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

A Man of the People, Redefined

The ten leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination had a debate on Thursday, and it was a spirited contest. Each of the contenders were nearly as critical of one another as they were of President Donald Trump, and sometimes the raucous crowd would ooh at perceived low blows. Our favorite part came afterwards, though, when the candidates were asked about the greatest adversities they had faced in life and how that had affected their politics.
The question was a slow and straight pitch aimed chest high, and of course each candidate took a swing at the opportunity to come off as a bona fide human being voters can relate to. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the last centrist standing in the field, spoke of her father’s alcoholism, and how he overcame it with with help from court-ordered treatment. Former San Antonio mayor and Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian talked about growing up in a single-parent home. Former Vice President Joe Biden recalled the tragically premature death of his son and beloved family members, High tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang mentioned the numerous failed businesses he had started and the huge debt he had acquired before achieving success.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders had a rent-controlled Brooklyn apartment and a penniless immigrant father to talk about. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke chose to talk about the resilience of his hometown of El Paso, which suffered a mass shooting O’Rourke partly blames on Trump’s racial rhetoric. California Sen. Kamala Harris explained the difficulties of being the first female and mixed-race Attorney General of her state, and ┬áthis being a Democratic debate was obliged to defend prosecuting as a respectable occupation . South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg is openly homosexual, and that’s not always been as fashionable as it is now. Earlier in the debate, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren mentioned she had grown up in Oklahoma and once been a public school teacher, were surely won plenty of pity from a Democratic audience.
None of the candidates bragged about having been in a little log cabin built by their own two hands, and with Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard failing to qualify for the debate no could talk about any military experience, but it was all fairly heartwarming nonetheless. Should the general election come down to which candidate has the more inspiring hard-luck tale, Trump will be at a disadvantage.
Trump is quite unapologetic about being born into opulent wealth, and clearly revels in his whiteness and maleness and heterosexuality and enjoys whatever privileges that might confer. He grew up in Queens rather than Manhattan, which still seems to rankle, but lived in the fanciest house in the less fancy borough.
His father was by most accounts a cold and ruthless man who withheld affection and praise from his children, but Trump can’t hold that against anyone. The old man sent him off to one of those strict military schools where incorrigible rich kids wind up, but Trump boasts of having been the big man on campus. He had to suffer the indignity of a year at relatively downscale Fordham University before the old man got him into the University of Pennsylvania, but he just leaves that unmentioned. At some point Trump suffered from bone spurs, which kept him out of military service during the Vietnam war but don’t seem to have interfered with his golfing and nightclubbing.
Trump is by no means America’s first plutocrat president, but he is the first to flaunt it so brazenly. The Adamses and Roosevelts and Kennedys came from old money and elite educations, but they had also inherited an understated gentility and a deeply felt sense of noblesse oblige that Trump never acquired in Queens. On the contrary, Trump flouts such old-fashioned business and prefers street-level vulgarity and unabashed self-promotion
Interestingly, it seems to to have endeared him to a large segment of the proletariat, which regards him as a “blue collar billionaire.” They prefer it to the perceived condescension of past wealthy politicians, and share Trump’s seething resentment of the most well-mannered upper class, and appreciate the way he appalls all the right people. We also suspect that although they can’t identify with Trump’s much bragged about billions, they can vicariously enjoy the way he spends it on golf outings and private jets and porn stars rather than boring tea parties in the Hamptons. A lot of Trump fans figure he’s just like them, or at least like they would be if they had his money.
Trump is also selling the idea that he was born with the Midas touch, and that his alpha male “bigliness” has always made him impervious to any adversity, so America should be grateful to ride along on his predestined path to greatness, which is arguably more compelling than being a former school teacher or having had to endure poverty or prejudice. The same sales pitch got people to invest in his casinos and airlines and professional football teams, and to enroll in Trump University, and if the economy stops slowing by the next election day it might work yet again.

— Bud Norman