With less than a week until Donald Trump is sworn in to office, the world is still incredulous. Many wonder how a vulgar, thin-skinned, racist, pathological liar, with countless conflicts of interest, and unsavory ties to Russia, ever got to this point.
However, a television writer in Scotland may have had the best reaction to this unsettling state of affairs. Damien Love writes the program synopses for Scotland’s Sunday Herald. In this week’s listings he described the Trump inauguration in a uniquely troubling way:
President Trump: The Inauguration
4pm, BBC One/ STV
After a long absence, The Twilight Zone returns with one of the most ambitious, expensive and controversial productions in broadcast history. Sci-fi writers have dabbled often with alternative history stories – among the most common is the “What If The Nazis Had Won The Second World War” setting – but this huge interactive virtual reality project, which will unfold on TV, in the press, and on Twitter over the next four years, sets out to build an ongoing alternative present. The story begins in a nightmarish version of 2017 in which huge sections of the US electorate have somehow been duped into voting to make Donald Trump president. It sounds far-fetched, and it is, but as it goes on it becomes more and more chillingly plausible. Today’s feature-length opener concentrates on the gaudy inauguration of President Trump, and the stirrings of protest and despair surrounding the ceremony, while pundits speculate gravely on what lies ahead. It’s a flawed piece, but a disturbing glimpse of the horrors we could stumble into, if we’re not careful.
Love’s satire perfectly captures some very real concerns. This is indeed “a nightmarish version of 2017” and “a disturbing glimpse of the horrors we could stumble into.” And the fact that other countries perceive the new American government this way forecasts a worrisome decline in respect for the nation. This snarky TV listing is, unfortunately, just a preview of what’s to come.
Donald Trump continues to demonstrate that he is temperamentally unfit to be president. As president-elect he is still exhibiting a level of thin-skinned narcissism that portends serious trouble ahead for America. Rather than focusing on the critical issues that face the nation, Trump busies himself with Broadway play reviews, media bashing, and attacks on TV comedy shows.
On Saturday night Trump once again went after Alec Baldwin for his satirical portrayal on Saturday Night Live. The opening segment mocked Trump’s Twitter addiction as so sever that it interfered with his national security briefings. Indeed, Trump has been neglecting those briefings since Election Day. Ironically, Trump jumped onto Twitter to respond with a bitter and substanceless put-down:
Just tried watching Saturday Night Live – unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can't get any worse. Sad
Trump has called SNL “unwatchable” before, but he’s still watching. Clearly he’s preoccupied with anything and everything that has to do with himself. The good news for Baldwin is that he can’t get any worse. It’s all uphill from here. Alec.
Baldwin had an appropriate reply to Trump’s tweet that turned the humor into something more serious:
Donald Trump is the first candidate in more than half a century to refuse to release his tax returns. We have learned from other sources that he didn’t pay income taxes for eighteen years. However, we still don’t have detailed information about his unsavory business ties. Those may include gross conflicts of interest and relationships with criminals or foreign operatives.
Trump has not taken up Baldwin’s challenge. And I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for him to do so. The standard way Trump handles these sort of matters is to ignore them until he can think of a distraction. He has already posted a stream of tweets defending his atrocious deal to pay the Carrier Corp a bribe to get them to keep an Indiana plant open. For that price Carrier is still sending half the jobs from that plant to Mexico. That’s what dealmaker Trump thinks is a good deal.
Hopefully, the media that Trump despises will keep some pressure on him to release his taxes. This problem doesn’t go away just because he won the Electoral College vote. In fact, it’s even more important now because he will soon be making decisions that impact his own businesses. The American people have a right to know if their president is a crook. Now where have I heard that before?
In the waning days of this surreal election year, tempers are fraying beyond cognitive sustainability. For those with functioning brain stems, just the thought of Donald Trump as president is unfathomable. There is simply no sane explanation for this narcissistic wannabe dictator even being competitive in the race for leader of the free world. At least not without contorting the imagination into a bizarro glob of Silly Putty.
No one knows this better than comedian and social observer Bill Maher. But the the strain is even beginning to show on him. In Friday’s episode of his HBO program Real Time, he is obviously at his breaking point with regard to the election and the media’s coverage of it. After noting some examples of the absurd obsession the press has for irrelevancies and false equivalence, Maher explodes. He stares directly into the camera and shouts “Media – Do your fucking job!”
That’s a sentiment that many have been expressing for more than a year. The American people watched with confusion as cable news surrendered their air to Trump’s rambling, racist diatribes. Hour after hour, Trump ranted incoherently with no balance from opposing candidates or the press. And as the campaign wore on, allegedly professional journalists treated Trump’s ignorance and hate-speech as if it were acceptable political discourse.
Maher addressed these failings with the sharpness of a properly jaded humorist. For example:
“The FBI says Americans should look out for terror attacks on Monday. They said they would do it, but they’re so busy with Hillary’s emails from 2009.”
“A terrorist attack – that would be such a nightmare scenario. To watch terrorists ruin our election after all the work Russia has put into doing that.”
“Republicans are trying to elect a sexually assaulting psychopath who, if not a Russian agent, is unwittingly working as one. And people in America are saying “Well, it’s better than Hillary.” No it’s F**KING not!”
Watch the video below and rest in the knowledge that you are not alone. If you believe a candidate for president who aligns himself with hostile foreign nations is treasonous, you are not alone. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the unconscionable negligence of the media, you are not alone. After November 8, there will be time to recharge and then to focus on these problems. Hopefully we can have some impact before the next election. In the meantime…let’s laugh at our pain.
While the media is busy ignoring frightening reports of Donald Trump’s alliance with Russia, President Obama is ducking past the hacks that populate much of the electronic press. To that end he granted an interview to comedian Samantha Bee on Monday for her TBS program, Full Frontal.
The discussion touched on many of the critical issues of the day, but with a decidedly lighter tone. And Bee did not shy away from the significance of the date that this interview was conducted:
Bee: “Seeing how this is our Halloween interview, can you tell us a spooky story of what will happen if people don’t vote?” Obama: “Donald Trump could be president.” Bee: “OK. That was very scary.”
Indeed. It’s hard to imagine anything scarier. A Trump presidency would burden the nation (and the world) with a racist, ignorant, narcissistic, fake billionaire, playing dictator in the White House. It would be horror show that could last four years or more. Giving a reality TV game show host control of a nuclear arsenal sounds like the plot of a Stephen King movie.
Bee asked Obama what he thought Hillary Clinton’s critics would cook up to rival the crackpot conspiracy theories (i.e. birtherism) that were thrown at him. Obama suggested many of the sexist themes that are already a part of the right’s war on women. He speculated that Republicans would portray her as moody and emotional, you know how women are. And expanding on that he observed that:
“When men are ambitions, it’s just taken for granted that, of course they should be ambitious. When women are ambitious, why? That theme, I think, will continue throughout her presidency. And it’s contributed to this notion that, somehow, she’s hiding something.”
Obama made time to express some serious thoughts about the upcoming election and the importance of participating. He particularly addressed his remarks to young voters who often fail to turn out:
“Look Sam, the reason I’m here is not just to celebrate Halloween with you. But is actually because I want to let first-time voters know why it is so important to vote. This is probably the most important election of our lifetime. And the choices could not be clearer. If we want to build on issues like climate change and gender equality, making sure that everybody has health care and making sure young people have a good education and can afford college, they’ve gotta make sure that their voices are heard.”
With Halloween behind us, the threat of a monstrous takeover of our government has not subsided. In order to avoid being destroyed by dark forces of the night it is imperative that every Democrat votes. And while they’re at it, drag along friends and family to the polls. Because the alternative is a vision of apocalypse that could thrust the nation into a dystopian hellscape. That I can tell you.
Just when you thought this election couldn’t get any more bizarre, it smacks you right in the funny bone. Thursday night Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton met again on stage at the 71st Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner. [Full video below] It’s an annual event hosted by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. During presidential election years it brings together the two major party candidates for a night of friendly roasting.
However, as with everything else this year, it was a different sort of affair. As might be expected, Donald Trump’s sour personality made it difficult for him to project the human quality of humor. He delivered his remarks while looking down at his speech nearly the whole time. It seemed as if he had never even read it before coming to the podium. His delivery was stilted and he stumbled with the pronunciation of common words. His attempts at self-deprecating jokes were mostly just whining.
Trump began with some stale material that even he admitted was corny. His initial jokes involved the size of his hands and his feud with Rosie O’Donnell. The biggest laugh he received was for a line about the speech his wife Melania gave at the Republican convention. Actually, it was a pretty good line:
“Michelle Obama gives a speech and everyone loves it. They think she’s absolutely great. My wife Melania gives the exact same speech and people get on her case. And I don’t get it. I don’t know why.”
But it’s all downhill from there. For the remainder of the routine Trump descends into the bitterness that is emblematic of his standard stump speeches. The audience, mainly wealthy New York elites and Catholic church VIPs, were not impressed. In fact, for what many are saying is the first time ever, they booed the speaker – repeatedly. And this was Trump’s crowd. Here are some choice excerpts:
“Hillary is so corrupt she got kicked off the Watergate Commission. How corrupt do you have to be to get kicked off the Watergate Commission? Pretty corrupt.”
“We’ve learned so much from WikiLeaks. For instance, Hillary believes that it’s vital to deceive the people by having one public policy and a totally different policy in private.”
How do these “jokes” differ from his regular daily insults? No wonder he was booed. Demonstrating his utter inability to grasp the audience reaction, Trump asked in an aside “I don’t know who they’re angry at, Hillary. You or I.” We’ll give you two guesses, Donnie. Then he continued by stomping on the hosts:
“Here she is tonight in public pretending not to hate Catholics.”
But the single most awkward moment was when Trump made light of a human tragedy. That is something that any experienced comedian, or any public speaker, will tell you is off limits. Most people find it difficult to laugh at situations where thousands died and many more are still suffering:
“Everyone knows, of course, Hillary’s belief that ‘it takes a village.’ Which only makes sense, after all, in places like Haiti where she’s taken a number of them.”
Even the event’s host, Alfred E. Smith IV, recognized that Trump had misfired. He said the following day that Trump’s joke about Clinton “pretending not to hate Catholics” did not sit well with the largely Catholic audience. Furthermore, he said that:
“Donald had some very solid minutes early on and eventually he crossed the line and took it a little too far. Hillary, on the other hand, was able to laugh at herself and at the same time not underplay any of the serious things that Donald Trump has said or done.”
Speaking of Hillary, she did indeed have a much better night. Her jokes were well received despite Trump having poisoned the room. She spread her topics out to cover herself, Trump, the campaign, and many of the attendees. But perhaps her most potent shot at Trump was not aimed directly at him at all. In her more serious closing remarks, Clinton addressed some basic beliefs that one could not ignore as having an association with the campaign. She condemned the “appeals to fear and division [that] can cause us to treat each other as ‘the other.'” She also praised Pope Francis and his message:
“…of rejecting a mindset of hostility; his call to reduce inequality; his warning about climate change; his appeal that we build bridges not walls.”
Clinton closed by saying that:
I believe that for each of us, our greatest monument on this earth won’t be what we build, but the lives we touch.”
Condemning appeals to fear and division. Rejecting hostility. Building bridges not walls. What a clever way of highlighting precisely what makes Trump so abhorrent while exhorting the principles of her hosts. Clinton deftly noted that it is personal legacies that endure. Not giant golden testaments to ego that are plastered onto skyscrapers. And with that she illustrated the differences between her candidacy and Trump’s. Or more broadly, between humanity’s aspirations and Trump’s.
Generally when a rabidly bigoted Fox News host makes headlines it’s safe to guess that the subject is Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. However, a lesser known figure is challenging the network’s chumpians for dipshit supremacy.
Jesse Watters is a producer for The O’Reilly Factor and hosts his own Watters World that purports to be funny. He’s also the closeted editor of the ultra-conservative and lie-riddled Fox Nation website (see Fox Nation vs. Reality). His exploits have drawn some attention in the past primarily for their rank stupidity. Stephen Colbert roasted Watters deliciously on his old Colbert Report.
This week Watters outdid himself with a blatantly racist trip to New York’s Chinatown (video below). He managed to fire off every offensive stereotype in the book. The repulsive segment has been universally condemned by Asian-American groups and journalists. Watters issued the standard non-apology apology blaming those who were offended for their own pain.
Well, Watters isn’t getting off that easy. Daily Show correspondent Ronnie Chieng saw the piece and had a little something to say about it. He got the righteous rant rolling by responding to a question that Watters asked a Chinatown resident. The question: “Is this the year of the dragon?” Chieng’s reply: “No, it’s the year of “Go F*ck Yourself!” That set the stage for the rest of the segment. Chieng played a few clips from the piece with a look that melded outrage and confusion leading to this comment:
“What the hell was that? How was that on the news? In fact, how was that even on TV? Where the (bleep) did this come from? I mean, everyone’s been wondering who’ll be the target of 2016’s worst racism. I didn’t even know Asians were in the running.”
Chieng chastised Watters for taking advantage of innocent people and making them look foolish for not responding to him. Of course the reason for their silence was that he deliberately harassed people who didn’t speak English. Watters was ridiculing people (mostly seniors) who were unable to defend themselves. So Chieng gave him a taste of his own medicine. In a forum where Watters could not respond, Chieng asked “Hey douchebag, why do you look like a guy who carries around a bag of roofies just in case?” And it just gets worse from there – much worse.
The bigotry that is so commonplace on Fox News in their reporting has also crept into their alleged comedy. And the hate-filled campaign of Donald Trump was hatched and nurtured on the network. Their 99 percent white audience could hardly care less about disparaging others. So expect more of the same sort of prejudice and insults in the future from Fox News. Not to mention their home-brew hate machine, Donald Trump.
There has been a meme circulating around the InterTubes for some time saying that “I get my news from Comedy Central and my comedy from Fox News.” It’s a concise way of articulating the reality that programs like The Daily Show are far more reliable sources for information than Bill O’Reilly or Fox & Friends. Expanding on that theme, Fox & Friends did a segment this weekend that asked perhaps the dumbest question of the year: Should comedy shows take on politics?
Are they Kidding? Politics has been a staple of comedy for centuries. The desire to mock our governments and leaders is pretty much an element of being human. But from Fox’s point of view it’s easy to understand their comic anxiety. First of all, they are terrible at it. Second of all, they are thin-skinned whiny babies who can’t take a joke. The F&F segment was a preemptive strike against last night’s Saturday Night Live season debut featuring Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump.
[What follows is a reprise of an article first published last year]
But something that seems to have been developing without much notice is that Fox News is actively reshaping their programming to be more like an actual comedy network. Alone among cable news broadcasters, Fox News is airing actual comedy shows. Already on the schedule is their late night entry Red Eye. Earlier this year they premiered The Greg Gutfeld Show, spinning off the former Red Eye host. And they just recently introduced a new show starring Bill O’Reilly stalker/producer and Fox Nation editor, Jesse Watters, that will expand on his Watters’ World segments from The O’Reilly Factor. [See this epic smackdown of Watters by Steven Colbert]
Setting aside the fact that there is scarce evidence of actual humor in any of these programs, what is interesting is that Fox News is investing so much of their airtime in a form of entertainment that literally makes a mockery of their pretense to being journalists. And considering their epic failure in this genre back in 2007, the execrable “Half-Hour News Hour,” they have some measure of courage to attempt it again. For a network that whines so often about not being taken seriously as reporters, this trend will do little to enhance their already tattered reputation.
Making matters worse is the fact that Fox News has been so fiercely derisive of comedy programs that deign to direct their barbs at news subjects. Over many years there has been a constant drumbeat of outrage from Fox aimed at comedians whom they regard as unqualified to have worthwhile opinions on the news or the talent to find humor in it.
And no one has taken more abuse from Fox than Jon Stewart. Sean Hannity called him “a sanctimonious jackass.” Megyn Kelly said that “He was not a force for good.” Bill O’Reilly labeled him “a key component of left-wing television.” O’Reilly also went after Stewart’s audience saying that he has “stoned slackers watching your dopey show every night.” And this anti-Stewart doctrine comes straight from the top. Fox News CEO Roger Ailes publicly scolded Stewart saying that “He hates conservatives. He’s crazy.”
Fox News generally demeans anyone in the entertainment field who speaks out about politics, unless it’s Ted Nugent or Dennis Miller, but then it’s a stretch describing them as entertaining. If George Clooney or Sarah Silverman exercise their rights as citizens, Fox News considers it an abomination and unleashes a rancid stream of unreserved hostility. Fox contributor Laura Ingraham even wrote a book titled “Shut Up and Sing,” to advocate for silencing show biz folk who want to participate in American democracy.
So after disparaging entertainers, and especially comedians, for engaging in the centuries old art of satire, it is rather odd to find Fox News devoting a significant amount of time and money to doing what they hate so many others for doing. But while it is common for comedians to take on political topics, it is unheard of for news networks to commit whole programs to comedy. Certainly a news network can interview a comic or report on a humorous news story, but Fox has just launched their third comedy show. And they still want people to take them seriously as journalists? Well, that ship has sailed. If anything, Fox could continue to debut new comedy programs until they fill the schedule. Then, at least, people will be laughing at Fox for the right reasons.
Viewers of Monday night’s presidential debate were treated to a royal drubbing of historic proportions. Hillary Clinton so thoroughly hammered Donald Trump that the famously teetotaling Republican may have gone out afterward and actually got hammered. At least that would explain his TWI (Tweeting While Incoherent). However, Fox News viewers were also entertained by a commercial that directly addressed a prominent Trump campaign theme.
The ad for Tecate Beer began with a panoramic aerial shot of the southwestern desert representing the U.S./ Mexican border. As it focused in on a long and imposing barrier the narrator said:
“The time has come for a wall. A tremendous wall. The best wall.”
That’s right. This beer ad was stepping into the contentious debate over immigration and Trump’s blockhead solution to a problem he clearly doesn’t understand. But it doesn’t stop there. The narrator continues:
“The Tecate beer wall. A wall that brings us together. This wall may be small, but it’s going to be huge. You’re welcome, America.”
And with that Donald Trump has lost the beer vote. Can the white, non-college educated, working class citizens who have formed his base still support him after this? These are the folks about whom Trump said “I love the poorly educated.” They are the voters that the media is constantly asking “Which candidate would you rather have a beer with?” [Note: that has always been one of the most idiotic questions ever asked. It implies that some souse at the end of the bar who might be good company would make a good president]. Consider also that no one can have a beer with Trump because he doesn’t drink. He claims that he has never even tasted alcohol. That’s just another way in which the elitist, trust fund baby, billionaire Trump cannot relate to ordinary Americans.
This comical ad actually raises a serious issue. It’s one that Trump’s critics have articulated repeatedly. You solve problems by building bridges, not walls. Trump’s racist attacks on Latinos and his shallow grasp of international relations are brilliantly exposed and extinguish in these thirty seconds.
The marketing team for this Mexican brew deserves respect for their creativity and courage. And buying time on Fox News to air it was a stroke of genius. Not because Fox viewers will get it and come to their senses. They won’t. But because it will earn more media attention for trolling the network that created Trump and has served as the PR division of his campaign. Well done.
While everyone is settling in for the election’s biggest spectacle to date, there’s one thing the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won’t settle. That is the media’s shameful neglect of substantive, contextual reporting on the various alleged scandals of each candidate. The obsessive compulsion to frame everything in terms of an artificial equivalency is worse than an inept attempt at fairness. It’s overtly dishonest.
As evidence of the media’s negligence, the Sunday news talkathons almost completely ignored the bombshell reports of Trump’s Russian connections. It’s just the latest example of the journalistic malpractice that has become so commonplace.
Fortunately, there is an alternative source for news that continues to scoop the mainstreamers. This weekend comedian John Oliver gave a better presentation of the facts surrounding the candidate scandals than any of the so-called “real” news networks. And he did it with both intelligence and humor.
Oliver began by pointing out that the nature of the scandals are not remotely comparable. He rattled off a few of the scandals attributed to Clinton (including one he made up) and then noted something that the media rarely does: Clinton was not found to have committed any wrongdoing in any of them:
“We’ve spent several frustrating weeks trolling through all the innuendo and exaggerations surrounding [Hillary’s] email and foundation scandals, and the worst thing you can say is: They both look bad, but the harder you look, the less you actually find.”
From there Oliver proceeded to the scandal resume of Donald Trump, or as he calls him “America’s wealthiest hemorrhoid.” He spoke about Trump’s hostile relationship with the truth as documented by PolitiFact. The non-partisan fact-checking group has found that Trump’s statements are false 53 percent of the time. That compares to Clinton at a mere thirteen percent. It’s actually much worse than that. In fact, PolitiFact awarded Trump “Lie of the Year“ honors for 2015 for his collective campaign “misstatements.” In short, as Oliver said, whatever you think of Clinton, Trump is “quantifiably worse:”
“The point is, this campaign has been dominated by scandals, but it is dangerous to think there is an equal number on both sides. You can be irritated by some of Hillary’s — that is understandable — but you should then be f*cking outraged by Trump’s. […] He is ethically compromised to an almost unprecedented degree.”
It’s two weeks after Labor Day, the date generally regarded as the commencement of the campaign season. The conventions are behind us and voters are said to be paying attention to the candidates. So it makes perfect sense that just as people are taking this race seriously, Hillary Clinton would appear on “Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis (video below).
Not generally recognized for her sense of humor, Clinton rises to the occasion and gives Galifianakis every bit as much as he gives her. The segment begins with a question that sets the tone for the remainder of the sketch:
Galifianakis: Critics have questioned some of your decision making recently and by you doing this show I hope it finally lays that to rest. Clinton: Oh I think it absolutely proves their case, don’t you?
Galifianakis hits on all of the most pressing issues of the campaign. He asks about the historical significance of Hillary being the first “girl” president, not to mention the first white president for many young Americans. He challengers her on the Second Amendment. And he boldly raises the prospect of her losing the Scott Baio vote, something no mainstream journalists have had the courage to address. Galifianakis also explores the intricacies of Hillary’s wardrobe and her famous pantsuits.
Donald Trump is not neglected in this interview. Galifianakis wanted to know what he might wear during the debates. When Hillary speculated that he would probably wear his customary red “power” tie, Galifianakis offered that it might instead be a “white power” tie. He also pressed Clinton on campaign strategy asking:
“When you see how well it works for Donald Trump, do you ever think to yourself ‘Maybe I should be more racist?'”
When the discussion turned to the economy, Galifianakis interrupted for a message from the program’s sponsor. I won’t say who that was, but you might be able to guess. Then he closed with a reference to Clinton’s email “scandal.”
Edgy comedy showcases like this are an effective way to reach the elusive Millennial demographic with which Clinton has struggled. President Obama used it to great effect, including taking a spin between the same two ferns in 2014. Conservatives freaked out whenever Obama appeared on such programs and complained that it was “unpresidential.” That’s a criticism that would sound ludicrous coming from Trump.
However, these outings often humanize a candidate and reveal an ability to laugh at themselves. Clinton has a well enough established reputation for serious policy analysis that she can safely engage in some comic relief. It wouldn’t hurt her to do more of it. Trump, on the other hand, has yet to demonstrate that he grasps the seriousness of the office he seeks. He stubbornly refuses to offer any specifics as to how he would accomplish his outlandish campaign promises. Mexico isn’t paying for a wall that he isn’t going to build anyway. ISIS won’t be defeated overnight. The deficit isn’t going to shrink after his tax cuts for the rich, they are going to balloon by over five trillion dollars. And he isn’t going to end all street crime in America.
Although there is one area in which Trump has succeeded which may obviate the need for him to do shows like this. He is already perceived by most Americans as joke.
UPDATE: The co-creators of “Between Two Ferns”spoke to the Washington Post about the Clinton interview. It’s a really interesting bit of background that reveals in part that…
“…she was actually super warm and funny during the making of it. After one of the jokes, she let out a big laugh that put us all at ease. This one, compared with the Obama one, was much more improvisational. We didn’t clear most of the jokes through her people.”