On Sunday morning, Donald Trump tweeted that "Saturday Night Live" should be canceled for doing a "hit job" on him
Dean Obeidallah: Trump's Twitter rant should concern any American who values free speech -- and comedy
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
Nothing says Donald Trump has the judgment and temperament to be President of the United States like tweeting at 7:14 on Sunday morning that he thinks “Saturday Night Live” should be canceled.
But there was Trump, just 24 days before the election, composing yet another unhinged tweet as most Americans were still sleeping: “Watched ‘Saturday Night Live’ hit job on me. Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!”
Apparently Trump was upset with the way SNL depicted him in a sketch based on the second presidential debate. While the sketch mocked Hillary Clinton on numerous occasions for being too calculated and insincere, apparently that was not good enough for Trump.
Perhaps Trump was angered that one of the best moments of the sketch was when SNL highlighted Trump’s hypocrisy concerning the recent sexual assault claims. Alec Baldwin, as Trump, demanded that the victims of Bill Clinton’s alleged sexual misconduct “need to be respected and their voices need to be heard.” But when Trump was asked about the women accusing him of sexual misconduct, he shot back: “They need to shut the hell up.”
All kidding aside, Trump’s tweet that “SNL” needs to be canceled because the show did a “hit job” on him should concern every American. We have a rich tradition of comedy shows skewering our politicians. I can’t recall any President or presidential nominee responding to a TV show mocking him or her by saying it’s time to take that show off the airwaves.
Although I have performed stand-up in the Middle East, where leaders have shared a similar sentiment. In fact, Egypt’s Jon Stewart, Bassem Youssef, was arrested for mocking the then leader of Egypt and his TV show was ultimately canceled. But is that really a model we want to emulate in the United States?
Now, this is not the first time Trump has lashed out at comedians for jokes about him. When Seth Meyers skewered Trump at the 2011 White House Correspondent’s Dinner, Trump called Meyers “a stutterer.”
But that was tame compared to the way he responded to Jon Stewart and Bill Maher. In the case of Stewart, who for years called out Trump for his outlandish behavior and comments, Trump tweeted that Stewart was “highly overrated” and a “total phony.” And Trump’s social media activity even bordered on anti-Semitic when he mocked Stewart by bizarrely tweeting out his real last name, “Leibowitz.”
And in the case of Maher, Trump actually sued the comedian for $5 million. It was in response to a 2013 joke on “The Tonight Show,” when Maher said he would donate $5 million to charity if Trump could prove he wasn’t the “the spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan.” This joke was in response to Trump’s offer of the same amount if President Barack Obama would release his college transcripts. Trump later withdraw the lawsuit, but the message was clear: Mock me, and I might sue you.
Couple all this with Trump’s calls during this campaign to change the libel laws to make it easier for him to sue media outlets who unfairly criticize him, and this is no laughing matter.
Would a President Trump use the apparatus of the federal government – such as the Federal Communications Commission – to intimidate comedians and dissuade them from mocking him? Yes, I know we have a First Amendment, but alarmingly I bet there are Trump supporters who would go along with anything Trump asks for, even if it was flat out unconstitutional. (Trump has bragged as much, claiming he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his supporters would stand with him.)
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And even if Trump never went that far, his attacks on “SNL” could have a chilling effect. Comedians, fearing both his social media presence and the wrath of the millions of his Twitter followers, could remain silent on all Trump-related matters.
I pray “SNL” will not let Trump’s tweet deter it in its comedic mission. In fact, I hope that between now and Election Day, “SNL,” late-night hosts and comedians nationwide will transform Trump into the punchline he was before he ran for president. We need Trump to make America laugh again.
Finally, Donald Trump is getting back to something he does really well: being a punchline.
Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.