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Trump eyes possible actions against comedy shows that hurt his feelings

When it comes to Trump and comedy shows that hurt his feelings, the threat escalation has been gradual and one-directional.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen in a television cameras view finder during a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla.

NBC's "Saturday Night Live" was a repeat over the weekend, but Donald Trump apparently watched anyway, and wasn't impressed. In fact, the president suggested he's weighing the possibility of some kind of official inquiry into this and other comedy shows that hurt his feelings.

In a pair of tweets early yesterday, the Republican wrote:

"It's truly incredible that shows like Saturday Night Live, not funny/no talent, can spend all of their time knocking the same person (me), over & over, without so much of a mention of 'the other side.' Like an advertisement without consequences. Same with Late Night Shows...."Should Federal Election Commission and/or FCC look into this? There must be Collusion with the Democrats and, of course, Russia! Such one sided media coverage, most of it Fake News."

I'll confess that deciphering Trump's ideas can be challenging, but as of yesterday morning, the sitting American president seemed to argue that "Saturday Night Live," Democrats, and the Kremlin are in cahoots, as part of an elaborate scheme to undermine him.

And while most reasonable observers would probably consider that bonkers, it's Trump's specific reference to the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Communications Commission that stood out.

The threat escalation has been gradual and one-directional over the course of several months. As regular readers may recall, during his presidential transition period, Trump lashed out at "SNL," condemning it as "biased," and suggesting he and his team should be given "equal time." Last year, the Republican did it again, blasting the comedy show as a "spin machine," and suggesting that the broadcasts may not be "legal."

Last month, the president upped the ante, raising the prospect of "retribution" against comedy shows. Yesterday, Trump started referring to specific levers of federal power he'd consider using to punish comedy programs 

Circling back to our earlier coverage, I rather doubt anything will come of this, at least in practical terms -- Trump often sees chest-thumping bluster as its own reward -- but I also think it’d be a mistake to dismiss these presidential antics as meaningless.

Trump is, at a minimum, offering a fresh peek into his authoritarian instincts. Confronted with a comedy show’s mockery, the president has made no attempt to hide his emotional reactions: the Republican has questioned the legality of the broadcasts and told the public he’d consider official reprisals against those who dare to laugh at him.

If we saw this in a country abroad, we’d naturally wonder about the state of the nation’s commitment to liberty.

But taking a step further, Trump’s responses to “SNL” serve as reminders that he still doesn’t yet understand the nature of the American presidency.

Soon after he left office, Lyndon Johnson was asked about the mockery he received from the Smothers Brothers, who hosted a popular comedy show on CBS at the time. “It is part of the price of leadership of this great and free nation to be the target of clever satirists,” LBJ said, adding, “May we never grow so somber or self-important that we fail to appreciate the humor in our lives.”

We saw other presidents adopt similar postures under similar circumstances. JFK joked about Vaughn Meader’s impression of him. Gerald Ford was mocked mercilessly on “SNL,” but he was a good sport about it. George H.W. Bush actually became friends with Dana Carvey after seeing the comedic actor’s unflattering impression of him.

They each seemed to understand a simple truth: being president of the United States not only makes that person one of the highest-profile individuals on the planet, it also makes him/her the target of jokes. It’s simply a part of the job.

Donald Trump reacts viscerally and unhealthily to ridicule, but it’s also striking just how little he knows about the job he sought without taking the time to learn what it entails.