“I am nothing like Nixon because I am not a crook”
A SNL spin on Donald Trump relations with Russia
Just after President Donald Trump fired the FBI director James Comey, Saturday Night Live parodied the event in the skit “Lester Holt Cold Open.” In this sketch , Alec Baldwin plays Donald Trump and discusses firing FBI director James Comey in an interview with Michael Che, who portrays Lester Holt, the television news anchor that did a real-life interview with Donald Trump concerning James Comey a few weeks prior.
In the interview, Michael Che attempts to conduct an interview with the president about his decision to fire Comey in the middle of an investigation into the administration’s ties to Russia. The answer he got from the president was extremely unexpected. “I fired him because of Russia, I thought, he’s investigating Russia, I don’t like that, I should fire him,” said Baldwin’s Trump. Che thought after this he had caught the president in a lie, but after consulting in his earpiece he followed it with “Nothing matters? Absolutely nothing matters anymore?”
This is an interesting parody of the scene that actually occurred on the NBC New Exclusive Interview with President Trump just weeks before. In the interview when Holt confronted the President about his feelings on James Comey and his Russia investigation, the President responded “I am a big fan of the FBI, I love the FBI.” As if to disregard the question completely. However, Holt wasn’t going to let that happen. He continued to question the president about the controversy and the next response he got was “Oh, about the Hilary Clinton investing.” Once again, it seems as if Trump was trying to get around answering the question. This is why it is especially interesting that in SNL’s portrayal of the interview, Baldwin’s Trump immediately admits to firing Comey because of his ties to Russia. SNL took the inattention payed by President Trump to the question asked in the actual interview and depicted it as what most Americans heard from Trumps unspoken words and avoidant tone.
At the time that this sketch was released, Trump’s ties to Russia was a highly publicized media circus. Based on several interesting coincidences, chance meetings, suspicious hirings, and suspicious business dealings, it appeared that the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russian government to undermine the election and help get Trump elected. James Comey, the president’s FBI director, was said to be heading up the investigation against Trump to see if his campaign had in-fact colluded with Russia. As soon as Trump found out that he was under personal investigation by Comey, he quickly and unexpectedly fired Comey as FBI director. In his dismissal letter to Comey, Trump included this passage:
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.”
Trump uses the reason that Comey cannot adequately “lead the bureau,” however, his passive aggressive tone seems to suggest that there were other elements in play that went into the firing of James Comey, specifically his investigations into Russia.
Later in the sketch, Michael Che compares the relationship between president Trump’s decision to fire Comey with President Nixon’s decision to fire the Watergate special prosecutor. In response, Baldwin’s Trump jokes that he was not comparable to President Nixon in any way. He says, “I am nothing like Nixon because I am not a crook,” while flashing Nixon’s famous double “v-for-victory” sign. This is used to illustrate that Trump is indeed very Nixonian in his actions. For one, Baldwin’s Trump borrows the very famous “I am not a crook” line from Nixon. Nixon used this line in a press conference when asked about how he felt about the Watergate investigations. Nixon responded that he was glad for the investigations because “the American people have a right to know if their president is a crook, and I assure you today, I am not a crook.” This line is then used in the SNL skit to draw parallels between Trump and Nixon, for, almost immediately after saying that he was not a crook, President Nixon fired the special prosecutor that was heading the Watergate investigation.
In a similar fashion, Donald Trump constantly claims to be free of any wrong doing, yet he immediately fires or threatens anyone that investigates his ties to Russia. In addition, the “v-for-victory” sign adds further symbolism to draw connections between Nixon and Trump in the mind of the viewer. Nixon famously flashed this sign as he was boarding Air Force One immediately after resigning the presidency due, for the most part, to the pressures of the Watergate scandal. In a similar fashion, SNL used this non-verbal sign to subtly communicate that, while Trump may claim that he is “winning,” the pressures of the Russia scandal may eventually lead to higher consequences for him.
Saturday Night Live released this sketch while the Trump-Russia scandal was still the hottest news story and was on the minds of almost every American. With over five million views on YouTube, this sketch helped bring up an important conversation about the scandal, all under the playful shroud of humor and wit. Since Trump had been elected, he had been greatly under the media’s eye. On November 14, only six days after his election, Trump received a phone call from Putin to congratulate him on his victory. According to a release by Trump’s transition team, the two men discussed “a range of issues including the threats and challenges facing the United States and Russia.” It goes on to add that Trump looks forward to “a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia.” The following February, however, Trump claims to not even know Putin.
After the investigation of Trump and his relations with Russia are confirmed, the president goes on to say he doesn’t even know Putin, the president of Russia, when three months earlier he was looking forward to a strong relationship with the country. On February 7th, the President tweeted “I don’t know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy — yet Obama can make a deal with Iran, #1 in terror, no problem!” Instead of the President maturely addressing this situation, he denied any relation while also bringing up a situation completely unrelated to take the attention away from himself. This was then parodied in the skit in the line mentioned earlier, where Michael Che frustratingly says “wait, what? Nothing matters anymore?” This is used to parody both Trump’s rampant lies and to highlight the media frustration with a president that changes his version of events every few days.
President Trump was disgusted with the release of this comedy, and he has not been shy about sharing his opinion. President Trump has taken to twitter several times to address his disdain for Saturday Night Live and their impressions of him. In a barrage of tweets, Trump referred to the show as “poorly rated” and called Baldwin’s Trump impression “unfunny.” Because he is so upset with this particular Saturday Night Live skit, it makes one wonder if this is could be his own guilty conscious talking. If Trump truly fired James Comey because he didn’t believe he was doing a good job, then he should be able to take this criticism with a grain of salt knowing that he truly fired Comey for the right, morally agreeable reasons. However, following the release of this sketch, President Trump tweeted “Just tried watching Saturday Night Live — unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can’t get any worse. Sad.” Because of this attitude, it is completely reasonable to believe that Trump is only angry because the comedy got his true intentions right and he is just angry that his reasonings aren’t as well hidden as he would like them to be.
Jokes should be crafted for universal humor. In order for the joke to be funny, the everyday person must be able to understand them. The Saturday Night Live cast in particular does a great job crafting the wit behind the jokes. Most of their sketches are based on politics and things that are popular in the news. Because of this, the everyday person finds their jokes to be so much more funny. Saturday Night Live is a source of comedy that combines politics and comedy in a way that makes even the most out of touch person in the political spectrum feel like they can know what’s “really going on” in politics. As President Trump continues to conduct interviews, as any president would do, SNL will continue to parody the obnoxious and irrational things he says and does to get a laugh from one of the largest audiences, America. SNL is never afraid to let their comedy “tell it how it really is” in the political world, especially with their attacks on Donald Trump. As Trump continues to be a more divisive and unexpected president, SNL delivers one thing: unifying comedy that continues to see the truth in Donald Trump’s actions, just as they did with their “Lester Holt Cold Open” sketch.