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SNL’s sunny view of Michael Cohen’s hearing sends a dangerous message

I want to live in a world where Rep. Jim Jordan actually realized his position was untenable midway through the Cohen hearing, rather than what actually happened.

SNL’s sunny view of Michael Cohen’s hearing sends a dangerous message
[Photo: Will Heath/NBC]

During last week’s predictably Ringling-Bros-meets-George-Orwell style hearing for Michael Cohen, a series of GOP reps acted like the president’s personal attack dogs and embarrassed the country.

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According to Saturday Night Live’s take on events, however, the aggressively partisan crew only embarrassed themselves. If only!

In the sketch, surprise guest Bill Hader starts out with an accurate and appropriately heightened version of fury-filled Ohio representative Jim Jordan.

“I’m about to POP OFF, “Hader-as-Jordan says, eyes ablaze, taking several deep breaths in a failed effort to contain himself. The actual Jordan began his opening salvo at the hearing with “Mr Chairman, here we go,” which is somewhere centerfield in the same ballpark.

From there, Hader mimics Jordan’s actual performance, which several other reps also emulated, and which consisted mostly of battering Cohen with (not-untrue!) character attacks and various folksy-sounding conspiracy theories, such as “Lanny Davis choreographed the whole darn thing.” For four and a half minutes, roughly half of the sketch’s runtime, the sketch is right on target. Until suddenly it no longer is.

“You’ve been working in some of the sleaziest circles in America for years, what other criminals and lowlifes have you worked for?” faux-Jordan asks.

“I was the deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee,” Ben Stiller’s Michael Cohen responds.

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In the sketch, this searing truth makes Hader’s Jordan panic and throws him off of his game for the rest of the hearing. He yields his remaining time to question Cohen and is distressed when other representatives yield their time back to him to “keep digging his own grave,” as one rep puts it. The GOP representatives who are attacking a sleazy criminal for turning on the president, while completely ignoring what it says about that president for employing a sleazy criminal as his personal lawyer and “fixer” for a decade, are chastened when their hypocrisy surfaces during the hearing. (Never mind the hypocrisy of Jim Jordan attacking anyone else’s character after being hit last year with charges that he reportedly ignored rampant sexual molestation of students he oversaw as an Ohio State University assistant wrestling coach from 1986 to 1994.)

SNL’s version of events is how the hearing should have gone. It’s how it might have even gone if such a thing could possibly even have happened before 2016, when the public threshold for flagrant hypocrisy was way lower. But in reality, Jim Jordan does not appear the least bit chastened by anyone pointing out the reality of the situation–that his defense of the president is essentially a house of cards in a hurricane.

Here’s what Jordan tweeted after the hearing.

And here is what Jordan said when he appeared on CNS Sunday Morning with Chuck Todd to defend himself.

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These are not the actions of a person who realized his stated position is untenable.

Elsewhere during the hearing, North Carolina Representative Mark Meadows notoriously trotted out a woman of color, Lynne Patton, who works for Trump in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as proof that Trump can’t possibly be racist. In the SNL version, the twist is that Meadows has confused Patton with Omarosa, a black former Trump aide who was spectacularly fired from the White House before writing a juicy, opportunistic tell-all about her time there. The Patton in this sketch, played by Ego Nwodim, realizes she’s being used as a token and is embarrassed. “Can I leave?” she asks chairman Elijah Cummings (Kenan Thompson.)

Of course, in reality Lynne Patton made sure that nobody drew the conclusion that she was in any way uncomfortable with what happened at the hearing. She appeared on Fox News after the hearing to chide critics like Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who considered Meadows’ use of Patton as a prop to be a racist farce unto itself.

Obviously, SNL is not tethered to reality. The show can (and should!) send actual events spinning off into many different directions in pursuit of a hearty laugh or a trenchant point. But portraying the 2019 GOP reps as still capable of shame and sensitive to perceived hypocrisy, in a time when the overwhelming majority have publicly shed these attributes in an ongoing act of fealty to their president–it achieves neither. It gives uninformed viewers a false sense of security that they’re back in early 2016, when we all agreed that Bad things were Bad, and a happy ending is always inevitable. This has become SNL‘s go-to move when it comes to political sketches (see: women in Congress and just about every Trump sketch), and it’s infuriating.

It’s bad enough that Team Trump is out there, gaslighting us with apocryphal tales describing the bizarro world version of whatever just happened; we don’t need the same treatment from satirical takedowns of said events too.

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