When comedian Chevy Chase lampooned President Gerald Ford for Saturday Night Live, the response from the Ford White House was unconcerned silence. Ford was neither interested nor perturbed, and besides, he had a country to run. Whatever faults Gerald Ford may have had as a politician, he understood the office of the President was distinguished by dignity and gravitas.
He also understood, as has every president after him except Donald Trump, that satire is protected by the Constitution. It’s good that he understood this. Every president since Ford has been caricatured by Saturday Night Live – with impunity. Except Donald Trump. Trump is the first president not only to respond to Saturday Night Live’s lampoons but to make what can only be described as veiled threats intending bodily harm as a consequence of those lampoons.
Trump has been told, over and over and over, that characterizing the media as the “enemy of the people” is dangerous and will, sooner or later, inspire Trump’s followers to violence against members of the media. Ever since the phrase “enemy of the people” has been identified as a dogwhistle for violence, Donald Trump has employed it more and more with apparent malign intent.
In a recent tweet Trump wondered aloud how the media could continue such lampoons, “without retribution … very unfair and should be looked into.” Then, in characteristic capitals, he added: “THE RIGGED AND CORRUPT MEDIA IS THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”
Alec Baldwin, a man with a wife and five children, was understandably worried. In an interview on Wednesday night, Baldwin told host Scott Dworkin of the podcast Dworkin Report, “Trump signals people, not necessarily what to do, but how to feel, and that’s the beginning. The beginning is you make people angry, the beginning is you make people agitated and bitter and then the actions flow from there.”
The “president” had nothing to say about Baldwin’s podcast. Instead, he let his son, Donald Jr, respond with a tweet of his own that said, “spare everyone your bullshit Alec!” Clearly Donald Junior inherited his limited sense of responsibility and feelings of compassion from Donald Senior, with no apparent improvements.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.