An amazing skit from the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live offers a glimmer of hope that our national political dialogue can still be salvaged once this unrelentingly divisive and demoralizing campaign season is done.
Like a lot of good satire, the skit is politically incorrect, relying on stereotypes that the social-justice-left might find upsetting. And yet it says something important about our common humanity. And it's funny! That's the most important thing.
Background: "Black Jeopardy," hosted by Kenan Thompson, is a recurring skit on SNL. In this old, representative episode, white person Louis CK is pitted against two black contestants, and fails miserably to answer impossible questions that are hyper-specific to black culture and language. (Answer: "She think she cute." Question: "Who is Monique?")
Now watch Saturday's episode, in which the third contestant is a white dude wearing a Make America Great Again hat played by Tom Hanks.
The joke, of course, is that Hanks' character "Doug," despite being a Trump supporter—and all the malicious backwardness that implies—is actually more clued-in to the show's logic than Louis CK's character, and has more in common with the black contestants than one might expect. Doug, for instance, is able to successfully answer "They out here saying, the new iPhone wants your thumbprint 'for your protection,'" with "What is 'I don't think so, that's how they get you?'"
"Yes!" Thompson cheers.
Black contestant Keeley nods in agreement. "I don't trust that," she says.
"Me neither," says the third contestant, Shanice.
Doug's winning streak continues. After Keeley correctly answers "Tyler Perry's Boo! A Madea Halloween" to the question "They out here saying, this movie doesn't deserve an Oscar," Doug notes that he also enjoys the Madea movies, which prompts Thompson to shake his hand.
The racial/ethnic/political harmony might be short-lived: the final Jeopardy category "Lives That Matter," draws the remark, "well, it was good while it lasted," from Thompson.
The writing for this skit is clever and funny, and it actually makes a good point: Politics may try desperately to divide us, but people who have been carelessly written off into different interest groups can still share common interests far more meaningful than their party identification. Good on SNL for finding something profound and funny to say about Trump voters.
Of course, it took practically no time at all for the left-of-center media to attempt to ruin the moment. Cue The Hill: "Tom Hanks Mocks Trump Supporters in 'SNL' Skit." Talk about missing the point:
"Doug," a contestant on the game show "Black Jeopardy," sports a signature "Make America Great Again" hat. Hanks's character, a conspiracy theorist, distrusts the electoral system.
"They out here saying that every vote counts," one of the questions in the game reads.
"What is, 'C'mon, they already decided who wins, even before it happens,' " answers Hanks, who said earlier this month that he was "offended as a man" by Trump's lewd talk about groping women without their consent in a leaked video from 2005.
The late-night comedy show appeared to be mocking Trump's claims that the election is being rigged against him. During the third presidential debate of 2016, the GOP nominee refused to say whether he would accept the results of the presidential election.
The Hill's recap glosses over the fact that Doug's answer, "they already decided who wins, even before it happens," is the correct one. It draws an exuberant, "Yes! The Illuminati already figured that out months ago," from Thompson. SNL isn't mocking Doug's ignorance—it's suggesting one of two things: either that conspiracy theorizing is cross-ideological, or that the idea of a rigged election isn't totally insane, from the perspective of black people. (And hey, it's not!)
If SNL is "mocking" Trump voters, it's also making the more sophisticated point that you might not loathe the average Trump voter as much as you would expect, if you stopped to talk to him. The Dougs of the world have redeeming qualities, even if partisan politics is working hard to obscure that basic truth. As is the media, it would seem, in this specific case. Sorry if that makes me sound like a Trump guy.
Updated at 9:25 a.m.: From Slate, "Watch Tom Hanks Mock Trump Supporters in SNL's Black Jeopardy."
Updated at 11:00 a.m.: Slate changed the headline to, "Watch Tom Hanks as a Trump Supporter in SNL's Surprisingly Astute Black Jeopardy Sketch."