The sneering faux populism of Saturday Night Live

SNL has had many funny skits about this election cycle. Kate McKinnon, in particular, has been pretty awesome as both Hillary Clinton and as Kelleyanne Conway.

But I cannot convey how much I despise the sneering faux populism of the below SNL skit.

In an embarrassing bit of projection, SNL writers apparently believe that young progressives are upscale urban hipsters, bicoastal cultural production workers snobbishly out of touch with concerns of real Americans.

The last young progressive I spoke with about the election was actually a DACA recipient worried about being deported.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

12 thoughts on “The sneering faux populism of Saturday Night Live”

  1. Well, I live in Arlington VA, and I can assure you that " young progressives are upscale urban hipsters, bicoastal cultural production workers snobbishly out of touch" proggies who meet this description do, in fact, exist. Because they are not the only proggies, they therefore should not be mockable?

  2. The bubble is real. I sought out Trump supporters during primary/caucus season and went to a Trump rally as well as a party caucus, approaching them with an attitude that said, "Tell me what I'm missing here." They had no problem with my telling them straight out "I am not a supporter, and here is why." They agreed with my objections to his volatility and his need to defend the size of his genitals in a national debate, saying that this was maybe just campaign rhetoric and they hoped that he got himself under better control.

    The problem is that when some of my friends and colleagues heard that I had gone to a rally and informed them I was not a supporter, they expressed wonderment that I had not been attacked and beaten up. They had seen Trump rallies on the teevee who had behaved like that and assumed that they knew all that they needed to know about his supporters. They are part of why he is on his way to the Oval Office. This tunnel vision, I submit, was later to prove fatal, and it continues to be problematic just when opportunities to peel off disillusioned Trump voters are about to present themselves abundantly.

    For example, I know one ardent DJT supporter who is one hundred ten percent in support of the Standing Rock protesters in North Dakota and another who is an off-the-grid solar power using conservationist who wants Trump to take rapid and decisive action on climate change. They liked Trump because they thought he couldn't be bought, and thought that Hillary was some sort of lying criminal. And at least one of them is not too impressed with Trump's petulant response to the cast of Hamilton talking to Mike Pence the other night. They might not respond strongly to arguments that the cast has freedom of speech, but they could respond very differently to saying "He's all upset? He needs to grow a pair."

    When they turn on Trump, it will be absolutely critical to have a movement which can receive them without scolding them for being racist misogynists. Michael Moore comes to mind as someone who presents a model for bringing that tyrant down. He predicted the outcome of this election and he never lived inside the echo chamber which was thunderstruck when the returns came in on election night.

    There is indeed a progressive bubble which deserves to be mocked on SNL. Too many progressives said, "I personally don’t know anyone who is voting for Trump, and I don’t want to know any." Now is no time to continue living inside that reality tunnel. Now is the time to say, "Has the world suddenly turned upside down, or were our heads full of upside down pictures of the world for all this time?" Umbrage at SNL skits will ill serve us for what we need to do next. Not that I don't sympathize; it is just that we have to change ourselves.

    1. My problem with Trump supporters is not that they are necessarily racist and misogynist. It's that they are uniformly sufficiently tolerant of racism and misogyny that they were willing to vote for Trump. I have a very hard time trusting someone who is that tolerant of intolerance as a political ally. That goes double for someone who is so unaware that they can actually believe that Trump can't be bought; that attitude means that they simply don't pay attention to the candidates. Rely on them, and you'll find them deserting you right when you need them the most.

      My experience, stemming from knowing (and even liking on a personal level) a number of Trump supporters is that, underneath the surface of someone who says the right things about why they supported Trump, is someone who is, in fact, racist and misogynist. The next time we need to defend Muslims, or transgendered people, or any other group that's unpopular, you're going to find that large numbers of those you've tried to win over abandon you. They may not say that that's why they're doing so, but be outspoken in defense of Black Lives Matter, or the transwoman who tries to use the women's bathroom, and you'll find them arguing with you and refusing to support your candidate. I cannot describe just how viscerally every Trump supporter I know hates BLM. I don't think there's any way to win over large numbers of these people without casting aside large numbers of marginalized people, and that's not something I'm willing to do.

      1. Here's the electoral problem. Trump will meet the expectations of his voters on bigotry: deport more immigrants, give nothing to BLM, give a free pass to cops shooting unarmed black young men, allow states to make abortion near-impossible, and so on. He will fail on economic insecurity: the 1950s well-paid factory jobs will not materialize, coal will continue its decline, any replacement for Obamacare will be worse, etc. It is part of the trade of politics to bring together a coalition of voters who disagree on many things. Obama won Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, so the bigotry of those who switched to Trump is shallow. It is of course very hard indeed to thread the needle of making the economic case to soft bigots while not betraying civil rights and minority constituencies.

        In addition, Trump's administration will – from the clear indications of the transition – be outstandingly corrupt and incompetent. "Make America Great Again" will turn into "Make America a Laughing-Stock, for the first time". This won't go down well with patriots of left and right. I'm hoping that Obama will get al-Baghdadi before the inauguration and deprive Trump of the opportunity to claim the credit for others' work; the attacks on Mosul and Raqqa are making methodical progress. and there are eight weeks to go..

        1. " give nothing to BLM, give a free pass to cops shooting unarmed black young men"

          Sigh. I will gently suggest that your views concerning police use of force in the United States are probably factually compromised (if you someday come to believe that I was right about this, don't waste any time on shame; American commentators don't know anything about the subject either. If you are curious, I highly recommend the blog Cop in the hood (on the blogroll here)) and leave it at that.

          But really, I could use some assistance here. I remember the orange troll making several remarks about Middle Easterners and Hispanics that should have been disqualifying… What I don't really remember from the campaign is racism directed at African Americans being a big thing. Maybe it was for some supporters of his (and I suppose after, e.g. the riots in Raleigh NC, it would be surprising in a way if it wasn't), but I cannot recall him personally harping on it. Are we reaching backwards to the birther shenanigans, or did I actually manage to miss some Trumparino highlight moments?

          1. There was his argument, repeated a number of times, including in one of the debates, that the solution to our racial problems was having all cities go to the extreme form of stop-and-frisk New York used and that was found unconstitutional. I guess I consider an argument that we should just treat random black males as criminals to be pretty racist.

            I'm also not sure why we should give all of the racist birther nonsense a pass, even if we had to reach back farther than this spring to find examples of it.

    2. Well, I know plenty of Trump voters. They are all people with very comfortable working class or middle class jobs who own their own homes and have grown children who are doing quite well themselves. They won't admit it, but I know damn well that they know they're being racist, because we were raised together and they're not stupid. All the "liberal elites" in my facebook feed also seem to have such relatives and old friends popping up in their comment threads as well.

    3. A few things.
      1. Good on you for being able to reach out and maintain friendships with people on the other side of the political spectrum. I think it is the right thing to do, but find it difficult personally as cultural and moral values tend to get in the way of basic common interests.
      2. Polls I've seen show about 50% of Trump supporters agreeing with statements I find to be racist. How accurate are they, I don't know. But they do fit with general tone of campaign activities.
      3. On racism: I really, really, really wish we moved beyond thinking of racism (and any bigotry) as binary. Racism doesn't require a conscious, rational belief in white superiority. On the contrary, even avowed white nationalists will deny being racist. But further, we need to understand it as a spectrum of patterns of behavior toward "other" groups in which they are treated with less compassion, less understanding, less patience. For instance, one can be a perfectly kind, compassionate human being, and even have black friends, and yet when it comes to treating blacks in a general, abstract way, they can be more suspicious, less tolerant. My favorite example of this is the white grammarian who is annoyed when a black person says "axe" you a question, yet is apparently unconcerned by the countless ways whites engage in unperfect grammar, such as saying "ummanna" instead of I'm going to". People can be racist without being "racists". They can engage in racist behavior while not identifying as such.
      4. The conversation: the left and the right have been struggling to have these conversations for decades. In fact, I wonder how much the "great sorting" has actually been driven by our inability to have these conversations, and erecting cognitive defense mechanisms that entrench along defensive positions.
      5. Resentment: So much of where we are at seems fundamentally about a rural/cosmopolitan divide. I've been hearing over and over that this election represented a failure of Democrats and liberals to reach out to rural whites. I find this odd, given the sheer amount of political narrative involved in rural attitudes about the supposed "elites". If people are whipped into an unreasoning frenzy at something, is that thing then to blame? If little birds are buzzing around my neighbor's head, whispering false things about me into his ear – that I hate him, that I want to see him suffer, that I lie and cheat and steal – am I now to blame for his poor opinion of me?
      I've heard repeatedly after this election that I look down my nose at the working class, that I don't care about them, that I only care about minorities. And yet I struggle to see evidence of this. Sure, my cultural tastes might be different, but what wrong is there in that? When I purchase an IPA instead of a Coors am I offending someone? I might disagree with certain social values, but what are values for, if not to be valued? I think gay men, or even just men who don't conform to traditional masculine roles, are perfectly natural and legitimate, and worthy of admiration and respect. To be honest, I find contemptful rhetoric about people like myself – "coastal elite", "hipster", "egghead", not a "real" American – just as frequently bandied about. Class-resentment, and it's intersection with culture is real, and worthy of discussion. But it requires more nuance than I tend to see and hear. People's reasons for feeling the way they do are not always the result of lived experience, but can just as easily be the result of ideological narratives that take hold and become mythological.

      1. I somewhat dislike "is-A" formulations.. "Is-a racist" … I call it nominalization – making a thing out of a tendency or some events or perceptions that take place at a time in a context by attaching a name, which takes it away from its surroundings and makes it an eternal thing existing by itself. No defense!

        On the other hand nominalization is a very powerful tool for rallying your side and attacking whoever's the enemy,.

        Note also that white people aren't nominalized (identified.) it's like the white male is the normal person, the white female is the normal person (but female), the black man is the normal person (but black), and the black woman is the normal person (but black and female.)

        So one thing that happens when somebody asks some middle age white man to confront "white privilege" is that they feel singled out – identified – much as other groups get to feel all the time! – and this is an uncomfortable experience.

        Just some musings there.

  3. Hmmm… The Bubble video comes off like a progressive version of the libertarian Free State Project. SNL's getting their digs in on everyone it seems, which is their job. It's a parody, of which hyperbole is a main ingredient. So yeah, it's exaggerated for comedic effect, but that doesn't mean the bubble isn't real. We all live in bubbles to some extent. We find it comforting and convenient. It takes a bit of extra effort to engage outside our bubble and we might find it uncomfortable to confront unfamiliar viewpoints with the goal of understanding them better. That's just human nature. Kudos to those who, like EdWhitney, are willing to make the extra effort.

    Check out this video from British comedian Jonathan Pie. Nailed it.

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