Something unusual and possibly even instructive happened on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend.
Following a small firestorm last weekend – when SNL’s Pete Davidson mocked Republican Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL wounded in Afghanistan – the two came together in a sincere plea for unity.
Seeing these two join in a message of reconciliation was moving. But the question has to be asked: Can we, in the time of Donald Trump, find common ground between those who oppose him and those who support him? It’s an issue that I and many others wrestle with.
“SNL” offered us some guidance on how we might be able to achieve just that.
The controversy that led to Saturday’s “moment of Zen” began last week when Davidson, during the Weekend Update segment, told jokes about several Republican candidates running for office.
“SNL” mocking people in politics is what the show does best. But in this instance, Davidson, whose father was a firefighter killed on 9/11, showed a picture of Crenshaw, who wears an eye patch because of his war injuries. Davidson joked, “You may be surprised to hear he’s a congressional candidate for Texas and not a hit-man in a porno movie.”
Then he added a line that made it worse, saying “I’m sorry. I know he lost his eye in war – or whatever.”
Well, the backlash was swift, with many on social media going after Davidson – and the National Republican Congressional Candidate even demanding an apology.
Crenshaw, though, pushed back against the idea that an apology was necessary, stating, “I want us to get away from this culture where we demand an apology every time someone misspeaks.” He did note that veterans across the nation “probably don’t feel as though their wounds they received in battle should be the subject of a bad punchline.”
That sentiment was a welcome breath of fresh air in a time when the slightest insult is met with instant outrage.
But Davidson still felt compelled to apologize, opening his appearance on Weekend Update this week with these words: “I mean this from the bottom of my heart. It was a poor choice of words. The man is a war hero, and he deserves all the respect in the world.” The comedian added, “And if any good came of this, maybe it was that for one day, the left and the right finally came together to agree on something. That I’m a d—.”
At that point, Crenshaw, who won his congressional race in Texas on Tuesday, made a surprise appearance where he accepted Davidson’s apology and then delivered some good-natured jokes at Davidson’s expense. One of the best was when Crenshaw joked about Davidson, “He looks like if the meth from ‘Breaking Bad’ was a person.”
After a few more jokes, Crenshaw then delivered his own heartfelt plea, “There’s a lot of lessons to learn here. Not just that the left and right can still agree on some things. But also, this: Americans can forgive one another.” Crenshaw went on to remind people of the sacrifice of our veterans and those “we lost on 9/11, heroes like Pete’s father.”
It was a beautiful moment, unlike anything I can recall on “SNL” – and I worked on the show’s production staff for eight seasons. But the line that stayed with me the most was when he said, “We can remember what brings us together as a country and still see the good in each other.”
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Can we truly see the good in each other despite disagreeing so passionately on political issues? If we ever have a chance of becoming the United States of America – as opposed to people who happen to live on the same land mass – we need to do just that. And no, I’m not asking for a kumbaya moment where we all join hands and sing Elvis Costello’s “Peace, Love and Understanding.” Although I have to say I wish we could. It’s a great song.
However, we could learn a thing or two from Crenshaw and Davidson. Rather than trying to one up each other or score political points with their respective audiences, they made a sincere attempt to connect in a respectful and playful manner. Our nation is desperate for more of this, and I bet many people across the political spectrum would agree. The only thing stopping us from doing more of that is ourselves.