Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump

On Trump, SNL, Playboy and the Humor of It All

We deserve a president who can take a joke


Being the president of the United States is not easy. You will be praised and you will be eviscerated. You will garner cheers and enthusiastic support, and you will anger many people.

 “A barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name,” John Quincy Adams once said of Andrew Jackson.

“Ignorant, passionate, hypocritical, corrupt and easily swayed by the base men who surround him,” Henry Clay said of of the same.

Satire and humor have been used since man first crawled out of the brush and could fashion a cogent thought to make fun of those in power. In this country, satire has long been accepted and seen as a good way to “blow off some steam” without the kettle blowing its top. Vaughn Meader’s The First Family, which parodied John F. Kennedy’s administration, won a Grammy for album of the year in 1963.

Presidents have responded in many ways to the criticism and parody. President Lyndon B. Johnson, after being skewered by the Smothers Brothers, wrote them a letter. Dick Smothers read it on the last broadcast episode of the Smothers Brothers. In part, Johnson said, “It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists. You have given the gift of laughter to our people. May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives.”

Each president shines a light on their true character by the ways they respond to criticism and humor aimed at them. Beyond the scripted moments at news conferences, state dinners, rallies and other public appearances professing to offer the voting public insight into their president, a spontaneous reaction due to questions or by comedy remain the most illuminating of all.

After NBC’s Saturday Night Live lampooned President Trump’s announcement of a national emergency, he responded with his criticism:
The Made-for-TV Olive Branch
“Nothing funny about tired Saturday Night Live on Fake News NBC! Question is, how do the Networks get away with these total Republican hit jobs without retribution? Likewise for many other shows? Very unfair and should be looked into. This is the real Collusion!”

Put aside our president’s misunderstanding of what a hit job is and file away the fact that the president misused the word collusion. The idea of the president of the United States calling for an investigation into a sketch show is not just dangerous. It’s stupid.

The growing sea of people Trump insults for questioning or making fun of him shows clearer than anything else the depravity of the man’s soul, or conversely, the rapid spreading of an unconquerable mental illness. In either case, I’m fairly sure this isn’t the guy who should have the launch codes.

The latest evidence of the president’s meltdown lampooned by SNL came on February 15, 2019 when reporters gathered in the Rose Garden to listen to the president talk about legislation ending the threat of an additional partial government shutdown coupled with a declaration of a national emergency. In effect, a “my ball, my rules” proclamation to get his wall built. A national emergency would divert federal money in the pipeline to build the wall, a fence, slats or heads on pikes on the U.S.'s southern border with Mexico— a barrier Trump desperately screams we need.

Trump meandered through the news conference, sounding jealous President Barack Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize and he didn’t. He complimented Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter, though he thought she was “off the reservation.” He sung his own praises and led us into the parallel solipsistic universe where he is the Creator of all that is good and righteous and anyone speaking against him is either a far-left Democrat, a member of the "fake media" or on a "witch hunt." He then took questions; the first reality check came from NBC's Peter Alexander.
Some say Trump crossed the line for his rude treatment of reporters in that news conference and his subsequent tweet taking aim at NBC and Saturday Night Live. Trump is upset about his fictional portrayal in a parody on national TV and is suggesting reprisals.
Alexander nailed Trump by questioning the need for declaring an emergency. Trump fumbled his answer to Alexander’s pointed question. “I didn’t need to do this,” Trump said. But an emergency declaration lets him build a border wall “faster.” Then Trump admitted he didn’t even need the money. Just a few minutes into the Q&A, Trump effectively told us there was no emergency and he didn’t know what to do with all the money he’s already getting from Congress.

Border Patrol, Customs, ICE, most of the localities along the border, all of the border states and several other federal agencies know what they could do with extra money. It isn’t building a wall. Think infrastructure, more agents and an investment in new technologies.

But Trump wasn’t done. Bored or eager for action and hot for the game, Trump made his next move. “Okay, Jim Acosta.”The president pointed at CNN’s senior White House correspondent. Then Trump evaded Acosta’s question about statistics, which show violent crime in immigrant communities is lower than in the general population.

“Oh seriously man, how do you keeping getting into this room. I’d just like to build a wall around Jim,” Alec Baldwin said in his Trump character as SNL spoofed the exchange between Acosta and Trump. After Trump belittled Acosta and the statistics he recited, Trump asked for another question. He pointed to me.

The last time Trump picked Acosta and me back-to-back in a news conference came after the midterms. Trump accused me of being a comedian at that news conference and got angry when I asked him if he could work with the Democrats in the House of Representatives should they begin to investigate him.

“For the good of the country,” I asked, could he compartmentalize the investigation and do his job? He told me no. He would be on a war footing.
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That was an inadvertent moment of transparency, and he’s been true to his word on it. But Trump is at war with more than one segment of our society and Acosta remains one of his favorite targets. Immediately after he called on me, he called on Acosta. That exchange ended in Acosta's White House press pass being revoked and a subsequent court action to get it back.

This time the batting order was reversed; Trump was sufficiently agitated after his exchange with Acosta and I knew he was going to be difficult to handle. The only question I was interested in concerned the relevance of a national emergency. Alexander hit it on the head, Acosta drove the nail in deeper and I thought it needed to be addressed one more time, bluntly, to seal the nail tight.

As I stood up, I mentioned I wanted to follow up. With illegal border crossings down, drugs being seized at points of entry and violence on the decline on the border, what facts did Trump have to back up his claims of a national emergency? The president jumped all over my question and didn’t let me finish it before he began rambling. At one point he mentioned a mass murder of Mexican drug dealers in Mexico coinciding with his recent trip to the Texas border as justification for the wall. His claims that it was a mile away from his visit were wrong. In reality, the killings in Nuevo Laredo were some 150 miles away from his visit in South Texas—not a mile away.
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I know, because as I told him I had been there. I visited the area for an upcoming feature forPlayboy. He did not go anywhere near the site. But, I didn’t want to lose sight of the real issue.

“Could you clarify…what do you base your facts on?”

He told me to sit down three times. I did not. This isn’t the first time he’s said this to me. I hate to disappoint him, but he isn’t the first president to say this to me either. George H.W. Bush owns that title. I didn’t sit then and I’m not going to sit now. But I also didn’t make an issue of it. I merely asked him to answer the question.

As he stumbled through an answer, he began questioning his own government. “Your own government stats are wrong?” I asked.

He told me he used many stats. I asked him if he could supply those to us. He told me the stats the government supplied me are “worse than mine.” I blinked and had to reboot my brain. Did he really say that?

He went on about how illegal immigration on the border is costing Americans billions of dollars a month. At that point, I think I became numb. I rolled my eyes and he shot past me like an asteroid on a near-Earth collision course that eventually heads off into the cosmos never to be seen again.

Saturday Night Live parodied this exchange, with Baldwin as Trump saying “Sweet. Sweet. Sweet.” when the Playboy reporter introduces himself. “Many nights in the Grotto, right? Am I right?” He sniffs. “Take it easy on me…sit down or I’m switching back to Hustler,” Baldwin says as the Playboy reporter refuses to sit until Trump answers his question.

Some say Trump crossed the line for his rude treatment of reporters in that news conference and his subsequent tweet taking aim at NBC and Saturday Night Live. Trump is upset about his fictional portrayal in a parody on national TV and is suggesting reprisals.

CNN criticized him. CNN in New York got bomb threats. Reporters question him and some of them have to now hire body guards. There is nothing acceptable, normal or intelligent about this.

There is a national emergency in this country. It isn’t at the border. It is from within our borders. It isn’t the president. It’s the nation.

What kind of nation do we wish to be? Trump's base has one thing right, of which we should all take notice. Trump, despite his attempts at subterfuge, is extremely transparent. He also remains thin-skinned, combative and alarmingly impervious to climbing the learning curve. He deepens his support with his base while failing to broaden it. At the end of the day, Trump’s vile tweet regarding an NBC parody is just another in a long line of insults to common sense, common culture and the rule of constitutional law.

The chaos isn’t more chaotic; we’re just witnessing the latest gust in the maelstrom. Remember being president of the United States is never easy. When everything surrounding you is chaos, it’s even worse. That you are the source of the chaos is both priceless and dangerous.

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