Thursday, October 17, 2019

Get The Hook

John Lithgow reviews Trump’s performance.

As bad a president as Mr. Trump has been, he’s an even worse entertainer. He reads scripted lines like a panic-stricken schoolboy at a middle school assembly. He mangles every attempt at irony, self-mockery or, God forbid, an actual joke. He cravenly fills the hall for every rally with a hopped-up claque drawn from his hard-core base. And he can be grotesquely inappropriate at his public appearances, as when he babbled inanely about crowd size and margins of victory on recent condolence visits to Ohio and Texas after mass shootings in those states.

Pause for a moment and recall No-Drama Barack Obama. Remember when we would whine about how aloof and deliberative he was? Maybe there was some truth to that complaint but, wow, did that man know how to choose his moments.

Think about the time when, during his eulogy for the pastor Clementa Pinckney, slain in his Charleston, S.C., church in 2015, Mr. Obama began to softly sing “Amazing Grace.” Can you imagine a greater contrast or a sterner rebuke to the broad grin and upturned thumb of our current president after the Walmart shooting this past summer in El Paso?

It is dispiriting to watch the wretched excesses of Mr. ­­­Trump’s slapstick presidency and the rabid audience he commands. But there may be an upside to his crude performance art. His relentless lies, impulsive acts and gassy pronouncements have emboldened American journalists and quickened their senses.

And just as heartening, the Trump phenomenon has sharpened the wits of a whole new breed of entertainers. These are the daring TV comics who gleefully turn Mr. Trump’s outrages against him every night of the week: Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Seth Meyers and others.

As entertainers, they are everything Mr. Trump is not. They’re smart, informed, disciplined, self-aware and genuinely funny. Not a single item in the day’s news goes unexamined by these warrior satirists, and unlike the late-night comfort food of days past, their comedy is heightened by the bright fire of their anger.

Entertainment, it turns out, ain’t beanbag.

And this show should have closed out of town.