In times of uncertainty, we look toward figures of authority to guide us and provide explanations for what is occurring. Currently, however, the sources we normally turn to in these circumstances all seem compromised. We can see this in the failure of the Trump administration to release basic records and documents such as visitor logs, a policy that was respected by the Obama administration and seen as central to sustaining transparency.
The President of the United States appears to just say whatever is on his mind. Spokespeople for his administration, such as Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Kellyanne Conway, make statements that amount to non-answers in response to basic inquiries. In doing so, they create an environment in which we cannot trust figures who have historically been brokers of explanation.
At the same time, despite the objective reporting of a number of trustworthy news organizations, including The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post, there are still limitations to these traditional platforms for the dissemination of information. They all tend to adhere to traditional standards of engagement, even if their viewers do not. This makes it difficult for the media to expose the president’s true policies to the American people.
This is where late night show host satirists can flourish. Shows like Saturday Night Live and comedians like Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and Trevor Noah enjoy audiences that are generally mature, and as a result, they are able to speak directly to the surreal nature of the current political climate in a concise and unfiltered manner. As Carlos Maza at Vox noted, “For satire to work, it has to point out what is ridiculous and absurd, to cut through talking points and endless panel discussions, and describe the world as it really is.”
For example, in Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer Press Briefing skits on Saturday Night Live, she emphasizes the absurdity of the Press Secretary’s use of props. Melissa McCarthy also uses Spicer’s flawed logic against him, saying, “He’s quoting you. He’s using your words when you use the words and he uses them back. It’s circular using of the word and that’s from you.” In making this joke, McCarthy satirized Spicer’s absurd tirade over the use of the word “ban” to describe Trump’s executive order on immigration, even as Trump had called it a ban in several tweets.
Recently, Hasan Minhaj, a senior correspondent at the Daily Show, hosted the White House Correspondent’s dinner on April 29th. This was a difficult task, as the glaring absence of the president made the entire event awkward and uncertain. Despite this, Minhaj broke through the ice with a couple of light hearted jokes. Building on the laughter, he also pointed out the importance of the freedom of speech, saying, “I am proud that all of us are here tonight to defend that right [freedom of speech], even if the man in the White House never would.”
Political satire can cause people to think critically about their surroundings and not to take everything at face value. The truth-laden humor of today’s most popular satirists serves as a crucial source for honest and open political analysis that traditional news outlets cannot provide.