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Like it or not, Saturday Night Live is the most mainstream political satire machine in the country. Millions of people watch the late night comedy show every week, and it has a huge influence on how the American people view politicians. Consider Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin, almost indistinguishable from the real woman in the public’s mind.
So it matters how SNL chooses to represent the President-elect, and unfortunately they were already off to a bad start before the election. The late night comedy show had Trump as a host exactly a year before the 2016 election, and this has haunted their legacy ever since, as the show aired to protests. Worst of all, the Trump-hosted episode was not funny, which is SNL’s real goal. They handled the then-candidate over-cautiously. It basically turned into a commercial for him.
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Now, Alec Baldwin plays a very convincing Trump. Trump himself has given the performance his seal of disapproval.
Doesn’t that mean they’re doing something right? I think Baldwin’s Trump was perfectly appropriate for before the election, but now it just falls flat. When President Trump is our new reality, light mockery is not enough. We need something more scathing. Baldwin’s Trump is too close to the real Trump. Therefore, it doesn’t give us a fresh take.
Take this cold open from November 19th. It shows Donald Trump realizing the scope of his campaign promises and struggling to keep them. The problem with this sketch is that Trump himself has admitted to not caring about his campaign promises as pointed out in this Daily Show segment. This sketch’s take on Trump is that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. This is not insightful. It also hides how dangerous Trump really is.
Another problem with SNL is that their meta-commentary on Trump’s incompetence comes from the other characters in the sketch. This is usually Kellyanne Conway, who in the sketch is adorably rueful for her role in Trump’s rise, or Mike Pence, who is just a long-suffering normal guy. Unfortunately, this is not true. Conway does not feel remorse for Trump. Mike Pence is not a normal guy; he is a bigot. This strategy by SNL normalizes Pence and Conway.
So what can SNL do about this? Try something new. We are in uncharted territory here, and a normal approach to Trump just does not work. So why not take more risks?
Here’s one that worked. Last week, SNL imagined the world through Donald’s eyes. The world is out to get him, but his close advisors worship him. Everything is skewed, even the way he sees himself in the mirror. I think this take works really well. It’s unique, it says something fascinating about Trump, and it’s bold. In this sketch, SNL makes a statement, perhaps not one that everyone will understand or agree with, but that makes it better. They are not playing it safe; they are trying to change the way we all see Trump. And isn’t that SNL’s job as the country’s most-watched satirical show? I think so.
I hope SNL does more like this instead of the old “Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing” bit. The fact is, Trump will be our next president. We all know he’s inexperienced and an outsider and tweets a lot. But we need reminding of how dangerous he and his team are.