On September 26th, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump took to the stage together for the first Presidential Debate. With a runtime of over 90 minutes, it’s understandable that a lot of people will not have watched all of it, if any. There have been highlights released and Saturday Night Live, as expected, aired a sketch featuring Alec Baldwin (Prelude to a Kiss, 30 Rock) and Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters, Ted 2) as the two candidates. Reducing 90 minutes to just over 9, the American satire show delivered an accurate representation of both candidates from the debate; Baldwin as Trump focused on how “presidential” Trump perceives himself to be while McKinnon as Clinton couldn’t hide Clinton’s glee at how Trump was almost handing the debate to her on a silver platter thanks to his answers.
For the premier of SNL’s 42nd season, the episode in which the sketch featured, the ratings were the highest they’ve been in 8 years (Variety) and for the premier of the Clinton-Trump debate trail, the viewing figures were the highest for any presidential debate ever, beating out Carter-Reagan in 1980 (CNN). This incredible rise in viewership for the Debate itself signals a nationwide interest in the presidential election which was not even matched in the highly sensationalised and controversial Obama-Romney run in 2012, when only an average of 67 million tuned in to watch the televised opening debate (CNN).
However, it is not hard to figure out why over 84 million tuned in to watch 2016’s first debate.
Since the beginning of the campaign trail, Donald Trump has been a goldmine for satirical media outlets and online memes. His hair has been computer rendered onto cats, birds, celebrities and even the current President. His speeches have been remixed to exhaustion and his pronunciation and accent alone have provided comedians with apparently endless material. Alec Baldwin, Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp are probably the most famous stars who have impersonated Trump but certainly not the only ones. These days it is hard to know what is more difficult… finding Trump’s actual policies in amongst all the jokes or seeing Trump as anything other than a joke.
As much as he makes the nation, even the world, laugh though, is there really room for a joke in the White House? According to the polls that have been churned out during the entirety of the current campaign, a lot of people want to make room for it. Trump undeniably has supporters and these people themselves have been subject to satire almost as much as he. To them, he is not a joke or source of anything but truth. Trump represents hope for a better America, a guiding light to return America to her glory days - just as his slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ implies. A problem in its own right because are these glory days the era of the Klu Klux Klan, the racist group Trump’s own parents had affiliations with? Or are these days when only white males had the right to vote? Or when President Johnson hid the truth of the Vietnam War from the public, thanks to a corrupt government system? Or when legal immigrants were deported without trial in the 1920s? He may be considered a joke but the reality of Trump in the White House is not only scary - to some people, it’s life threatening.
On the other side, Clinton is not much of an improvement. Though even with campaign lies and criticisms of “trying too hard to be relatable” trailing behind her, she is still the lesser of two evils. Where Trump has bankrupted his business three times, Clinton has direct experience in US politics and where Trump has plans for a border wall, she has yet to condemn the majority of America’s inhabitants to experience either discrimination, harm or banishment. She is not popular with everyone in America but the polls following the Debate have largely shown that she was the winner and, to the outside world, Clinton is the safe bet. Which is one of the reasons Trump trumps her, in some people's eyes. They consider him to be their voice. He says what the masses want, what everyone else is afraid to say. Where Hillary advocates for ‘all’ - despite being in support of segregation previously - and is considered “too PC”, Trump crosses the line and does not censor his words. So much so in fact that if he were to become President, the majority Republican Congress have, for the most part, stated opposition to him, meaning he would not succeed in actually passing anything through Congress. Which raises another issue - is there any point in putting Trump in the White House when it would result in a gridlocked Congress?
For the American people it is a difficult decision. Neither candidate is overwhelmingly more popular than the other and both candidates have historical and current flaws which cast long shadows over their efforts to become President. But when it comes down to it, there is the simple notion that America won't elect a man who is potentially a global threat to civilisation (take into account for example his close relationship with Putin). Nonetheless, it is difficult to see him as a national, let alone a global, threat when everywhere you turn he is ridiculed and mocked. Yes, it diminishes his credibility and acknowledges his political drawbacks, but it also disguises the real villainous motivation behind his campaign and policies, preventing the American people, and thus the world, from seeing him as more than a joke. So, the satire shows and the memes can of course be enjoyed, as they do help in showing just how ridiculous Trump is, yet at the end of the day, Trump cannot be viewed as simply a joke when he polls high and has amassed a dangerous number of avid supporters. If he is just viewed as a joke then reality is ignored and people begin to forget that his campaign is not a prank, his policies are not punchlines. Which is harmful because there is a real chance of him getting in, and with him in the White House it is certain that few people will be left laughing.