I find it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a scenario in which Donald Trump made repeated comments advocating the mass deportation of Jews, gay people, black people, or women — and then took a week off from his “campaign” to prepare for an exciting Saturday Night Live hosting gig.
But for some reason, some specific permutation of American racism wherein bigotry in the guise of xenophobia becomes marginally more acceptable, Trump’s vile anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim comments have not disqualified him from this upcoming honor, which we can look forward to next month.
It’s like Drunk Uncle, the “Weekend Update” character, has been made incarnate, and powerful, and leading in the polls, and now he’s taking over the show.
And let’s admit it: even as a sketch, that schtick gets tired after a minute or so.
Still, the ratings will be epic, the money will flow into SNL‘s coffers, Americans will be riveted by the spectacle, and the inevitable protests will only add energy to the clusterfuck. A public figure who should not be made more likable will get the SNL likability boost, and NBC will send a deeply disrespectful message to the Latino community. Activists have been speaking out against the hosting choice via a number actions, including a massive MoveOn.org petition that had gathered over 125,000 signatures as of early Monday afternoon and reads, in part:
Now, just three months after cutting ties with Donald Trump, NBC is seeking to boost its ratings at the expense of Latinos and immigrants by allowing Trump to host one of its most popular shows. By inviting Donald Trump to host Saturday Night Live, NBC is demonstrating that it doesn’t care about its Latino and pro-immigrant viewers. It is providing a platform for Trump’s insulting attacks on immigrants and calling it entertainment — something we do not find funny.
The protesters are right. SNL never should have chosen to let Trump host the show. The invitation was a mistake.
This isn’t to say that Donald Trump isn’t worthy of any attention at all and should be ignored entirely for the common good. The man is compellingly shaking up the Republican party. He’s a magnet for attention. For instance, Trump’s willingness to consistently call out Jeb Bush on the simple fact of George W. Bush being president during 9/11 is one of the most insanely fascinating developments in any recent election. Trump challenges Republican pieties while also exposing the rotten, prejudiced core that makes the GOP base hot to trot. As Frank Rich wrote in a provocative piece for New York Magazine called “Donald Trump Is Saving Our Democracy“:
Trump does take heretical economic positions for a Republican — “The hedge-fund guys are getting away with murder!” — but on the matters of race, women, and immigration that threaten the GOP’s future viability in nonwhite, non-male America, he is at one with his party’s base. What he does so rudely is call the GOP’s bluff by saying loudly, unambiguously, and repeatedly the ugly things that other Republican politicians try to camouflage in innuendo, focus-group-tested euphemisms, and consultant speak.
It’s all very well to be riveted by the Trump phenomenon (and at times I am), and it’s not inappropriate to devote magazine profiles and cable TV segments to unpacking The Donald’s appeal and dissecting his candidacy. But SNL is not an impartial news organization that will leave viewers with some tough questions to ask themselves.
Instead, it’s giving him a bizarrely unique platform, an entire hour and a half to make himself seem affable and congenial on a national stage. This isn’t even equivalent to what has been offered to other candidates, given that Hillary Clinton has only gotten a cameo and Bernie Sanders only showed up via Larry David’s impersonation, a disparity that raises questions too.
Besides, it’s too easy to write off Trump’s provocation as a “net good” for democracy when you’re a white man who wouldn’t be directly affected by many of President Trump’s policies, an observer who isn’t scared and threatened by the words he’s saying on the trail and the near-rabid reaction of the crowds.
His very candidacy is stirring up and giving legitimacy to the xenophobic tendencies of some very dangerous people. He’s making sexism seem edgy and acceptable. To take an impartial and critical look at Trump’s buffoonery and its effect on the discourse — and thoroughly enjoy his domination of the media circuit, including SNL, because it’s “disruptive” to the established narrative — is a privilege that only some of us can afford.