The comedians are beginning to catch on.
Over the weekend — just one week after featuring a bevy of top-line Hollywood stars impersonating members of the Trump administration, as well as a cameo by a vengeful Stormy Daniels asking for President Trump’s resignation — Saturday Night Live finally acknowledged that they may have gone overboard. Cast members of SNL showed up at the beginning of the Mother’s Day episode with their actual mothers, several of whom chided them on their myopic focus on Trump. Chris Redd’s mother said, “I don’t understand why everyone focuses on Trump when you should be focusing on Jesus.” Mikey Day’s mother likened the witch hunt in The Crucible to the witch hunt of Trump. Luke Nell’s mom exclaimed, “Enough with the Trump jokes!” She added, “Why doesn’t SNL talk about Crooked Hillary?!” Kyle Mooney’s mother and Colin Jost’s mother complained in similar fashion.
Meanwhile, comedy pope Jimmy Kimmel appeared at the upfronts, where he explained, “I think people have had an ass-full of Donald Trump, and I feel like the upfront is a time to look within and make fun of ourselves.”
This is a problem for Republicans.
My mentor, Andrew Breitbart, was fond of pointing out that culture was upstream of politics. But so is counterculture. And as Hollywood and the media have come to be dominated in extraordinary fashion by the Left, the counterculture has risen: cynical about the entertainment industry, annoyed by their constant pandering, irritated by their snide self-assurance. It’s not that the Right has created a cultural milieu that can counter the power of the Left — it’s that the Right has responded to the Left by channeling their lack of a cultural outlet into politics. Conservatives didn’t respond to Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert by creating a conservative version of Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert. They responded by electing Donald Trump, a Republican Congress, a Republican Senate, Republican governors, and Republican statehouses.
This has created a truly bizarre situation that feeds the polarization in our politics: Never has the hegemonic dominance of the Left been quite so strong in the cultural arena, and rarely has the hegemonic dominance of the Right been quite so strong in the political arena. And this polarization is self-enforcing: The cultural arbiters are so angry with the rise of conservative politicians that they’ve doubled down on their rage and extremism. Instead of reaching out to the other side, they’ve declared the other side evil, untouchable, foolish.
Even the kindest comedians of the Left — relatively harmless funnymen like John Mulaney — can’t help but ding Trump’s constituents. In his latest Netflix special, Mulaney begins by noting, “It seems like everyone, everywhere, is super mad about everything.” He then softly mocks Trump as a “horse in a hospital”: a bizarre and uncontrollable force in a normally staid and well-organized environment. So far, so good. But he can’t help himself. He adds:
Sometimes, if you make fun of the horse, people will get upset. These are the people that opened the door for the horse. And I don’t judge anyone, but sometimes I ask people, I go, “Hey, how come you opened the door for the horse? “And they go, “Well, the hospital was inefficient!” Or sometimes they go, “If you’re so mad at the horse, how come you weren’t mad when the last guy did this three and half years ago?” . . . I used to pay less attention before it was a horse. Also, I thought the last guy was pretty smart, and he seemed pretty good at his job. . . . I don’t check up on people when they seem okay at their job. You may think that’s an ignorant answer, but it’s not, it’s a great answer.
It’s not a great answer. It’s just an answer that provides a window into the confirmation bias of those on the left, who could not understand why anyone on the right might have thought that Barack Obama was, in fact, a snake loose in a hospital. If you’re on the right watching this routine — enjoying the rest of Mulaney’s rants, which are extraordinarily good — it’s likely to make you think, “Hey, screw that guy. I’ll go give $10 to Trump’s reelection effort just to keep self-righteously ignorant entertainers from picking who governs the country.”
So, in a way, the worst thing that could happen for Republicans is for the cultural Left to call for peace.
Thankfully, there’s not much risk of that. The same weekend that Kimmel and the cast of SNL signaled that they might be waking up to their own pernicious effect on the political climate, Comedy Central’s Trevor Noah appeared on CNN — yes, CNN — to explain that Trump was like an “African dictator.”
And so the chasm between culture and politics grows ever wider. Polarization grows stronger. And that’s no joke.