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International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Ineffectiveness of Political Satire


197. That’s the number of episodes of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2017, each one containing at least 4 or 5 minutes of bashing Donald Trump and his administration. Since the announcement of his presidential candidacy on June 16, 2015, Donald Trump has been an easy target for stand-up comedians, late night shows, parodies, and amateur political satirists sitting at the dinner table. His arguably outrageous comments and ridiculous policies, paired with his unusual physical appearance, made him the perfect target for these people. Nevertheless, he was still elected president, much to the surprise of said satirists, and continued his unorthodox method of acting as president of the United States. Nowadays, he is constantly mocked by satirists and the Left as a whole. Regardless, President Trump leads our democracy to what many would call its downfall using lies and mistruths, without opposition ever stopping him, or even slowing him down. Time and time again, Donald Trump has proven how making fun of him doesn’t have an effect. In fact, it merely strengthens his base and distracts the majority of people from the real underlying issues our country is facing.

The primary reason that Trump has remained popular within his base despite the constant criticism and mockery is that the only instances where his supporters actually see said criticism are controlled by him and his narrative. He presents satire only when counter-criticizing it, through the lenses of fake news, lies, or faulty logic. Most Trump supporters and Republicans as a whole get their news from one main source: Fox News. According to the PEW Study, Fox News is the news source for 27 percent of the country, 20 of that percentage being republican. This means that around 40 percent of Republicans get their news from Fox News. No other news source has this much attention and that much Republican support, with CNN being the closest, at 4 percent With usually more right-wing Republicans looking predominantly to Fox News, they miss shows like Stephen Colbert or John Oliver which lead the charge in satire against the president. Not only that, but when watching Sean Hannity or Fox and Friends on Fox News, Trump supporters often find their news sources disproving or criticising Late Night shows or segments from the previous day, if they even mention them at all, whereas the New York Times, which has a more liberal audience, has a section in its daily briefing highlighting the previous evening’s late night performances.. News sources and especially comedy shows are “disproven” or discredited by Fox News, or even by Donald Trump himself.

In 2016, Trump went on twitter multiple times to bash on Saturday Night Live and especially on Alec Baldwin, who does the Trump impersonation for the show. If Trump and the News media don’t have any respect for the satire shows, why should their followers? Nowadays, news sources have gained a level of bias as they direct their content to a specific audience, whether it’s Fox News or MSNBC. As a result of their audiences never can see multiple perspectives or opinions, and can’t see a more nuanced experience like watching Jimmy Kimmel Live.

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The original point of satire is to keep political leaders in their place, but with a shameless president and the new trend of “fake news,” that may no longer be possible. In my book, The Power of Political Satire, I describe the purpose of political satire as “to keep one’s leaders in check. A person in power can control everything except how people feel, and satire is supposed to remind them of that. If a leader makes a mistake or lies, people will laugh at them, regardless of and often because of their high positions” (Page 16). Unfortunately, the new presidential administration has found itself to be immune to this. Their seeming inability to feel shame has prevented satire from taking effect. If the president doesn’t care about how half the country feels, then when that half mocks him, he can ignore it or deride it, or call it “fake news”, and the second half will believe him.

Even if the first half knows it to be lies, the second half only believes Trump, and never sees the different opinion which they have to see without the lens that Trump and his allies give them. In fact, some scholars have argued that the administration has used that mockery to their advantage. While Donald Trump makes another big ridiculous speech about building a wall and every satire show, every media outlet is focused on him and his outrageous statements, no one notices the other affairs going on in the country. Compared to presidential speeches, the media barely covers issues like what Climate Change policy Scott Pruitt, Director of the EPA, removes, or the new coal plant Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy, approves. Unbeknownst to the president, officials take advantage of his mockable features to hide their own scheming deeds. The purpose of satire has been lost, perhaps even twisted against itself in these strange times.

Nowadays, satire has devolved into making fun of Republicans, the presidency, and occasionally other politicians, preventing more conservative viewers from finding interest in them since its just a constant barrage against those they see as their leaders. Since writing this, it’s been weeks since I’ve heard a Late Night host directly make fun of a Democrat in a way that isn’t really a discreet criticism of his opponents or a general criticism of politicians as a whole. In its show on November 11th, 2017, SNL released a skit in which it mocked the Democratic National Convention and its members, which was heralded as finally a moment of a mockery of the Democrats for a change. Since then, however, no other similar skits or jokes have followed.

In the last 20 years, the only piece of satire to truly mock all sides equally and attract audiences from both sides has been Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. In this show, Stephen Colbert played a conservative talk show host. Republicans liked him because he made fun of Democrats. Democrats liked him because he made fun of Republican newscasters. Since then, however, satire has always seemed to attract one side of the aisle more than another, and unless they want to watch a middle-aged white New Yorker make fun of the people they support, Republicans will never appreciate shows like Late Night with Seth Meyers. If satirists want to make an audience out of conservatives, they need to expand their mockery to truly be towards all people, following the lead of shows like the Colbert Report or South Park.

The final, and perhaps most powerful reason for the continuing support of Trump is a phenomenon called “Doubling Down,” where criticism of the president only makes his supporter stand stronger with him. Imagine you’re sitting at a dinner table with your friends or family and you discuss the previous Super Bowl, and you talk about how “John Brady” was great. Your friends correct you and say it’s “Tom Brady” and make fun of you. You get mad, pull out your phone and Google it, just to try to prove them wrong. That’s how Trump supporters feel. If they are mocked and ridiculed for who they support, that’ll only make them support him further, just to prove a point. Trump supporters are stereotypically known to be stubborn and headstrong, so mocking them and what they stand for merely reinforces their views and distances them further from those around them.

Some have even theorized that Donald Trump himself was goaded into running for president when, after it had been revealed he was considering a run for the presidency, President Barack Obama and Seth Meyers both made fun of him and mocked him at the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, especially with regards to his business and his desire to run for president as a Republican. Five years later, he is elected, and now here we are. Some believe that if not for that evening, Trump may never have run for president, however in their attempt to ridicule a man, Meyers and Obama may have created Trump, and we are all paying the price.

Trump seems to think similarly to his supporters, at least in certain aspects, like his stubbornness and headstrong nature, so his reacting this way and his supporters acting this way is no coincidence. There is an illusion that through comedy or laughter, people can be ‘awakened’ from their ‘flawed’ logic or view, but as we’ve seen countless times in the past two years, that isn’t the case. On the contrary, it pushes them further towards their original opinion, only in an attempt to maintain their pride.

Now some argue that those who watch satire and make fun of the Republican Party and administration do so because it makes them feel powerful like they can and are doing something in a world where they are powerless. But isn’t that merely lulling them into a state of satisfaction and belief that they are making a difference, rather than actually making that difference? Most people I’ve spoken to talk about watching Trevor Noah as if it was a form of political activism as if it was their way of fighting for minorities and against discrimination and for what they believe in. They stay up until 11:30 to watch Saturday Night Live, and then, proud of themselves, they go to bed. They post an article headline on Trump with a funny caption on Facebook, and then they feel satisfied. This is the problem with the liberal culture today as a whole. Instead of trying to make an actual effort to help society, like the High School students from Parkland, Florida or the Gay Rights activists, they tweet a complaint about the President’s reaction to the issues in Puerto Rico and then go on with their lives. Satire may make them feel good, feel rebellious and liberal, but in reality, it merely pushes them further towards blissful ignorance, or worst, being knowingly inactive in the face of issues they claim to believe in.

Mocking President Trump hasn’t had an effect, hasn’t weakened his base or his resolve, and definitely hasn’t slowed down his charge into what some would call the end of America. It is important to realize this because, for many years, satire has been the voice of protest in the liberal spheres of America, which I would consider WIS to be. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. People don’t realize that they can’t just make fun of Donald Trump anymore. They need to protest, they need to fight for what they believe in, they need to do more. We need to do more. If we use satire as a tool for protest, then satire may once again be effective, but in its current form, it isn’t. 197 episodes of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert and not one of them actually made a difference. Satire can no longer be a shield to hide behind or a pebble to throw, it needs to be used correctly and become the roars of the protests on the Washington Mall, the voice of change, instead of simply the voice of reason in a senseless world.

By Rami Mottu

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