Last week, the president escalated his attack on truth and justice–and SNL escalated its counterattack in kind.
It’s hard to believe at this point, but last week actually started out with Sally Yates’ hearing. (Time moves differently in Trumpland. The healthcare vote less than a week before the Yates hearing now feels a thousand years past.) The former acting attorney general offered quietly explosive testimony on what the White House knew about Michael Flynn before removing him from the position of National Security Advisor. She also handily outfoxed the likes of Ted Cruz and others attempting to change the subject to her refusal to enact the president’s controversial, possibly unconstitutional travel ban. In anything like a normal week–remember those?–this story would have dominated headlines through Friday, and on Sunday morning we’d have all been talking about how Kate McKinnon absolutely slayed that Yates impersonation.
Instead, Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey the following day, and spent the rest of the week contradicting the White House’s story about why that happened. Although Comey is the one who got canned last week, the real victim was the idea of objective truth. The assault seems to be particularly hard-felt over at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Toward the end of 2016, the euphemism ‘post-truth’ got a lot of play in tandem with Trump’s ascendance. The way facts are handled in the era we’ve just entered, however, could best be described with a different term: Post-Lie. Donald Trump is so secure in his faith that a united Republican government will never undermine him, that he’s lately not even bothered to lie. Did Trump fire James Comey for the initially stated reason that Attorney General Sessions and Deputy AG Rosenstein found his handling of the Clinton investigation unsatisfactory? Or did he do it on a whim because, as he said to Lester Holt, “…when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.'” Why even bother lying anymore when you can get away with what Trump has gotten away with since taking office?
In the Saturday Night Live version of that interview, Lester Holt clutches his earpiece and asks, “Is that it? Is it over? Did I get him?” He is speaking for all of us, a nation exhausted by hearing what sound like clearly illegal acts–and then finding out no congressional Republicans care enough to look into them any further. And then, just like the rest of us, Michael Che’s Lester Holt receives the answer through his earpiece. It’s not over. He didn’t get him. The reason? “Nothing matters,” Holt says flatly.
The despair of living in a Post-Lie world where nothing matters affects everyone in this episode, though, including Sean Spicer.
After the inevitable White House press briefing sketch begins with Aidy Bryant’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders filling in abysmally for our favorite dead-eyed press-skirmisher, Melissa McCarthy makes her triumphant return. For the first time, however, Spicey is depicted as not just the over-caffeinated harbinger of Trump’s lies, but a victim of them. After a reporter implores Spicer to “just be straight with us for once,” prompting him to admit that he’s just saying what the president tells him, Sean Spicer is forced to confront the possibility that Trump is lying to him as well. He does not like this idea at all, and takes off on a Simon & Garfunkel-scored odyssey to get the truth from President Trump.
While the show doesn’t come right out and say it, Spicer here is meant to represent Trump’s base. A person would have to be in incredibly deep denial not to notice that Donald Trump tells an astonishing amount of lies, not just for a president, but for, say, a gambling addict on the run from creditors. Since not all of Trump’s supporters are in deep denial, it would stand to reason that many of them are not only aware of these lies, but in favor of them, because they are in service of Trump achieving policies they agree with. What if there’s a chance that it has never occurred to these supporters that Trump is also lying to them?
It seems unlikely that this SNL sketch will bring anyone to that realization who isn’t there already, but depicting Sean Spicer’s experience of it illustrates the conundrum. That the scene ends with him and Donald Trump making out is less illustrative, but at least it probably got Trump’s goat.
Saturday Night Live wasn’t through taking the president to task over his increasing aversion to the truth–not after the democracy-deficient week that was. Instead, the writers ramped up their attack in a hard-hitting Weekend Update segment.
Colin Jost immediately likens the White House’s flurry of excuses for the president’s sudden firing of Comey to a husband caught with glitter on his collar. He follows this quip up by explaining the suspicious nature of this firing thusly: “If a drug-sniffing dog came up to your bag at the airport, and your response was to shoot the dog, some people would wonder what’s in that bag.”
Elsewhere, Michael Che rails on Trump’s astounding claim that as a very active president, it’s impossible for his surrogates to be completely accurate. Of course, it’s not impossible, and there you have it: Donald Trump even lies about his inability to not lie.
Members of the media have been getting more comfortable pointing out Trump’s lies–not inaccurate statements, but actual lies–for a while now. Recently, however, it feels like we’re entering new territory as the lies become more threadbare, and the president can’t even be bothered anymore. It used to be, Trump’s adversaries hoped his presidency would end because of one of his lies. Now it seems like there’s a chance it could come to an end because he told the truth.