught up in some scandal and clearly exposed lie, with McKinnon during her devastating Giuliani impersonation, and Trump and Giuliani will probably provide the writers and performers with plenty of material. In the meantime Trump should acknowledge, even if he doesn’t “tweet” it, that at least Saturday Night Live acknowledges his Democratic challengers are also rather ridiculous. That’s good news for comedy and media fairness, we suppose, and we plan to get water laughs we can get out of it, but it’s not good news for the country at large.

— Bud Norman

The Calm Before the “Tweetstorm”

The news has been eerily slow that past few days, except for that horrific slaughter of 50 people in two New Zealand mosques over the weekend, and the continuing fallout from President Donald Trump’s response to the tragedy. Things have been so quiet that Trump found time to type out more than 50 “tweets” over the weekend, and of course that provided plenty for the pundits to pontificate about.
It was, we have to admit, a prolific and noteworthy outpouring. Trump “tweeted” a happy St. Patrick’s Day message to the country, but other than that it was mostly a barrage of potshots against enemies living and dead, some full-throated defenses of two besieged allies at Fox News, and several “re-Tweets” by some little-known supporters, including someone who identifies himself as “@LonewolfnDuke.”
The die-hard fans no no doubt loved every word, and could once again reassure themselves that “at least he fights,” but we’d like to think that a President of the United could find something better to do with his time on a slow news weekend.
Trump once again criticized the “Saturday Night Live” television program, even though it ran a re-run over the weekend, and once again threatened to have the Federal Communications Commission “look into” the televised satire of him. Once upon a time a sitting president threatening to use his office to punish his critics for the exercise of their First Amendment rights would have been a big deal, but these days it barely makes the middle paragraphs of a story about Trump’s latest “tweets.” There were also insulting “tweets” about special counsel investigator Robert Mueller, a union official working at General Motors, Democratic presidential candidate and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and even the late Republican Sen. John McCain.
The figurative dancing on the literal grave of McCain got a lot of attention, and rightly so as far we’re concerned. Trump ridiculed McCain for being last in his class at the Naval Academy, even though McCain was fifth-from-last and always man enough to joke about it, and Trump has threatened to sue any school he attended for revealing his class ranking. Trump also falsely accused McCain of leaking the damaging “Steele dossier” to the press, when McCain merely passed the information on to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a responsible citizen should, and once again castigated McCain for voting against the repeal and replacement of “Obamacare,” even though Trump and the congressional Republicans hadn’t come up with any replacement. McCain died last August and thus can’t fight back, but McCain’s daughter is still around to fire back on network television that her father suffered five years of torture in a Vietnamese prison camp for his country while Trump was hitting all the New York City nightspots on his bone spurs, and speculate that Trump continues his bloodless war with the late McCain because he somehow knows he’ll never be such a great man, which sounds about right to us.
Trump also rallied to the defense of Fox News opinion hosts Tucker Carlson and “Judge” Jeanine Pirro, who have lately been under fire elsewhere in the media for some of their more daring opinions. In Carlson’s case it’s some decade-old off-the-cuff remarks to a shock radio jock called “Bubba the Love Sponge,” where Carlson defended a cult leader who was arranging very underage marriages between his followers, described Iraqis as “primitive monkeys” and all womankind as “very primitive,” which Carlson has refused to apologize for and sloughs off as being “naughty” on the radio a decade ago. In the case of Pirro she went on the air and said that Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar wearing the Muslim hijab suggested she she more loyal to Islam than the American constitution, which followed a big controversy about Omar saying American jews who supported Israel were disloyal the United States, and although it’s all very complicated even Fox News issued a statement disavowing her statement and pulling her from the schedule for at least one week.
Both shows have lately lost some big-name advertisers, but they retain an outspoken supporter in the White House. Trump “tweeted” his advice to Fox News to immediately restore Pirro to her Saturday time slot, and urged Carlson to “keep fighting.” We’d hate to see either show banished from the cables and airwaves for exercising their First Amendment rights, but we’d also hate to see the same thing happen to “Saturday Night Live,” which by the way has a talented woman who does an absolutely dead-on and devastating impression of “Judge Jeanine.”
Our guess is the country will somehow survive the satiric sketches of “Saturday Night” and the legacy of the late Sen. McCain, as well as the ill-tempered and authoritarian-sounding presidential “tweets” about them, but we can’t help worrying about what comes next from Mueller and O’Rourke and the sorts who gun down houses of worship in New Zealand and elsewhere, and we worry that the President of the United States seems worried about it as well.

— Bud Norman

The Case for Civility, Class, and Not Being a Deliberate Jerk All the Time

In this ugly age of political discourse we’ve been heartened in the past week by one Republican candidate’s magnanimity in victory and another’s graciousness in defeat, and thus we temporarily hold out hope for our once Grand Old Party.
The first touching moment came during the National Broadcasting Company’s “Saturday Night Live” program, of all places. The show has satirically skewered even the most unobjectionable sorts of Republicans since it ridiculed the famously athletic and conventionally wise President Gerald Ford as a stumbling fool, and on the previous Saturday cast member Pete Davidson went on its “Weekend Update” segment to ridicule Republican Texas congressional nominee Dan Crenshaw’s eyepatch, saying that “he looks like a hit man in a porno movie.” It might be a good line if the eyepatch were a mere fashion statement, but as Davidson briefly acknowledged during the joke it was because former Navy Seal and Lt. Commander Crenshaw had lost an eye to an improvised explosive device during his third combat tour in Afghanistan, which killed a couple of his friends and fellow American warriors, and we were heartened to see that commentators on both the left and right agreed that the joke was in poor taste.
To his credit, and to the credit of the show, the smart-assed Davidson showed up on the “Weekend Update” segment of the past “Saturday Night Live” to offer an apparently sincere and quite fulsome apology on behalf of himself and the show. Davidson’s often amusing comic persona is that of an admittedly neurotic New Yorker, and he started by saying that “It will come as a huge shock to no one who knows me that I made a poor choice last week.” He also apologized to his mom for offending almost everyone in America, which led t9 one of the “Weekend Update” hosts getting a big laugh by agreeing that it must suck to be Davidson’s mom. Davidson then hoped that “if any good came of this, maybe it’s that for one day the left and right finally came together to agree on something, that I’m a dick.”
At that point Crenshaw himself sat down next to Davidson and said “D’ya think?,” which was probably the show’s biggest laugh line of the year. Davidson then introduced Crenshaw as a Naval Lt. Commander Navy Seal and congressman-elect and acknowledged his undeniable war heroism, then offered a personal and live-on-air apology, and Crenshaw then shook his hand and accepted the apology and told him that “we’re good.” Davidson and “Saturday Night Live” generously allowed Crenshaw a couple of jokes about Davidson’s looks, which Crenshaw took well advantage of in a good-natured way. Crenshaw then acknowledged the heroism of that smart-assed Davidson’s father, a New York City firefighter who died trying to save others in the September 11th terror attacks on the Twin Towers, and gave a nice brief talk about Americans coming together despite their differences.
The reviews were boffo from both the left and the right, and the YouTube video of the segment had more than seven million viewers the last time we checked, and thus a new Republican star was born. Crenshaw’s a pretty-hard line Republican on taxes and regulation and the military and the rest of the traditional Republican agenda as far we can tell, but he’s also distanced himself from Trump’s rhetoric about Muslims and Democrats and other scary Others, and he’s a telegenically handsome fellow with a manly beard and Navy Seal physique who could clearly whip Davidson or even Trump in a fair bar fight even with one eye, and that eyepatch only enhances his sensitive machismo appeal, so given his good-natured sense of humor he might just be the template for a Republican renaissance.
We were also impressed by the performance of Arizona’s Republican Senate candidate Martha McSally, who has some pretty impressive military credentials of her own as one of America’s first female combat jet pilots and a challenger in the courts to America’s policy of making American servicewomen obey Sharia law regarding women’s dress in Muslim countries, but nonetheless was defeated by a centrist Democratic woman with her own compelling autobiography of childhood homelessness and overcoming odds.
That race was exceedingly close and hotly contested, but when Arizona’s Republican establishment followed the law and the vote counts and declared Democratic nominee Krysten Sinema the winner McSally and her dog Boomer gave such a gracious concession speech that it became a YouTube hit and put her in good position to win the seat of dearly departed maverick Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain in just two years. The formerly centrist McSally’s belated and obviously insincere attempts to align herself with Trump didn’t serve her well in this election in usually Republican Arizona, when she was trying to replacing retiring incumbent and Trump critic Sen. Jeff Flake, but we have hope that she’ll do well in a couple of years when she tries to replace the recently deceased but bona fide war hero and outspoken Trump critic and “guy who got caught” McCain in that reliably old-fashioned Republican state of Arizona.
In the meantime, the take-no-prisoners and shoot-the-stragglers and never concede defeat or admit a mistake style of Trump’s Republican party will probably prevail. That party’s not lately getting any boffo reviews from both the left and right, though, and it seems to have taken a licking in the past midterm elections, but its fans are satisfied that at least it never concedes defeat or acknowledges a mistake. They’re currently spinning conspiracy theories about the inevitably close races down in wacky Florida, even though a scrupulously legal counting of the votes will probably yield Republican victories there, which would be all the more impressive without all the conspiracy theories.
In the long run, though, we believe the Grand Old Party would probably do better with magnanimity in victory and graciousness in defeat and a good-natured sense of humor along the way.

— Bud Norman

An Especially Surreal Day in the All-Too-Real Trump Reality Show

By now we should be well inured to these weird celebrity reality shows, but we were nonetheless taken aback by rapper Kanye West’s guest appearance Thursday on President Donald Trump’s hit television program. In case you somehow it missed it, it was a fascinatingly bizzarre mix of “The Jerry Springer Show,” “The Real Housewives of Wherever,” and that show whose name we forget that was about the ongoing mental breakdown of Flava Flav.
Despite being old white guys with old white guy musical tastes, we’ve been aware of West’s existence for some time now, although we can’t claim any familiarity with his music. He’s been a very successful rap “artist” for some time now, and young people we know with more up-to-date and less discriminating tastes than ours have vouched that he’s actually quite good at it, but we mostly know him for his frequent intrusions into the rest of the news.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans he used the podium of some music awards show or another to say that President George W. Bush “doesn’t care about black people.” He later crashed the front pages when he crashed the stage at some music awards show or another to snatch the microphone out of the hands of a pop chanteuse named Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech and complain that the award should have gone to his friend Beyonce, who is apparently another popular hip-hop performer of some repute, which prompted then-President Barack Obama to call him a “jackass.” Since then he’s become more famous as a co-star of the hit Kardashian family reality series, as he’s married to the famously callipygian co-star Kim Kardashian and is thus somehow related by marriage to co-star and former Olympic decathlon winner Bruce Jenner, who is now more highly celebrated as a transgender woman.
More recently, he’s been in the news because of his outspoken support of Trump. A while back he made headlines by ending a concert with a rambling pro-Trump rant, then again the next day when his spokespeople announced that he was seeking mental health treatment. Just a week or so ago, he was back in the news when was the musical guest on “Saturday Night Live” and started into another rambling pro-Trump as the final credits rolled. The stunt went un-aired but was widely reported, and earned West his nationally-televised guest-starring turn in the Oval Office on Thursday.
If you some haven’t sat through the whole thing we’d urge to summon the courage to do so, because it’s perhaps the most perfect example of celebrity reality show grotesquery we’ve come across yet, and a damning indict of the celebrification of our politics. Clad in a red “Make America Great Again” ball cap and some coat-and-tieless street gear, and using street language similarly unsuited to the past dignity of the Oval Office, West went on an unhinged rant for the ages. He derided the 13th amendment that abolished slavery, bragged about bringing the Adidas sports shoe company from a billion dollar deficit to a multi-billion dollar profit, talked about a hydrogen-powered Air Force One to for the “Flyest president ever,” promised to restore Chicago’s manufacturing base and it’s high murder without stop-and-frisk. He also confessed, as if he were on the old “Oprah” reality show, that he supported Trump at least in part because he’d grown up in single-mother home without “male energy” and that the family he’d married into was similarly lacking in “male energy.”
Reigning reality show alpha male Trump sat silently behind the historic Resolute desk with his arms crossed through the whole 11 minutes, never once interrupting to tell his guest to take off his cap and pull up his saggy britches and stop saying “motherfucker” and start showing some damned respect for the Oval Office. Trump was no doubt annoyed by all the airtime West was taking, not to mention that touchy-feely talk about no stop-and-frisk, as well as West claiming preemptive credit for any Chicago revival that might occur, but what he could he do? West was mostly saying very flattering things about him, which always obliges Trump to say nice things in return, and he’s hardly in any position to criticize a fellow reality show star for a self-aggrandizing and obviously exaggerated and inappropriately vulgar and clearly unhinged rant.
Besides, Trump clearly covets a bigger-than-usual Republican share of the black vote. Trump has a history of discriminating against black tenants applying to live in his apartments, continues to call for the execution of black and hispanic men who were once convicted but have since been clear by scientific evidence for the rape of a white woman in Central Park, and more recently found “very fine people” among a deadly neo-Nazi mob in Virginia, but the black unemployment rate is currently low, and Trump can claim that some of his best friends are black. He’s not only got the foul-mouthed and clearly crazed West on his side, but all-time football great and convicted spousal abuser Jim Brown was also in the Oval Office on Thursday. Dennis “The Worm” Rodman, an undeniably tough basketball rebounder and defender, a cross-dressing trash-talker who was a reality show star on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice,” and a pal to North Korean dictator Kim Jung long before Trump was, is also on board. Trump also has the friendship of boxing legend and convicted rapist and boastful wife-beater “Iron” Mike Tyson, as well as boxing promoter Don King, who overcame a couple of manslaughter convictions to make fortune exploiting such naive black boxers as Tyson.
Trump’s penchant for braggadocio and bling plays well in certain parts of the hip-hop world, where his admitted pussy-grabbing tendencies aren’t much of a problem, and West still seems to have some sway with that mostly-male audience, so it might nudge Trump’s approval ratings among black Americans into the low single digits. The mostly white and male supporters who were rihghtly outraged back when Obama hosted a similarly foul-mouth rapper probably won’t mind, as it’s not as if Trump actually shot somebody on Fifth Avenue, and they surely won’t notice that West’s unhinged rant came while Hurricane Michael was devastating the East Coast, so it might have done him some good.
Even so, we don’t see how it helps make America great again. You don’t have to be crazy to be a Trump defender — although it helps (insert rim shot here) — but this West fellow is is quite clearly off his rocker. There’s something disconcerting, too, about watching a President of the United States sitting with arms folded behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office during such an unhinged rant and then offering such effusive praise. If that makes us Republican in name only, then so damn be it.

— Bud Norman

<

Sen. Franken Takes the Spotlight

The latest in a long, long list of prominent men accused of sexual misbehavior is Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, and the former comedian’s timing couldn’t be worse. Not so very long go the Democratic party and its media allies would have rallied to the defense of a such a stalwart liberal soldier, but at the moment they’re unable to do so.
A popular Los Angeles radio and television personality named Leeann Twidden told the local American Broadcasting Company affiliate that Franken forced a kiss on her and briefly groped her while they were rehearsing a skit on a USO tour of of the middle east in 2006, and she had a picture of Franken grinning as he reached to fondle her breasts as she slept on the flight back home. Franken issued a statement that said he remembered the rehearsal differently but apologized but apologized nonetheless, and described the photo as a joke that he know admits wasn’t funny, and after that was met with widespread criticism by his fellow Democrats and their media allies, he offered an even more apologetic apology.
That once would have sufficed for Franken, who is beloved in the Democratic party for his undeniably sharp with and his fund-raising prowess as a celebrity politician, but fellow Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar was still demanding an ethics investigation, and so was minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and so were several other prominent congressional Democrats, and by day’s end Franken himself was demanding an investigation and promising his full cooperation. Our guess is he’ll probably keep his job, but might well be censured by the Senate and that all the crazy talk about him launching a presidential race will be quashed for a while, and will never again be quite so beloved in the Democratic party.
Which is fine by us, as we never liked the guy. He was often funny back when he was writing and starring on “Saturday Night Live,” which was reportedly a drug-drenched den of rampant sexual harassment backstage at the time, but the wit devolved into witless ad hominem attacks when he switched to politics, and he first won election with some suspicious vote-counting, and despite all the religion-bashing he did back in his show biz days he’s also posed as a paradigm of political correctness and therefore more righteous than any of those holier-than-thou types on the Republican side. Franken has a goofy smile and endearing self-effacing quality, but he also has a well-documented temper that occasionally becomes violent and is widely considered something of a jerk by those who run into him off-camera. He’s long claimed to be the loyal long-time husband of a wife bravely battling alcoholism, but he was married to her during that USO tour and his apology didn’t mention his wife or family.
Franken is also an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, but as one of the first politicians to substitute celebrity for credentials in a run for office and making witless ad hominem insults a part of the political discourse we also blame him in part for Trump’s presidency.
As awful as Franken’s behavior apparently was, though, it’s just one woman and it happened a while back and was not nearly so awful as what several other Democratic politicians have done without suffering the opprobrium of their party. President Bill Clinton immediately comes to mind, more recently even New York Rep. Anthony Weiner got a tentative defense for his weird sexual proclivities right up until he went to jail for them, and that’s not to mention all the decades of indulgences for the entire Kennedy family. The Democrats haven’t claimed to champion old-fashioned values of chivalrous manhood and chaste womanhood for a long time, which has long spared them the added charge of hypocrisy when these things pop up, so the party used to take a more forgiving attitude toward their own members if not any Republican who stood similarly charged.
Lately, though, the Democrats find themselves obliged to be more strict. The long list of prominent men who have recently been accused of sexual misbehavior includes a lot of heavyweight Hollywood types who of course were big Democrat donors and previously added some glitzy cache to the party’s image, as well as some media and academic types who are also associated with the party’s high-brow image, and having one of its sitting Senators on the list is no longer tolerate. By now well more than half of the party’s voters are women, as demonstrated by all the exit polls in every race everywhere for the past few decades, and by now many of them — ranging from movie stars to office workers to waitresses — are throughly fed up with such behavior no matter the party affiliation of the accused.
The Democrats suddenly find themselves the champions of chivalrous behavior, even as they write polemics against toxic masculinity, and the defenders of chaste womanhood, even as they celebrate women’s sexual empowerment and freedom to choose whatever is required to deal with the consequences, and as complicated as that is it clearly doesn’t allow any forgiveness for Franken or any of those other Hollywood guys. For now the Democrats and their media allies are no longer making even any excuses for Clinton, and for all his fund-raising prowess Franken never did achieve that level of influence in the party. There’s also another reason all Democratic men are advised to go straight home to their wives and avoid any sort of encounters with other women along the way for the foreseeable future.
As ridiculous as the Democratic party looks at the moment, the Republicans have more pressing problems of their own that the Democrats are eager to exploit. The Grand Old Party is currently running a candidate in a special senatorial election down in Alabama who stands credibly accused by nine named women of far-creepier-than-Franken behavior, and so far he still has the half-hearted endorsement of a Republican president still stands credibly accused by more than a dozen named women of the creepier-than-Frank behavior that everyone in America heard him bragging about on that “Access Hollywood” tape. One can hardly blame the Democrats for wanting to be known as the party with zero tolerance for such behavior, and concluding that giving a pass to the small-fry likes of Franken is hardly worth blowing the opportunity.
Up until Trump was nominated and elected the Republicans used to enjoy that zero tolerance reputation, even if it did get them branded as the party of self-righteous old fuddy-duddies back during the go-go ’90s of the Clinton era, and it’s hard to see how they’ll get it back.
Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore poses as a champion of old-fashioned chivalrous manhood and chaste womanhood, and with an admirable contempt for that newfangled gobbledygook about toxic masculinity and empowered female sexuality, but by now you’d have to be a die-hard fan not to conclude that he used to be that creepy 30-something guy hitting on teenage girls at the mall and is now lying about it attempting to trash the reputation of the women he once preyed on. No matter what Trump is eventually forced to say about it, the creepier-than-Frank accusations against still stand as credibly as ever, and so long as he remains in office the party won’t have any claim to zero tolerance for such behavior.
The Republican party’s senatorial campaign office and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell have said they believe Moore’s accusers and have withdrawn their support of his campaign, as have many other Republicans officials, as well as such such rank-and-file Republicans as ourselves, and Trump might yet join us, but it won’t amount to a complete reputation of such conduct. Even if they’re not a majority of the electorate a lot of those Alabama Republicans who defiantly vote for Moore, Trump will still be the president and putative leader of the party, and neither the religious nor the secular wings of the party will go untainted.
As cynical and opportunistic as the Democrats’ newfound religion clearly is, we welcome it nonetheless. All of those women who make up more than half of their reliable votes are quite right to be outraged by Moore and Trump, as far as we’re concerned, and they’re just as right to be outraged by Franken and all the rest of those sleazy show-biz types. There are a few Republican politicians who have staked out a similarly non-partisan position on all the bi-partisan sexual misconduct that has come up over the past several decades, along with such grass-roots Republicans as ourselves, by now by they’re all considered “establishment” and Trump is still the president.
Just maybe, though, there’s a chance that both parties will someday agree not to put up with stuff any longer. Our hope is that chivalrous manhood long endures, and that whatever “toxic masculinity” is it disappears, and that women are sexually empowered, whatever that means, yet chaste womanhood is still protected. At this point we’re no counting on either party to bring that happy day, though.

— Bud Norman

Theater Critic-in-Chief

President-elect Donald Trump is no doubt busy these days making appointments and planning his agenda, but he took time out over the weekend to criticize his theatrical critics.
It all started on Friday when Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in New York City because that where the transition team is located, decided to take some time out with his family and watch the big hit show on Broadway. That would be “Hamilton,” of course, a hip-hop musical about founding father Alexander Hamilton which was won rave reviews along with 11 Tony Awards and already sold out a year’s worth of tickets at exorbitant prices. Pence entered the theater to a mix of cheers and boos from the audience, by most accounts with the latter drowning out the former, and left while being personally addressed in a curtain call oration. The actor who plays Aaron Burr was chosen to speak on behalf of the ostentatiously multi-ethnic cast and producers to ask Pence to “uphold our American values” and “work on behalf of all of us.” He asked the audience to refrain from booing Pence, prefaced his remarks respectfully, and the screed was rather polite by contemporary standards of political discourse, but in all the New York papers it made for a bigger story than the $25 million that Trump agreed to pay to settle that Trump University lawsuit.
The incident certainly caught the attention of Trump, who took to “Twitter” to write, in his usual Lincoln-esque prose, “Our wonderful future V.P. Mike was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing. This should not happen!” Lest you think that Trump believes that any request for his administration uphold American values and work on behalf of all citizens should not happen, he clarified in a later “Tweet” that he was only referring to the theater. “The Theater must always be a safe and special space. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man. Apologize!” Apparently peeved that no apology was forthcoming, he “Tweeted” again, adding “Very rude and insulting of Hamilton cast to treat our great future V.P. Mike Pence to a theater lecture. Couldn’t even memorize lines.” We’re encouraged by Trump’s newfound dislike of rude and insulting behavior, but hate to hear him using such a politically correct phrase as “safe place.”
Pence seemed unfazed by the incident, telling Fox News that “I nudged my kids and told them that’s what freedom sounds like,” and “I wasn’t offended by what was said.” He also lavishly praised the production, making no mention of any unmemorized lines, and said that Trump does indeed plan to work on behalf of all Americans. All in all, we thought it a very presidential response.
By the time Pence had largely put the controversy to rest a new “Saturday Night Live” was airing, though, so Trump was back to “Tweeting.” The show featured a skit with actor Alec Baldwin reprising his popular Trump impersonation, this time portraying the president-elect as overwhelmed by his newfound responsibilities and panicked that he won’t be able to keep his campaign promises, and Trump was clearly not amused: “I watched parts of @nbcsnl Saturday Night Live last night. It is a totally one-sided, biased show — nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?” All in all, we thought it was very stupid “tweet” and not at all presidential.
Saturday Night Live is totally one-sided and biased, of course, and always has been. That was true last summer when the show offered Trump a guest-hosting role, with no equal time for the far more qualified candidates he was running against in the ongoing Republican primary race, and we can’t remember Trump having any complaints about it at the time. Nor can we recall him ever complaining that Breitbart News and The Sean Hannity Show and that crazypants Alex Jones’ InfoWars and all of Trump’s other favorite media are also totally one-sided and biased. If Trump intends to reinstate that Fairness Doctrine of “equal time” that President Ronald Reagan quite wisely rescinded, his pals in the talk radio business are not going to be happy. Satirists will still be happily exempted, barring any changes to the First Amendment, and we can’t imagine how they practice their art in a way that wasn’t one-sided and biased. Perhaps Trump can get some writers to come up with some knee-slapping comedy about how totally awesome is Trump, but they’ll have to better than the ones who wrote his material for that Al Smith memorial dinner.
Perhaps Trump feels that his office deserves a certain respect, but that’s a newfound notion for a man who spent much of the past eight years peddling what he now admits was all along a cock and bull story about President Barack Obama being born in Kenya, and frequently accused President George W. Bush of telling a treasonous lie to get America into the Iraq War. That kind of vitriol, and the more thoughtful sort of satire and criticism Trump spent much of a busy weekend “tweeting” about, come with the job. We hope that in the future Trump will stick to more important tasks, let the theater do its job, and allow freedom of speech to live on.

— Bud Norman

Friends and Enemies and Their Proper Treatment

There was little mention of it in the American press, which was understandably preoccupied with the the president’s executive orders regarding illegal immigration and the upcoming race riot in Missouri and other pressing domestic matters, but last week President Barack Obama thoroughly annoyed Australia.
En route back from China’s Asia-Pacific conference, where he’d grandly announced a deal with the host country that would reduce America’s carbon emissions in exchange for a guffawed promise that in 16 years the Chinese would consider doing the same pointless damage to their own economy, Obama stopped his jetliner in Australia to continue his efforts against anthropogenic global warming. During a speech in Brisbane that was added at the last minute to the president’s schedule he made repeated references to climate change, spoke in worried tones about the ecological health of the Great Barrier Reef, and.seemed to criticize Australia for inefficient use of energy. Australians, the vast majority of whom recently voted in a conservative government because of the depressing economic effects of the previous government’s cap-and-trade policies, and who have taken expensive steps to ensure the ecological health of the Great Barrier Reef, and whose fondness for their freedom of mobility around their vast empty country can only be explained by the “Mad Max” movies, understandably took it as an insult. One of the big Australian newspapers found that the American embassy staff had advised against the speech, reported that the Australian Prime Minister and other officials were not given the usual diplomatic courtesy of an advance copy, and noted that “Historians of the US-Australia relationship are unable to nominate a case of a visiting president making such a hostile speech for the host government.”
Such disrespect for America’s most stalwart allies has been a consistent trait of the Obama administration. It started with his decision to return a bust of Sir Winston Churchill to Great Britain and honor its queen with an I-pod full of his own speeches, then went on with the reneging on a missile defense deal with Poland and the Czech Republic, continued through the undiplomatic treatment and anonymously foul-mouthed descriptions of Israel’s Prime Minister, and is still playing out over the XL Keystone Pipeline and a conspicuously nit-picky enforcement of the norther border and other petty issues with Canada, among numerous other examples. The “open hands” and “reset buttons” have been reserved for such adversaries as the Iranians and Russians, who have benefitted greatly such friendliness while offering little in return but bomb-making and land-grabbing trouble, which seems a peculiar way to conduct a foreign policy.
At this late point in his presidency, however, Obama seems to care little about public opinion in any country except perhaps the ones where he hopes to redistribute the west’s wealth. The same cap-and-trade policies that the Australians rejected were also rejected by America’s Congress even when Nancy Pelosi was Speaker of the House and Harry Reid controlled a supermajority in the Senate, but Obama continues to impose as much of them as he can through executive action. The long delays in construction of the XL Keystone Pipeline that are infuriating the Canadian government are also infuriating the American public, but expect a veto that will bring at least another two year’s delay. An executive order to stop enforcing America’s immigration laws for an estimated five million illegal aliens is proving so widely unpopular that even such formerly steadfast supporters as the black American punditry and the “Saturday Night Live” writing staff are critical, but he seems ready to defend it to the point of a politically advantageous government shutdown. If the Australians feel insulted by the president’s blatant disregard for their opinions, at least they have some idea how Americans feel.

— Bud Norman

A Chilling Effect

Please be forgiving if our ordinarily precise prose dissolves into a stream of consciousness, but a severe case of cabin fever is making us delirious. Brutally cold air and an amount of snow sufficient to shut down the city have kept us almost entirely homebound for the past week, and even for such avid indoorsmen as ourselves it’s becoming quite tedious.
We briefly ventured out into the elements once, heading a few blocks to the home of a friendly neighbor with cable television to watch the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball team grind out a hard-fought win over a feisty Indiana State University Sycamores squad and improve its season record to a perfect 24 and 0, but nothing else has come up to justify such Jack Londonesque derring-do. We have otherwise been left alone with our thoughts, which is a chilling prospect in any weather, and forced to make do with whatever entertainments are at hand.
With great foresight we had stockpiled an extensive supply of old books and 33 rpm recordings of ancient American music in case of such an emergency, so at least we have not been relegated to contemporary pop culture. The internet machine informs us that Jay Leno broadcast his last Tonight Show, for instance, but Willie Nelson was singing “Hello, Walls” on the stereo so we didn’t bother to tune in. Leno always seemed an affable sort of fellow, far more so than his time-slot rival, but the talk shows have lost their luster along with the rest of show biz since the days when Frank and Dean would schmooze and smoke and make risqué with Johnny. Toward the end of his run Leno endeared himself to conservatives by cracking the occasional joke about President Barack Obama, which somehow made the white-haired comic the most daringly transgressive artist in mass media, but for the most part he hewed to the Hollywood line. Over the course of a long career Leno let loose with some good jokes, but it’s hard to do so consistently within the Hollywood line.
Two other comedy-related stories we’ve come across the past week make the same point. One was an interview with Lorne Michaels, who has produced the Saturday Night Live since it premiered on the old Dumont Network back in the silent television days, and his admission that the show has tended to ridicule conservatives more often than liberals because conservatives are willing to laugh at themselves and liberals respond angrily. This same cowardly approach to comedy explains why show biz prefers to ridicule turn-the-other-cheek Christians rather than slay-the-blasphemer Muslims, and why Saturday Night Live and other contemporary comedies are so rarely funny. The other story was an interview with Jerry Seinfeld, who rightly took umbrage at questions about the lack of racial diversity of the casts in his programs. “This has gotta represent the actual pie chart of America? Who cares? Funny is the world that I live in,” Seinfeld said to CBS This Morning, “You’re funny, I’m interested. You’re not funny, I’m not interested. I have no interest in gender or race or anything like that.” We suspect that Seinfeld was so obviously offended because he holds political views that are generally in line with his show biz peers, but his admirable willingness to set them aside during working hours is one reason that his work is so often funny.
The rest of the news seems to be about the Winter Olympics, and it has less to do with sports than matters of geo-politics and security concerns and homosexual rights and poor hotel accommodations. All of these seem to have culminated in poor attendance, although the television ratings might benefit from all the viewers homebound by a lack of global warming across the northern hemisphere. Olympic sports no longer have the old Cold War drama, and winter sports are far too cold for our tastes, but we might tune in if the ‘Shockers aren’t playing and we’ve run out of rockabilly.
We’re hoping that the city will get enough salt from nearby Hutchinson to make the streets drivable, and that tomorrow’s temperature to will climb high enough above zero to allow for the few blocks of walking to the Wichita Art Museum for the opening of an exhibit of some fine old George Catlin paintings of buffalo, but it seems frighteningly possible that we’ll be stuck here for as long as the pizza rolls and chicken nuggets hold out. Our friendly neighbor calls it Dr. Zhivago weather, and the political climate is starting to seem the same, but we need to get out of the house.

— Bud Norman