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Today in Dystopia: SNL cast members are held to a higher standard than the president

Pete Davidson and Dan Crenshaw’s plea for unity on “Saturday Night Live” reveals the hollowness of public apologies and political calls for bipartisanship.

Today in Dystopia: SNL cast members are held to a higher standard than the president
(L-R) Congressman-elect & Navy Veteran Dan Crenshaw, Pete Davidson, Anchor Colin Jost, and Anchor Michael Che during Weekend Update [Photo: courtesy of Will Heath/NBC]

Over the weekend, as the full force of the Republican party and its media arm used the words “voter fraud” to describe procedural ballot-counting in Florida, a newly elected GOP congressman went on Saturday Night Live to ask: Why can’t we all just get along?

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Dan Crenshaw, a retired lieutenant commander-turned-Texas politician, found himself in Studio 8-H by way of an ill-advised joke. On the previous SNL, during a Weekend Update segment about the midterms, sentient tattoo shop menu Pete Davidson mused that Crenshaw’s eyepatch makes him look like “a hit man from a porno movie.” It’s a funny description for a handsome eyepatch-haver, but in this case, Davidson was applying it to a guy who lost his eye from an IED during his third tour in Afghanistan. Not a good look, as they say. The outrage machine demanded an apology for Crenshaw, and because SNL now regularly lets Davidson use the show as his LiveJournal, he ended up offering one on-air. That’s when things got weird.

Let’s start with the apology itself. Why do we hold Pete Davidson up to standards that we no longer hold the president to? Why aren’t all the organizations who were so steamed about Davidson insulting a war hero still upset that the actual pesident insulted a war hero? Why do we no longer talk about the time he insulted a disabled reporter? Why do we still pretend the norms Trump has scoffed at apply to everyone else? Trump’s whole thing is never apologizing, and everyone just accepts it–even while constantly demanding apologies from relatively innocuous public figures.

Should Davidson have apologized? Maybe. If he felt a special kind of shame at mocking an injured war hero, sure, he should have apologized. Should the show have used his apology as a chance to promote the very concept of bipartisanship?

Absolutely not.

Of course, that’s exactly what happened.

“If any good came of this, it’s that for one day finally the Left and the Right came together to agree on something,” Davidson says. “That I’m a dick.”

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If only that were the end of the Kumbaya singalong. Instead, Davidson next welcomed Crenshaw himself. This appearance from the newly most visible member of the GOP’s class of ’18 was something of a surprise. Previously, Crenshaw had said he didn’t want an apology from Davidson because it would be “hollow and empty.” It was an announcement designed to make Davidson look even more like a dick, and it arguably worked. One Lorne offer later, though, and Crenshaw’s appearing on the to accept an apology in person.

His appearance begins smoothly enough. With maximal truth-in-jest, he jokes, “Thanks for making a Republican look good.”

It was at this point I screamed at my TV for the bit to end here, on what would surely be the high note. But it did not end there. After a few zingers about Davidson’s appearance, the Congressman-elect goes on to talk about the thing 2018 Republicans know most about: Unity.

“There’s a lot of lessons here,” he starts. “Not just that Americans on the Left and Right can still agree on some things, but also this: that Americans can forgive one another.”

Talk about hollow and empty. Yes, if only the Right–which tried to take away Americans’ healthcare, gave a tax cut for the 1% after years of pearl-clutching over the deficit, pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords, allowed white nationalism to flourish, turned a blind eye toward all the criminality in the president’s inner circle as though it didn’t implicate him as well, cheered his war against accuracy in media, and lied about trying to take away healthcare–if only the Right could find it in their hearts to forgive the Left!

“We can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other,” Crenshaw continues. “This is Veterans Day Weekend, which means that it’s a good time for every American to connect with a veteran. Maybe say ‘Thanks for your service.'”

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He goes on for a full minute after that with specifics about how America should engage with its troops. In a different historical moment, it would be effective Veterans Day messaging. But we’re not in another moment. We’re in this one–the one where the president just deployed thousands of troops against an imaginary invasion in what was transparently a political stunt for the midterms, and congressional Republicans do not seem to mind.

I just did several keyword searches on Google to find out what Dan Crenshaw thinks of the president using troops as human props, and turned up nothing. Why? Because Crenshaw may have once been a lieutenant commander for American forces, but he is now a foot soldier for the party that has forcefully ruled America for two years. It’s nice to publicly declare he’s in favor of bipartisanship now, but it’s far too late for that. The only thing I’m interested in hearing a newly elected GOP politician say is how he hopes to erode his party’s whole current mentality from within.

Bipartisanship sounds nice. Republicans and Democrats putting asides their differences to make government happen? Sign me up! Certain pockets of media especially like the idea because it adds to the illusion of objectivity. But anyone who has lived through the past two years and thinks bipartisanship is even remotely possible right now is either lying to you or being hopelessly naive.

Saturday Night Live has been documenting encroaching fascism in real-time for the last two years, sometimes wringing much-needed laughs out of the direst situations. For this show to both-sides at this moment–just because one of their own made a tasteless joke about a combat veteran–feels like a dereliction of duty.

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