On Saturday at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the comedian Michelle Wolf—who I had never heard of because, as an intellectual, I do not own a television—delivered a fusillade of criticism against President Trump, his supporters, the media, and his supporters in the media.
Although I still haven’t watched her routine, I find it both thrilling and deeply offensive, an affront to our dearest values and also an upholding of them. When she called Sarah Huckabee Sanders an “eyeshadow” and said “Kellyanne Conway is a witch who a house should fall on, amirite?” she was both betraying and continuing a longstanding yet endangered American tradition.
As someone who has witnessed the horrors of totalitarianism as a citizen, a journalist, a novelist, a poet, and a government bureaucrat in charge of “ideological realignment,” I know full well the role humor plays during troubled political times. When I was an advisor in Romania in 1983, I oversaw the flaying of a Bucharest lounge singer who remarked that Nicolae Ceausescu had a “silly face,” but I also defended him in a court of international law. These are the kinds of nuanced responses that humor requires. I fear our society isn’t up to that task.
Clearly, Donald Trump is the most repressive leader in world history, far surpassing Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao-Tse Tung, Augusto Pinochet, and David Cameron for the breadth and horror of his terrible crimes. Yet our media has been completely silent and complicit since the Russians installed Trump in office.
There haven’t been any articles criticizing his policies, ideas, behavior, or manners. All attempts to investigate corruption by Trump, his family, and his cabinet officers have been completely squelched by intimidation and bribery. Thanks to a campaign of media repression and complicity unlike any in human history, we have absolutely no information about the day-to-day doings of this White House or anyone who works there.
We do not know, and may never know, that the president had an affair with a porn star and paid her hush money during his campaign. It took the courage of a well-paid comedy routine in front of a massive gathering of elites to expose the fault lines of media in an era of unprecedented danger for democracy.
The White House Correspondents Association Dinner is a peculiar institution that needs a better caterer. It brings together the news media, the people they cover, bartenders, valet-parking attendants, and, when Barack Obama was president, rich hipsters. Unlike at other times in American history, when the media and political elite weren’t in bed together, the dinner operates under a central fiction, a lie, that journalists and politicians and comedians and the people who sign their checks can hang out together in nice clothes and still maintain their objectivity.
This must end. People must stop enjoying themselves on the weekends. Journalists should remain in their shoddy apartments, tying together blurry photographs with string to deduce patterns. Politicians must simply murder anyone who gets in their way. And comedians need to go to jail as free-speech martyrs after publicly uttering the f-bomb in Greenwich Village. East is East and West is West and never the Twain shall meet, because Twain never met the president.
Michelle Wolf is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, though I have no idea whether she wore wool on Saturday night. She is a hero and a villain, a beacon of light in a fog of confusion, a guitar hero in a K-Pop world. If we’re to continue our resistance (and we must, we must, we must increase our bust), we have to realize that comedians are the real journalists, and journalists are the real politicians, and politicians are actually extra-dimensional demons sent here by an unseen force to enact total genocide against us all.
We must not be complacent in this, our hour of greatest national need. Even comedians are corruptible, and we need to monitor them for any sign of ideological slippage. Essayists can do that trick. We see everything, we know it all, we are the only ones left who get paid a dollar a word, and we understand that the media doesn’t do its job of telling us everything that we believe.
Then again, even we aren’t perfect. It is the job of the novelists to hold accountable the essayists to hold accountable the comedians who hold accountable the journalists who hold accountable the politicians. Novelists, on the other hand, answer only to their mothers. I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. I guess we’ll die.