“The dating app Tinder announced a new feature this week, which gives users 37 different gender identity options,” Jost set up the joke, his permanent smirk on prominent display.
Then, the punchline: “It’s called, ‘Why Democrats lost the election.’”
Coming from a staunch Democrat such as Jost, the joke seemed to be aimed at what Vox writer Emmett Rensin dubbed in April as the “smug style in American liberalism,” which Rensin described as “a condescending, defensive sneer toward any person or movement outside of its consensus, dressed up as a monopoly on reason.”
In a response later on Twitter, Jost would argue the joke was arguing that identity politics, particularly on the left, helped Trump pull out his surprising upset victory over Clinton. There have been no reported poll results so far to back up that claim, and as Boston Globe columnist wrote,”there’s no evidence transgender rights pushed the country to Trump.”
Many found Jost’s implication that gender issues had such a prominent role in the election offensive.
Bustle senior editor Sam Escobar (whose Twitter profile identifies Escobar as “Nonbinary Latinx queer” with a preference for the “they” pronoun) tweeted a screen caption (with subtitles) of Jost telling the joke with a simple caption of disbelief: “What the f— is this.” The tweet drew 5,400 likes and 1,900 retweets.
Then, the floodgates opened.
“What the actual f—. what a f—in stretch to blame the existence of trans/nonbinary people,” tweeted one transgender user. “yeah f— that s—. It’s not even trying to be a funny joke, just a shitty cheap shot. Ugh,” tweeted another. “I hated Jost before this. But this is a new low even by his miserable standards,” tweeted yet a third.
Eventually Jost responded to a tweet by Brooklyn queen punk band PWR BTTM, wh0 said:, “Yo, do you not get this kind hatred is why trump won the election? Shame. Shame shame shame.”
Finally, Jost offered a stand-alone tweet that linked to a New York Times opinion piece by Columbia University professor Mark Lilla, titled “The End of Identity Liberalism.”
Jost tweeted, “This joke was from Saturday but Mark Lilla’s op-ed on Sunday expanded on this idea.”
Lilla’s main thesis focused on reaction to identity politics during the campaign: “In recent years American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force capable of governing. … If you are going to mention groups in America, you had better mention all of them. If you don’t, those left out will notice and feel excluded.”
That’s when the reactions to Jost’s response began.
In a Deadspin article titled, “Colin Jost is a Dumb—,” Jordan Sargent wrote, “Reasonable people can discuss ways in which the party can win back some of the white vote, but Jost is saying that liberals should deemphasize equal rights for all people because it alienates rednecks.”
The A.V. Club complained that Jost responded “so half-heartedly, refusing to actually hear his dissenters.”
In a Medium post responding to the controversy and titled “Colin Jost Is Why The Democrats Lost,” Jetta Rae attacked SNL itself, writing:
I’m not going to waste my time appealing to Colin Jost’s sense of shame. SNL has been a flagship in normalizing transphobic violence. Whenever they can get a misogynist, anti-LGBT, fundamentalist Republican to come on their show and be in on the joke of their own reprehensibility, they do it, every time. Anyone who works for SNL is impervious to such appeals.
Presumably Rae was referring to Donald Trump hosting the show last year, or Rudy Giuliani’s frequent SNL appearances, though Rae offered no examples.
Even Romper, a website dedicated mostly to parenting, ran a piece titled “Identity Politics Didn’t Cost Democrats The Election & ‘SNL’ Shouldn’t Say They Did.” In that post, Mariella Mosthof wrote:
Bizarrely, Jost used the Tinder update to blame trans folks for why Democrats lost the election … To blame a hurting, marginalized community with a history of collective trauma and erasure from the national discourse, staggering murder rates, and housing, employment, and legislative discriminations at every turn — a community that started the LGBTQ+ rights movement only to be left behind 50 years later — for putting a demagogue in office is absurd … And it’s uncharacteristic for heretofore woke bae Colin Jost.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as think pieces continue to pour into Twitter and Facebook streams. As of early Wednesday morning, neither Jost nor his “Weekend Update” co-host, Michael Che, had responded to the latest criticisms.