It’s a comforting feeling to know that even when loved ones are far away, we all gaze at the same moon. By watching Saturday Night Live on NBC, Americans can capture that same sense of closeness, knowing that their president is doing the same exact thing.
Since October, when then-candidate Donald Trump tweeted that it was “time to retire the boring and unfunny show” because “Alec Baldwin[’s] portrayal stinks,” interested observers have waited impatiently each Sunday morning for the president’s thoughts on the previous night’s sketches about him. This week, after Melissa McCarthy’s much-lauded portrayal of White House press secretary Sean Spicer, Trump was uncharacteristically silent.
Politico reports that McCarthy’s send-up was so damning, it might have changed our dear president’s opinion of Spicer by giving him insight into how poorly the chief disseminator of his misinformation comes off to everyday Americans. McCarthy played the press secretary as a blathering know-nothing so incompetent that even his bullying is more absurd than hurtful. It was a powerful, accurate depiction of a man whose aggressive outbursts spring from a deep well of insecurity. And Trump, a top donor told Politico, “doesn’t like his people to look weak.”
Perhaps Trump was shaken by an image too close to his own reflection. The antagonistic ravings of both Trump and Spicer seem motivated by a similar urge to defend a fragile, threatened sense of their own masculinity. Trump’s fragile masculinity gets a temporary boost when he brags about dominating women or sees his name printed in gold. Spicer gets his by yelling and casting blame. That Trump has taken Alec Baldwin’s impression so personally and has whined repeatedly that SNL sucks when it makes fun of him is evidence that the president takes every minor slight as a direct threat to his manhood. In other words, his masculinity is so fragile, it can barely withstand a lukewarm comedy sketch.
And thus, SNL has become one of America’s most effective means of knocking an egomaniacal bully down a peg. The past two episodes have opened with guest monologues that needle the president for his preoccupation with the show. On the day after Trump’s inauguration, Aziz Ansari nodded to the feeling of doom that had descended over the country. “Pretty cool to know, though, [that Trump is] probably at home right now watching a brown guy make fun of him,” Ansari said. This past Saturday night, Kristen Stewart devoted the bulk of her monologue to recounting Trump’s fixation on her relationship with Robert Pattinson. (“He can do much better,” Trump tweeted of Pattinson in 2012, the first of many missives about their affair.) In a moment that actually set women “ovulating left and right,” Stewart addressed the president directly: “Donald, if you didn’t like me then, you’re really probably not going to like me now, ‘cause I’m hosting SNL, and I’m, like, so gay, dude.”
These are small but significant insults to the president’s ego: People who belong to demographics Trump doesn’t see as fully human—brown people, women—are making him look weak and petty for a crowd of cheering fans. When the press lauds the performances the next day, the injury to Trump’s inflated sense of self is multiplied, because he needs constant affirmation and love. And yet, because he is convinced everyone sane must adore him, he can’t stop himself from obsessing over press accounts and watching a television program that, almost by definition, treats political leaders with little respect. Howard Stern, one of Trump’s bosom buddies, recently said that the already-unpopular presidency “is gonna be detrimental to his mental health” because “he wants to be liked, he wants to be loved. He wants people to cheer for him.” For a president who “does not even see the point of excellence,” as Masha Gessen has written, and in a patriarchal society in which failure born of stubborn cruelty is a better fate than being the butt of a joke, laughter hurts Trump where polls and protests can’t.
Sources close to the president told Politico that Trump was particularly incensed by the casting of McCarthy, who is a woman, in the role of Spicer, who is a man. “The unflattering send-up by a female comedian was not considered helpful for Spicer’s longevity in the grueling, high-profile job,” the outlet reported. (For his part, Spicer told Extra that SNL “used to be really funny,” but “they’ve crossed over to mean.”) In Trump’s worldview, there’s little worse a person could be than a woman, and a man whose persona could so easily be imitated by one is no man at all.
That’s why SNL needs to hire a woman to play Steve Bannon, who’s currently represented by Mikey Day in an evil-looking grim reaper costume. This gives Bannon, who by all means belongs amid the festering flesh of the underworld, too much credit. A man who fears the ascension of anyone but his white, male, Christian buddies is a profoundly insecure man. But both Bannon and Trump can likely glean some pride from knowing the leftie snowflakes at SNL think Bannon is capable of true evil. Instead of doing them that favor, the show should get Rosie O’Donnell, who’s already volunteered for the job, to portray Bannon as the slovenly, forever-alone sad sack he is.
O’Donnell is the perfect person to puncture the powerful myth of Bannon because she’s everything Trump hates. Not only is she a woman, but she’s an outspoken, successful woman who has openly insulted the president. She dares inhabit a body with which Trump does not want to have sex. And she’s a lesbian, giving her few, if any, reasons to give a man undue respect or even the time of day. Trump has proven himself unable to control his disgust for her; if she appeared on his favorite/least favorite show each week, his fragile manhood would officially crumble to dust. As the president seeks to silence the press and quash dissent, this is one small act of civil disobedience that could yield disproportionate returns.