Much has been said about the media echo chamber and its contribution to our hyper-partisan politics, but not about the comedy echo chamber. Let’s face it, Trump is funny and fun to dump on, providing wave after wave of material often predicated on simply repeating Trump’s own, shoot from the hip words. Trump is to comedy as 9/11 was to CNN, with ratings fueling partisanship because, as Forbes noted, “Dumping On Trump Pays Off For Late-Night TV Shows.”
Before the elections, Stephen Colbert consistently ranked third behind the less partisan Jimmy’s: Fallon and Kimmel. Now, with his nightly Trump flayings as the “Anxiety Translator” for liberals, Colbert is vying to topple Fallon as king and consistently beats Kimmel for second.
But in many ways, comedy is missing the mark in actually helping Americans deal with President Trump, a political phenomenon who is not black, not white but shockingly orange. Samantha Bee on “Full Frontal” may be the comic who has most consistently turned the Michelle Obama mantra on its head: “When they go low, we go lower.” Going comic medieval has paid off for Bee. With pink-power, expletive-filled, anti-Trump fury, Bee has seen a 37% ratings increase among the prized 18-49 advertising market.
In an outstanding tour d’horizon of today’s comedy, Caitlin Flanagan grills Samantha Bee in the May latest edition of The Atlantic as probably the nastiest of the late night comedians—and not in the good (i.e., Hillary) kind of nasty. Flanagan recounts a story of Bee and her crew tricking a child into a humiliating prop role as a Trump ignoramus, noting that “Trump and Bee share a penchant for verbal cruelty and a willingness to mock the defenseless. Both consider self-restraint, once the hallmark of the admirable, to be for chumps.”
John Oliver’s most watched show on “This Week Tonight” revealed that the Trump family had once been the “Drumpfs,” seeing a 33% ratings surge. Flanagan notes that on Oliver’s show, even on complex and challenging issues like abortion, Oliver demonstrates his belief that he and his fans “are intellectually and morally superior to those who espouse any of the beliefs of the political right.”
Before the election, new Daily Show host Trevor Noah hoped to transcend party lines: “I guess my long-term vision of the show is… More pointing out the folly on both sides.” But since the elections, Noah has rarely invited conservatives onto his show. For Noah, it may be personal; he may see Trump as a spiritual heir to the apartheid regime that launched and still haunts his comedic vision. Noah is the only comedian to label the Trump Presidency, without irony, “the Trump Regime.” Since Trump’s victory, Noah has sharpened his tone further, enjoying an 8% increase in ratings. Noah clearly assumes only anti-Trump viewers are watching when he says, quite seriously, “I know we all agree that Donald Trump is going to destroy the earth.”
Many Americans no doubt see current late night comedians as liberal elites repeating Hillary’s mistake of Dissing Deplorables and other forgotten Americans. When Trump supporters look at Oliver, Noah, Bee and the other comedians belittling Trump and his supporters, they see an extension of the “Fake News Media Empire.” As Flanagan argues in The Atlantic, “Sneering hosts have alienated conservatives and made liberals smug." She continues "No wonder so many of Trump’s followers are inclined to believe only the things that he or his spokespeople tell them directly—everyone else on the tube thinks they’re a bunch of trailer-park, Oxy-snorting half-wits who divide their time between retweeting Alex Jones fantasies and ironing their Klan hoods.”
Because of its overt political agenda, late night comedy seems to be more regularly violating the comedic Hippocratic Oath: Above All, Do No Unfunny. When the main point of comedy is to attack, vs. being funny, it loses effectiveness. Comedy that seeks balance brings people together and is often spectacular. Before the elections, Saturday Night Live was praised for having Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon break character as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and lower political tensions with a magical romp around Times Square.
After the election, SNL lampooned liberals living in a bubble of denial over Trump’s victory and others wanting to kill a pro-Trump pug empowered to speak his mind through advanced technology. Samantha Bee invited Glenn Beck to an hysterical Christmas sweater encounter to promote comity. Even the efforts that fail to achieve comedic gold are a welcome cease-fire, such as Jimmy Fallon’s skit on Republicans and Democrats finding common ground.
With a little creativity, comedy could be fertile ground for reconfirming the basic truth that good Americans occupy both sides of this battle. Less political sites like Funny or Die and College Humor can poke fun at both sides and raise bipartisan awareness of issues like fake news. Rare conservative comics like Dennis Miller could team up with liberal comedians in shows to poke fun at each other while highlighting the vast common areas Americans share.
Humor could energize and project the message of nonpartisan, pro-civility groups like The Bridge Alliance that fail to satisfy mainstream media cravings for drama. Humor can bring Members of Congress together, creating more Ronald Reagan/Tip O’Neil friendships to open the doors for dialogue and compromise, like the humor-filled friendship between Senators John McCain and Al Franken.
Our colleges are a mess and increasingly hostile to intellectual diversity. Humor can counter intolerance of the left and right on college campuses, foster better dialogue and debate, and help end what The Atlantic has described as the “Coddling of the American Mind.” As Bill Maher notes regarding the Ann Coulter/Berkeley brouhaha, banning conservatives from speaking on college campuses today is "The liberal's version of book burning." Ideologically mixed comedy platforms can bring together thought leaders from all sides on campus and around the nation, forcing people out of their echo chambers to hear opposing thoughts.
So comedy itself can be a powerful vehicle for opening the door out of the comedy echo chamber—and the broader American echo chamber. The alternative to breaking out of the echo chamber is likely more of what Flanagan describes as “A race to the bottom, as the crudeness of the president is matched by that of ‘the resistance,’ with all of us being judged by how well—how thoroughly and consistently and elaborately—we can hate each other.”
Komodia believes that such a future would kind of suck.
On a day when Tomahawk missiles fell in Syria, another question will get less attention than it deserves. Who murdered civility in the Senate? OK, maybe we are exaggerating. The death of the 60-vote rule today is not the death of civility or bipartisan initiatives in the Senate or our country, but it is a significant milestone. The requirement of a super-majority in the Senate dates back a century. In 1917, amid acrimonious arguments over whether the United States should take part in World War I, the Senate created the cloture rule to provide a mechanism for a supermajority of 67 senators to cut off debate and proceed to a final vote. In 1975, the Senate reduced the supermajority requirement to 60 votes, which still required Presidents to nominate judges who were not just qualified but also sufficiently centrist to gain support from both sides of the aisle.
Neil Gorsuch is a highly qualified judge. But so was Merrick Garland. President Donald Trump has recently played a key role in the long, slow death of civility in the USA, but others preceded him. Joe Biden created the famous "Biden Rule" in 1992 when Biden argued against considering a nominee from President George H. W. Bush in an election year. So like the "Murder on the Orient Express," there were many hands on the knife in this case.
What is the impact of the loss of the 60-vote rule? Without a doubt the chances have increased that the next Supreme Court nominee will be more partisan and less qualified as a result. That change in the rules, compounded over the years, may have a profound effect on the ability of the Supreme Court to fulfill its duties. In the shorter term, the change will lower the confidence of Americans that our Supreme Court judges will place the Constitution above politics.
It was quite sadly fitting to see that on the same day that the Nuclear Option was invoked, our nation saw the burial of Senator John Glenn today in Arlington Cemetery. Astronaut, Senator, great American, during his tenure Senator Glenn was one of the wise leaders of honorable bipartisan dialogue and compromise in addressing the great issue of our country. His kind will be missed, and may be part of a dying breed.
#NuclearOption #Gorsuch #SCOTUS
Donald Trump is different, like no other President. He’s not black like Obama, nor white like all our other Presidents before. Post election memes proclaimed Trump’s victory as proof that “Orange is the New Black.” Orange seems a good neutral description. You may like orange, you may not. You may think Trump is the orange of Florida fresh squeezed juice, ripe and full of energy and nutrition to fortify an anemic economy and sissified, PC culture. Or you may think that Trump’s brand of politics is toxic tangerine sludge.
Our already fissured nation is increasingly divided over our orange President, with both sides embracing his combative style. Pro-Trump and anti-Trump forces are proud of the “Nasty” and “Deplorable” insults hurled their way. We have entered an ultra-hype, special effects, no-holds barred, alternative fact, post-truth world. America is girding up for a cage-match finale of body slamming ungovernability, with healthcare reform being the latest farce of in this WWE world.
With apologies to Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kaptain Komodia is forced to agree: My President is Orange. And Trump’s orangeness has deepened and widened rifts in America that have been developing for decades.
Even so, our nation has been through worse, and perhaps comedy could do more to calm our nerves and bring us together. Daily Beast and self-described leftist reporter Samantha Allen said “...late-night comedy used to have a more careful balance between escapist absurdism and political comedy—a balance that definitely tipped decisively in the latter direction during the 2016 election... That balance is still important for our funny bones and for our collective sanity.”
As Betty White recently advised young comedians in the CNN “History of Comedy” series, "Keep your sense of humor and don't take yourself too seriously. You're in the funny business. You're not in the mean business."
While Americans will continue to be divided over Trump’s orangeness, the simple truth is that we are all a bit different, a bit orange. America’s strength has always been founded on finding a common home for people with vast differences. To move forward, comedy can help us live together under a wildly orange President while remembering what we have in common—and embracing the orange in us all. -KK