It speaks volumes about liberals, to say nothing of why conservatives often have an easier time than they should beating them like a drum, that there’s a debate going on on the left over whether physically laying out a Nazi is acceptable behavior. It’s not even that it so much is or isn’t okay to punch a guy like Richard Spencer — someone who’s wondered aloud whether human civilization actually needs the black race — it’s that there are far more important things to concern oneself with right now. Honestly, who cares whether a Nazi gets his clock cleaned on television? Dwelling on the morality of it for even a second is a waste of valuable time and effort. Spencer is a white supremacist shithead. Any handwringing done by anyone center-left over his amusing encounter with an actual right is yet another example of that group bringing big words to a fist fight. Enjoy it for the moment of pure, beautiful schadenfreude that it was and be done with it.
Alas, there are always those who need to stick their noses in the air and proclaim that they’re better than the morally bankrupt right, which is the kind of thing that will generally have little to no impact on anything. It damn sure won’t win any brownie points with the right, given that these days it actually is, you know, morally bankrupt.
This brings us to the story of Katie Rich, a writer for Saturday Night Live who was “suspended indefinitely” by NBC yesterday after tweeting out a joke involving Barron Trump, Donald Trump’s 10-year-old son. Rich wrote on Friday that the youngest Trump will be “this country’s first homeschool shooter.” It didn’t take long for her to rethink the crack, delete it, and temporarily shut down her Twitter account. (The reaction to it from the always classy Trump army probably had nothing at all to do with her decision to ghost, surely.) She came back online to prostrate herself before the masses, writing, “I sincerely apologize for the insensitive tweet. I deeply regret my actions & offensive words. It was inexcusable & I’m so sorry.” This wasn’t enough to keep the NBC suits from making an example of Rich, so after three years on the job they sent her packing with no immediate plans to bring her back.
There’s a gentlemen’s agreement in politics that when it comes to criticism or ridicule, children are off-limits. It’s obviously not Barron Trump’s fault that he was born into an aging Vegas showgirl’s acid trip or that his father is more of a child than he is. So with that in mind it’s not surprising that there’s not the kind of willingness to balk at NBC’s draconian reaction to this controversy than one would expect. Those who declare themselves liberal love to preach about the need for taking the high road. They do this despite the fact that Chelsea Clinton was forced to endure a barrage of high-profile right-wing hostility during her time in the White House and Sasha and Malia Obama were called every racial slur in existence by the same people during their father’s presidency. In other words, liberals like to turn the other cheek, which is certainly noble in theory if not foolish in practice.
But there’s something about NBC’s response to Katie Rich’s tweet that really irks and there are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, it’s hard to figure out whether the harsh punishment from the network is a traditional knee-jerk reaction to any perceived offense against the right, basically the taking of the strongest possible action in an effort to head-off conservative outrage, or whether it’s merely a byproduct of NBC’s ongoing relationship with Trump. (Remember, he’s still nominally the executive producer of The Celebrity Apprentice.) Both are worrisome possibilities, but there’s no doubt the latter would be the more infuriating. Second, we need to be very careful, in the age of Trump, about self-censorship. Our comics need to have a whole hell of a lot of leeway to be the voices of satire and sanity that can get under Trump’s thin skin at every possibility. Trump can’t handle criticism of any kind, a fact proven by his regular tantrums in response to SNL‘s relentless mockery of him. We need sharp, fearless comedy right now to combat the repression of dissent that Trump surely craves.
What’s more than all of this is Rich’s joke itself, which it can easily be argued was aimed not so much at Barron Trump but at Donald Trump and the environment he’s provided for the poor kid. Put simply, all you have to do is take a look at Eric and Donald Jr. — and at Donald Trump himself — to know that little Barron is doomed. There’s no way that kid ends up normal or well-adjusted. That was almost certainly Katie Rich’s point — and she deserves the freedom to make it. She deserves to be backed up by the people who hired her specifically to be incisive. No, this isn’t a First Amendment issue, because it’s not the government censoring her and NBC, as a private company, has every right to decide it doesn’t like what she said and to do something about it. But it shouldn’t have decided that and shouldn’t have done that. (Lest we forget that NBC has seen little wrong in actually putting Trump, an admitted serial sexual assaulter, on SNL and other programming while suddenly demurring at a joke that might offend him.)
Part of the reason Donald Trump’s sagging orange ass is even in the White House at the moment is that he and the idiot rabble who supported him continuously whine about the encroaching threat of political correctness. They call their political enemies “snowflakes” and bitch about how liberals want to curtail their free speech (which to them translates into their right to call black people “niggers” and gay people “faggots” with impunity). But take a look at the response to any criticism of Trump we’ve seen from these same people over the past few months and you start to realize that nobody’s fee-fees are easier to hurt than a modern conservative’s. And when a writer at Saturday Night Live, a show that’s been instrumental in knocking Trump down a peg weekend after weekend, is told she doesn’t have the freedom to make rough joke while also having the backing of her network when she does it, that’s the real “political correctness gone mad.” It proves that SNL may have some space to ridicule Trump, but the threat of retaliation for going too far is always hanging over its head.
Now, more than ever, we need our comedy to go too far. Or at the very least not worry about what “too far” constitutes. The only good reason for taking the high road right now is that it gives you a great place from which to piss all over the people taking the low road.