The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump is now pop culture’s biggest target. Looks as if he can’t take it.

From press secretary Sean Spicer's comments about the show to the president angrily tweeting about Alec Baldwin, here is Donald Trump's history with SNL. (Video: Nicki DeMarco/The Washington Post)
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Part of being the president of the United States is having some portion of the arts and entertainment community satirize you, ridicule you or dump on you.

President Ronald Reagan is arguably the reason a brand of punk rock, called hard-core, existed in America. Bands such as DOA, Government Issue, the Minutemen, the Dead Kennedys and the appropriately named Reagan Youth tossed furious barbs at the Republican president through songs like “F—-d Up Ronnie” and “If Reagan Played Disco.”

Even punk bands that did not speak specifically to the president, such as Washington’s famed Fugazi, came of age during his tenure.

That is not particularly surprising — pop culture often responds to whoever is in office, especially Republicans.

The rise of shows featuring political humor that skewer the current landscape, such as “The Daily Show” and its progeny “The Colbert Report,” arguably gained popularity as a response to the Bush administration. As Quartz wrote of Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” “For most viewers, the show’s must-watch period started with George W. Bush in the White House and particularly after 9/11.”

From Vaughn Meader's President Kennedy to Jay Pharoah's President Obama, the history of presidential impersonations is long and not all were success stories. (Video: Nicki DeMarco, William Wan/The Washington Post)

Pop culture and the presidency have a long and storied history. More often than not, entertainers, artists and critics use their microphones (both literally and metaphorically) to mock, protest or disagree with the president.

One big exception was President Harry Truman. But there were mitigating circumstances: The criticism was of his daughter, Margaret, specifically her singing performance in a Washington Post review by Paul Hume in 1950.

“Mr. Hume,” Truman wrote to the critic, “It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful. … Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”

But most presidents do not respond, even when the words sting.

Take one of the more famous examples — in 2005, Kanye West said in a live telethon to help victims of Hurricane Katrina that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

In response, President Bush said . . . nothing.

Presumably, he was working on more pressing matters, such as the drowning of a major U.S. city. It was not until years later, when he was years out of office, that Bush addressed the moment, saying that he resented the claim that he was racist, calling the episode “one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency.”

And then there is Sarah Palin. After months of skewering from Tina Fey, she appeared on the show with Fey and played into the humor.

It’s difficult to imagine that President-elect Donald Trump would respond in either of these ways.

This past weekend alone, Trump has insulted and attacked two popular shows that dared oppose or ridicule him in some way. The first is the now-famous “Hamilton” stunt Friday, when one of the actors, on behalf of the cast, read a prepared statement to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who attended the show.

In response, Trump called the musical “overrated” and its cast “rude.”

This led to social media reaction across the country, on both sides of our divided America. In Chicago, it led to an incident in which a drunk Trump supporter allegedly disrupted a performance with profanities and with promises to “kill” Democrats. The man was quickly detained, and no one was hurt — but who is to say what would happen next time?

The next day, “Saturday Night Live” does what “Saturday Night Live” does — it put the president-elect in its crosshairs. After all, it’s known for what Time magazine called the “ritual mocking” of presidents and candidates, from Dana Carvey’s George H.W. Bush impersonation to its lampooning of Al Gore’s usage of the word “lockbox” to protect Medicare.

This is a show that once mocked President Gerald Ford. He responded by saying nothing.

In the show’s cold open, Alec Baldwin reprised his Trump impersonation, portraying the president-elect as overwhelmed by the responsibilities of the job.

Trump must have taken a moment from his actual preparation for the presidency to catch the late-night show, which he hosted last year. He did not like what he saw.

The president-elect has long been considered “thin-skinned,” especially considering his own readiness to mercilessly insult and belittle opponents — making him one of those people who can dish it out but can’t take it.

And his past behavior suggests a particular issue with pop culture poking fun at him.

And make no mistake — the pop culture community will keep going after him.

They already have in droves. Take rapper YG, who penned a song not-so-subtly titled “F— Donald Trump” and who, during one performance of this song, asked audience members to come onstage and take wild swings at a piñata shaped like the president-elect.

Just Sunday night at the American Music Awards, pop-punk legends Green Day began chanting, “No KKK / No fascist USA / No Trump.”

The constant stream of insults would probably be difficult for anyone to stomach. Perhaps that is one reason past presidents have let them go. That and the fact that responding to a pop-culture jab can admittedly be seen as childish rather than presidential.

As one user pointed out in a tweet aimed at Trump, “Your brand is now USA, not Trump. Get off the 3rd grade Twitter bully pulpit. LEAVE ARTISTS ALONE. Where are we, China?”

Although Trump has spent a large part of his career as a pop-culture figure, he has long seemed unable to handle any of the negative attention that it brings.

Most famous, perhaps, is his ongoing feud with comedian Rosie O’Donnell. After all, he insulted her during a presidential debate.

The feud began in 2006, when O’Donnell offered her (extremely) negative opinion of Trump on “The View,” a rant that ended with an impersonation of the then-businessman. As she tweeted after the second debate, it’s the “5 mins [Trump] can’t seem to get over.”

Ten years later, it appears he still hasn’t.

Then there’s Seth Meyers. Hard feelings have existed between the two since 2011, when Meyers (along with President Obama and others) made jokes about Trump during the White House correspondents’ dinner.

“I saw him a couple of nights afterward at an event in New York, and I walked over to thank him for being a good sport, and he really impressed on me then that I had taken it too far,” Meyers told the Hollywood Reporter. “He did not accept my offer of good sport.”

Five years later, Meyers “banned” Trump from appearing on “Late Night” in reaction to Trump pulling The Washington Post’s press credentials. Instead of simply ignoring this, the then-presidential candidate released a statement to Variety claiming Meyers’s show had poor ratings.

“He has begged me to do the show for the last two years. I have told him emphatically ‘no,’” Trump said. “I only like doing shows with good ratings, which as everybody knows, I only make better [by a lot.]”

He’s said this before:

In fact, ratings are something he clearly cares deeply about, and he has used them to attack everyone from Arsenio Hall and Jay Leno to . . . the U.S. Open. By his metric, it’s amazing anything is still on television.

It isn’t only specific entertainers or even shows that Trump has complained about.

It’s entire institutions, such as the Emmys and the Oscars. After not receiving an Emmy for his reality show “The Apprentice,” Trump tweeted the following:

In a 2011 YouTube video titled “From the Desk of Donald Trump,” he offered a tirade against the Emmys.

“Fewer and fewer people watch the Emmys each year and for good reason,” he began. “Their ratings are way down. They’re just not doing a good job.”

Trump continued, “Certain shows — and I can name them and maybe at some point I will — just don’t get the acclaim that they should, and other shows year after year after year keep being nominated. And whether people watch them or not, they shouldn’t be nominated, and everyone knows it.”

He has attacked the awards program over the years via Twitter as well, calling it such things as “boring,” a “con game” and “politics.”

But if the general response to his angry tweets this weekend is any indication, it remains a little odd and, for some, frightening to consider a U.S. president who feels the need to address every perceived slight — particularly when they are coming from the arts and entertainment world, which has a long history of mocking those in power, especially Republicans.

“Please stop making a mockery out of America. Presidential elects shouldn’t twitter rant,” tweeted one user. “Oh my God!! Stop. Are you 11?” asked another. “Grow up — you’re meant to lead by example,” tweeted another.

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