Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., appeared on Alec Baldwin's "Here’s the Thing" NPR show this week discussing the pros and cons of political comedy on SNL. The conversation, as almost all of Baldwin's do, turned back to the actor himself — though in a revealing way.
Turns out, Baldwin is ambivalent about how his regular performances as President Donald Trump on "Saturday Night Live" — a series of appearances for which he won an Emmy award — reframes the audience’s perspective of our commander in chief.
“I did the Trump thing and all the crazy schtick that they had me do which was not a lot of fun, I must say, having to channel Trump,” said Baldwin to Sanders.
Baldwin then asked the former presidential candidate whether or not his performance of Trump was politically effective. “In terms of Trump do you think that we’re making him a little too cuddly and a little too funny and we’re taking people’s mind off something a little too serious?” Baldwin asked.
Indeed, our eyes do fall off the ball when we watch Baldwin or the real president himself. Trump's statements are so absurd, his character so laughable, that it can be hard to focus on anything else when discussing him — let alone creating political comedy meant to critique him.
This week alone the president had a disaster of a visit to Puerto Rico, suggested it's too early to talk about gun control after the Las Vegas massacre, introduced a tax plan that is unapologetic about favoring the super rich and had to battle through a supposed mutiny by his own Secretary of State. If he were a less absurd, less laughable, less "cuddly" target, perhaps we would see these crises more clearly and the overall reaction to them would be sharper.
Sanders seemed to agree with the lean of Baldwin's question. “I think what we have to focus on Trump is what he is doing,” he said. "Everyday he says something that is absurd.”
The senator echoed that in turning his attention to policy, reminding listeners that Trump is still not living up to his word. "This is a guy who told the American people he was going to provide good health care for quote un-quote ‘everybody.’ Remember that?" He continued, "He supported throwing 32 million people off of health insurance. This is a guy who made all kinds of promises to working people and he has turned his back completely on them."
These are the deadly serious things that are too often pushed beneath the wild nature of the president's tweets and the sickening comedy of his celebrity. It can be difficult for any observer to focus on this president's dangerous policies when they're busy picking their jaw up off the floor.
Yes, Baldwin may be normalizing Trump to some extent — but that's also not his fault. We're already more focused on the president throwing paper towels like basketballs to the victims of humanitarian crisis than the victims themselves. As any actor, Baldwin's just working with the script he's given. This one is written by Trump.