Brow Beat

Watch the Saturday Night Live Sketch That Enraged Donald Trump

Matt Damon as Brett Kavanaugh, Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump, and Kenan Thompson as Clarence on Saturday Night Live.
Birth of a tweetstorm.

President Donald Trump is having a normal one. On Sunday morning, he mused that perhaps the people behind Saturday Night Live should be sued or prosecuted, which, in fairness to Trump, is a thought most Americans have had at some point or another. But most Americans aren’t president, and most Americans understand that, whatever crimes were committed during the creation of “The Whiners,” collusion was not one of them. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is president and doesn’t seem to understand anything at all, which is how you get things like this tweet, the jumping-off point for another another unnerving heathside soliloquy from our homegrown Lear:

The immediate target of Trump’s ire was presumably the show’s cold open, in which Alec Baldwin returned to take on the challenging role of “a man so stupid he thinks you can sue people for ‘collusion’ if they make mean jokes about you.” He nailed it:

This is an enormous improvement over last week’s disaster, and not just because it pissed off a man with nuclear weapons. Damon’s triumphant return as a weepy Brett Kavanaugh—the impression that kicked off the season—is solidly funny: Because there are no recent Kavanaugh developments to awkwardly work into the script, Damon can really lean into the calendar-obsessed, sentimental crybaby he played earlier in the year. And whether or not you find Robert De Niro’s lines particularly amusing, he didn’t flub any of them, which gives this week’s sketch a definite advantage.

It has to be said, though: The alternate reality in which Trump does not become president doesn’t seem all that great. Lots of good things happen for the terrible people in Trump’s inner circle, while President Hillary Clinton puts Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court and the rest of us wait for climate change to drown us all. That’s not Bedford Falls—it’s barely even Pottersville*—and if Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Eric Trump, and Kellyanne Conway are gonna be richer and happier, we’d better be getting Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism out of the deal. (Just like Frank Capra always wanted.) Speaking of deals, the sketch pushes one of the most pernicious ideas about immigration, disguised as an argument in favor of immigration: The country should take in asylum-seekers because one of them might turn out to be really smart and successful in ways that benefit us personally. Ego Nwodim* plays the scientist who solves Trump’s hair problems; here’s how Kenan Thompson introduces her:

This is a Muslim immigrant from Syria. She was allowed to come to America, and she discovered a permanent solution to hair loss. 

In non–alternate reality contexts, this argument is usually made in reference to Steve Jobs (and not Operation Paperclip, for some reason), but in any form it accepts the premise of merit-based immigration and reduces human dignity to something transactional. You should treat people humanely because you’re also a person, not because doing so might one day lead to the invention of a hair tonic or cellphone. That goes double for the “team of transgender Navy SEALS” Thompson mentions, since the line appears in a skit that simultaneously snickers about Mike Pence being closeted.

Still, this is a Saturday Night Live sketch, not a political platform, and opening with the vintage Liberty Films logo sets down a marker: The writers are more interested in crafting a parody than a manifesto. So let’s compare the sketch to the original film it’s based on, the beloved Christmas masterpiece “It’s a Wonderful Life: The Lost Ending,” starring Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz:

The writers did a great job of evoking the original work without simply duplicating it, which probably explains why both sketches got a similar reception from the White House. The original aired for the first time on Dec. 20, 1986, and, much like Trump, President Reagan could not let it go unanswered. According to the president’s daily diary, he was watching Star Trek IV at Camp David that night, but the very next day, he sprang into action, racing back to Washington by helicopter to land on the White House lawn bright and early at 2:28 in the afternoon. The diary tells the tale of the frantic hours that followed:

2:30: The President and the First Lady went to the second floor Residence.

7:00: The President and the First Lady had dinner in the study.

10:30: The President retired.

The parallels to the Trump era are chilling.

Correction, Dec. 16, 2018: This piece originally misspelled Pottersville and Ego Nwodim’s last name.