Last weekend, Donald Trump tweeted his distaste for Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of him on Saturday Night Live, calling the show “boring and unfunny.” But SNL, which has been poking fun at presidential elections since 1976, is experiencing its highest ratings in eight years. Back then, during the 2008 election, Tina Fey famously guest-starred to play then-vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
This week, we asked readers via Politics & Policy Daily to share their favorite SNL election sketches. Here are some of the best responses.
Thanks to David H. Lippman for suggesting the 1992 episode where Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman—portraying Ross Perot and Jim Stockdale, respectively—discuss Stockdale’s erratic behavior at the vice-presidential debate:
Jeff Harris offered up his favorite SNL presidential debate skit: a spoof on the 53rd Republican Debate in 1988:
Dan Aykroyd is fantastic as Bob Dole on the heels of a televised spar with George Bush (“I know it. You know it. The American people know it.”) Dana Carvey as George Bush is great too, but Al Franken as Pat Robertson seals the deal for me.
And while not election-related, we really enjoyed Martin Ward’s suggestion of Dan Aykroyd as President Carter accepting unscreened calls from listeners on a call-in talk show:
This week in our Politics & Policy Daily newsletter, we asked readers who should represent the Red Planet if President Obama’s goal is accomplished and humans are able to “remain there for an extended time.” We got some great responses via hello@. Michael Wood reminds us that Dennis Kucinich, a former Democratic congressman and presidential contender, once saw a UFO and claimed he had “felt a connection in his heart and heard directions.” Wood said Kucinich is “clearly best positioned to continue his role as liaison.”
Props to reader Michael Zarrelli for recommending the late James Traficant, another Democratic congressman from Ohio, who used to end speeches with the phrase “Beam me up!” Zarrelli’s idea is echoed by regular question-answerer Howard Cohen: “Perhaps the ashes of former Rep. James ‘Beam me up, Scotty’ Traficant have already reached Mars and they already have a ‘congressman’”?
Another reader, Dirk Bloemendaal, suggested that California Governor “Moonbeam” Jerry Brown might make a good Mars representative:
He has always had a fascination with outer space and once proposed that California launch its own space satellite. Of course, he’d have to run for Congress, on the “far out” plank, and his advanced age may slow him down a bit—but his California Dreamin’ Drive would see him through!
Lastly, Catherine Martin has some 2016 election snark: “I think we should send Donald Trump to ‘remain there for an extended time.’”
As our own Megan Garber leads The Atlantic’s movie club in the weeks leading up to Election Day, we asked what politics-related film our Politics & Policy Daily readers consider to be mandatory viewing for all Americans. We got loads of submissions for classics like The Candidate, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Advise & Consent. Big props to Michael J. Sweat for reminding us about the 2006 film Idiocracy, starring Luke Wilson.
And to Alicia Shepard for All the President's Men, which she calls “a fascinating window into the changing world of journalism and the nefarious world of Nixon’s presidency.”
And from avid Daily reader Howard Cohen: “Given the conspiracies that Trump has been putting out going back to the birther issue—including that the election will be rigged if he loses—there is no better political flick to watch before November 8 than The Parallax View.”
Another reader offered a movie for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, letting us “guess for which candidate each film is germane”:
1. Hitler: A Career: The rise and fall of a firebrand and despot who uses pure emotion to rile the masses
2. Evita: Wife of a dictatorial president who yearns to break out on her own
The common thread? In both cases, film and real-life, it’s all about them.
And thanks to John Donovan for offering a selection of more obscure political films based on genre:
Satire—Bulworth: A flawed film but dead-on depiction of the nihilistic political hucksters gutting our democracy. Worth a watch just for Warren Beatty rapping and romancing Halle Berry, and Oliver Platt’s brilliant portrayal of a craven Hill staffer.
Serious—Battle of Chile: Historic documentary filmed as the overthrow of Allende happened. You’ll never forget the footage of a soldier firing at and killing the cameraman filming him.
Classic—The Great McGinty by Preston Sturges. Corruption has never been funnier … until maybe Chris Christie.
Cult—Maidstone: written, directed, and starring Norman Mailer who plays a presidential candidate. Famous for scary, semi-real assassination attempt by hammer-wielding method actor Rip Torn. Pure madness.
Finally, Mark Febrizio offers up the 1974 classic Chinatown which, despite not being about politics, he writes, “offers a dark, yet realistic, depiction of the repercussions of eroded political and legal institutions.”
More from Mark:
On a basic level, the water shortage is a consequence of institutional—not just environmental—problems (I think this is something most can agree on regardless of one’s preferred solution). Furthermore, we also see the results of a government bureaucracy (the L.A. Department of Water and Power) captured by business interests, and the paralyzing effects of the distorted incentives for law enforcement officials.
Chinatown isn’t a movie that provides political solutions but instead offers substantial food for thought, especially for the many Americans who may feel that contemporary political and legal institutions have similarly eroded. Additionally, it’s worth watching just for the exceptional screenplay, gripping performances, and taut direction.
Jeb Bush, one of the Republican presidential candidates this year, made a cameo as a limo driver during the Emmy Awards last Sunday night. Rick Perry, who also briefly ran for the White House, is now a contestant on Dancing With the Stars. This week, we asked readers where they expect to see the former 2016 presidential contenders on television, and we got some great answers.
Props to reader Jeremy Glenn for predicting Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson will end up on “the next installment of Survivor”—assuming he doesn’t win in November, that is.
But our personal favorite comes from reader Joanne Allard, who expects Dr. Ben Carson to show up in an ad for the sedative Ambien, although “through the list of possible side effects, he’ll have moved on to an ad for luggage.”
And even though House Speaker Paul Ryan never ran for president, Joanne would not be surprised if the CrossFit fanatic ended up performing promotional videos “for extreme-fitness programs that air at 2 a.m.”
Finally, here’s a whole slew of ideas from one of our regular contributors, Dirk Bloemendaal:
Donald Trump: Modern Family, ’cause he’d fit right in. (Alternative: Game of Thrones, because Winter is Coming.)
Hillary Clinton: The Voice, ’cause hers is so melodic and smooth when she raises it.
Critics pounced on Today Show host Matt Lauer for his handling of NBC’s Commander in Chief forum featuring Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, foreshadowing the level of scrutiny the moderators will face during this fall’s presidential debates. The scheduled moderators are Anderson Cooper of CNN, Lester Holt of NBC, Martha Raddatz of ABC, and Chris Wallace of Fox News—and they’re already feeling the heat.
So, this week we asked readers to offer their thoughts on who might make the best presidential debate moderator and why. Several readers suggested MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. Here’s Marguerite Beaudoin’s reasoning:
It is my opinion that Rachel Maddow would be a great moderator, despite the fact that she is a Democrat. She is capable of conducting herself in an unbiased and professional manner and can “handle” both of them without doubt.
Here’s Maddow in action:
There was also a lot of support for Democracy Now! host and producer Amy Goodman. Why? Reader Lisa McDaniels picked Goodman because she’s “smart, has an amazing breadth and depth of knowledge, is even-tempered, is independent/not owned by corporate media, and looks like a real human being, not an air-brushed celebrity.”
A particularly great suggestion came from reader Steven Durham, who really wishes Judge Judy could moderate the presidential debates:
She would destroy Trump for having no substance; she would destroy Clinton for her terrible campaigning skills; and she’d be entertaining, which is what the American voter apparently needs in order to be engaged.
Reader Joe Bookman suggested The Atlantic’s very own Molly Ball: “She is smart, fair, has demonstrated knowledge of the issues as well as the candidates, and is likely not well-known by the candidates themselves.” Another reader, David Murray, described what a talented debate moderator would bring to the stage:
The best moderator, in my opinion, will:
a) Hold the speaker accountable for a clear answer and do not allow a speaker to side-step a question.
b) Prevent speakers from using personal attacks on their opponent and remain solely on the issues and questions. Any form of name calling or derogatory remarks are to be halted and called out (example: “Crooked Hillary”). The moderator must insist on respect for the person.
c) Ensure speakers stay in the time allotment and be firm in cutting them off especially if their response is not addressing the question, is attacking their opponent, or is posturing.
In my opinion, the moderator in these important presidential debates is not a simple bystander, especially with these two candidates. The issues are too great and these two have been skirting them for too long. And if the media is ever to restore any semblance of credibility, the moderators must be strong, clear journalists asking straightforward questions, not allowing the candidates to fudge or skirt an answer. The questions must be precise and to the point. They must be realistic. They must address current, complex issues in a way that allows for clear, concise, and thoughtful responses. The moderator, in my opinion, must seek responses that answer the basic journalist’s framework: 5 Ws and an H.
We need to know how the next president will govern, how he or she will make decisions, how he/she will collaborate, how he/she will reduce the influence of special interests and how he/she will stand up to special interests; how he/she will lift up the poor, improve the safety nets of Americans, and help foster a more just society.
The moderators must be more prepared than the candidates, be firm, be courageous, and be mindful of the American people and not the ratings of a broadcast company.
This next reader, Donald Haskell, also made an interesting point about the unique role of a moderator:
I don’t know enough to respond to the debate moderator choice question, but I believe that the guidelines for a moderator should be quite different from those of a news interviewer. I think that the moderator is tasked with generating a list of questions that challenge the debaters to clarify their positions on a broad range of topics, and it is the debate opponent's responsibility to challenge the response, not the moderator’s (in contrast to the responsibilities of a news interviewer).
Secondly, both, but especially the debate moderator, must exercise control over the process, even if it means using an on/off switch to cut off a debater or interviewee when they exceed the parameters of the event (similar to the minister who redirected Mr Trump at the Flint church).
And finally, props to reader Patricia Heaps for keeping it light: She suggested that Donald Duck should moderate the presidential debates because “this race is a cartoon.”
Congress returned to Capitol Hill this week, and Candice and I posed a new question to our Politics & Policy Daily readers: What book should be required reading for every senator and representative? We got an overwhelming number of responses, but here are a few of our favorites:
Martha Allen was the first of many to suggest Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson’s widely acclaimed memoir detailing his career as a young lawyer, fighting against injustice in America’s criminal-justice system.
Another popular submission was The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli’s 16th-century manual on manipulating your way to power. Thanks to Jerry Purmal for being the first to suggest it.
In case you’re curious: Michael Ignatieff examined The Prince more closely in his piece for The Atlantic back in December 2013, asking whether President Obama is “Machiavellian enough.”
One particularly thoughtful response came from Briauna Barrera:
If I could assign one book for every member of Congress to read (and perhaps everyone period) it would be Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.
The book explores the current state of food systems in the US, and to a lesser extent the world, and the historical events that led up to its current status, its successes, and more importantly, its failures, shortcomings, and problems. However, Foer approaches the issue from the lens of being a new father and simply wanting to do what's best for his newborn son. He also grapples with being a son himself, and a grandson, and dealing with the emotional implications that meat has for him and his family (his grandmother was a Holocaust survivor who wastes nothing and shows her love through food).
I think if Congress would read this book, it would show that what we are doing with agriculture—the way we get our food, the way we interact with animals—isn’t sustainable and that something needs to be done now. This is connected to climate change, it’s connected to resource management, land use, population growth, the economy, everything. Food touches most—if not every—aspect of our lives. Beyond that, it’s deeply ingrained in our cultures, our nationalities, our religions, our lifestyles, our very psyches. This isn’t some writer preaching against meat, this is a data-rich narrative with plenty of complementary and opposing perspectives discussing this complex and complicated subject. This book is filled with just as much hard facts as it is feeling.
I’ve been grappling with my own ethical issues with eating meat for a while now and this book gave me words and concepts and facts for a lot of the feelings and abstract thoughts I’ve had. This isn’t a liberal issue or a conservative issue or a moderate issue or what have you. Ironically enough, eating meat, farming, our food systems, animal rights, they are all human issues. We are forced to confront our humanity and what we consider what it means to be human when dealing with eating animals. As hard as it is to face that, to confront it and name it and come to terms with it, it needs to happen and it needs to happen from all of us.
The presidential debates are fast-approaching, and last week, we asked who might make a good stand-in for Donald Trump in Hillary Clinton’s debate prep. This week, we turned the tables, asking our Politics & Policy Daily readers who could cleverly portray Clinton during Trump’s rehearsal. We had a handful of great responses, but here are our favorites:
Jane Curtin, suggested by Howard Cohen
Since Trump is liable to borrow the famous Dan Aykroyd line “Jane, you ignorant slut” from the old Saturday Night Live's “Weekend Update” segment (which was a parody of the old 60 Minutes “Point-Counterpoint” with Shana Alexander and James J. Kilpatrick), there is no one better to play Hillary than Jane Curtin.
“Crooked Hillary, you lying witch.”
"Donald, you go from giving Bill and the D’s money to running for president as a Republican while stiffing charities and your own contract workers...”
In the coming months, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off in what will surely be some of the most riveting television showdowns of all time. But many campaign watchers are wondering how Clinton is going to prepare for a debate with such a notoriously brash and unpredictable candidate. She is reportedly struggling with that question herself.
So this week, we asked readers to recommend who they think could artfully play Trump in a debate rehearsal. Turns out, you have given this a lot of thought, as nearly a hundred responses came in. Props to reader Marc Boissonneault for the winning suggestion of actor Alec Baldwin. You probably remember Baldwin from his role as wealthy businessman/news exec Jack Donaghy on NBC’s 30 Rock:
Alec Baldwin has the physical presence and acting ability to be a believable Trump. Also, he is smart and politically savvy, so he would know what Trump would say and how he would act. He would totally kill this gig.
But who else could take on Clinton without holding back?
Reader Alison Deck suggested actor Kevin Spacey because of his experience playing conniving politician Frank Underwood in House of Cards. Alison took us through her thought process:
First thought, Donald Duck: His scattershot, nonlinear speaking style; tendency toward gratuitous repetition; very dubious factual grounding. The “not wearing pants” thing probably too distracting, though.
I then considered Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen; they’re clearly narcissists, after all. Each has had significant negative interactions with women, massive impulse-control issues, problems with substance abuse not dissimilar to Trump’s egomania (branding, incessantly referencing himself in both first and third person). Still, their personal lives/leanings tend to be such roller-coaster rides that compelling them to stay in “Donald” character (for 60-90 minutes!) might be just too much to expect.
So, ultimately, Kevin Spacey. He’s a gifted actor, has played an array of roles, all over the map really. His work on House of Cards may have given him some serious grounding in political skullduggery and at least peripheral understanding of policy. Surveying the roles he's taken on, he seems like a guy who'd be up for the challenge.”
Ultimately, the ideal debate sparring-opponent would be able to channel “The Donald” while not becoming sublimated to the schtick. I truly can think of no actual person in politics who could do this.
Hence, “The Kevin.”
Alison is right that “The Kevin” would probably play a phenomenal Trump. But would he have the guts to attack Clinton personally? Reader Dan Meyer thought that Triumph the Insult Comic Dog would be better. Here’s Triumph at this year’s Democratic National Convention:
But reader Chris McCann was less optimistic, saying that “one substitute, no matter how talented in his or her realization of Trumpness, will not capture the element that makes Trump Trump.” More from Chris:
The Clinton campaign should employ hundreds of folks who will love everything he says and a Trump substitute who will be fed on the love. It's the World Series, she's down 3 games to none, she's playing in her opponent’s stadium in front of an adoring fanbase—a fanbase that will roar approval every time he swings the bat, even when he misses.
Our newly revamped newsletter Politics & Policy Daily (formerly The Edge) started a new little feature on Monday, “Question of the Week.” In the inaugural entry, Elaine—who runs P&PD—asked:
Last week, Britain voted to break with the European Union—a decision known as “Brexit.” If the United States were to leave the United Nations, as Sarah Palin suggested, what would that exit’s nickname be?
Readers sent scores of submissions throughout the week, and today the Politics team picked a winner: Amerigo, submitted by Bob Kerr. The two runners-up are Conscious UN-coupling from Julian Ha and Saranara from Art Kane. Some honorable mentions:
Lee C. Fanshaw with my personal favorite: Yankxit
Barry Popik would text the United Nations: UNmeRnot2B
Chris Leggett goes social media: UN-friending
John Wetzel goes with the Italian word for “exit”: Uscita
Connor Phillips might be a servicemember: USAWOL
Kenny from California: USAway
Howard P. Cohen: USAloha!
Aloha indeed, and happy Fourth! When 240 years ago, Americans exited Britain.
(To sign up for Politics & Policy Daily, and to see what it looks like overall, go here. For the rest of our newsletter offerings, head here.)
Years after these titles were popular, they’re still worth picking up.
Hundreds of thousands of books are published in the United States each year, and this dramatic influx of titles largely runs the calendars of the publishing and media industries—usually to the detriment of any work that isn’t brand new. Even best sellers or novels by famous authors get lost in the deluge, and books that were beloved on release can fall off readers’ radar quickly. But many were popular or critically acclaimed for good reasons, and they’re worth revisiting.
Here is a list of 15 fiction titles from the past two decades that you may have forgotten about in the years since. Some are from familiar names such as Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood, and Louise Erdrich; others are by authors you may not have heard of at all. These selections include plenty of drama, and there’s an undercurrent of gentle comedy, even in novels with dark themes or plots. Their characters define love in many different ways, and they seek fulfillment across geographies and time periods—contemporary London, Vichy France, Nigeria, North Korea. Ultimately, these stories are bound together by a compassion for their characters’ struggles and shortcomings—a quality that only our finest writers are able to cultivate.
Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market. Even worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking.
Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market, according to the latest numbers from MRC Data, a music-analytics firm. Those who make a living from new music—especially that endangered species known as the working musician—should look at these figures with fear and trembling. But the news gets worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs.
The 200 most popular new tracks now regularly account for less than 5 percent of total streams. That rate was twice as high just three years ago. The mix of songs actually purchased by consumers is even more tilted toward older music. The current list of most-downloaded tracks on iTunes is filled with the names of bands from the previous century, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Police.
This was always unsustainable. Now it’s simply impossible.
Last Thursday, a group of 20 mothers in Boston met up outside a local high school. Their goal wasn’t to socialize, drink wine, or even share COVID-related tips. They were there for one reason and one reason only: to stand in a circle—socially distanced, of course—and scream.
“I knew that we all needed to come together and support each other in our rage, resistance and disappointment,” Sarah Harmon, the group’s organizer, wrote on Instagram before the gathering. Ironically, some 20 other moms who had RSVP’d “yes” had to cancel at the last minute because they or other family members had COVID, Harmon told me.
When mothers feel there is no more appealing way to spend an evening than to yell into the frigid January darkness, something is very, very wrong. Parents in the United States are living through a universally terrible moment. For two years, we’ve been spending each and every day navigating an ever-changing virus that’s threatening not only our well-being but our livelihoods. The situation has reached a fever pitch during this wave, when we’re expected to function normally even though nothing is normal and none of the puzzle pieces in front of us fit together.
The former cast member Will Forte brought eccentric comedy to last night’s show, and it was a relief.
Before the former Saturday Night Live cast member Will Forte made his hosting debut on the show yesterday, one of the more memorable moments from his eight-year tenure circulated online. In a 2005 sketch, Forte played a timid, overwhelmed spelling-bee contestant. When asked to spell the word business, he produced a deadpan, 75-letter sequence of consonants. As would so often occur during his time on SNL, Forte bulldozed past absurdity to find fresh hilarity. The current cast member Bowen Yang shared the clip on Instagram with the caption “legend.”
Forte is a champion of eccentricity, adeptly playing awkward, tightly wound characters whose veneer often comes close to shattering—if it hasn’t already. Last night, Forte revisited his version of weird, bringing a playful looseness that generated this season’s strongest night thus far. After the previous particularly bleak episode, Forte’s presence was a welcome shift for SNL. Instead of wrestling with the bizarreness of our present reality, the show leaned into a jubilant zaniness of its own. Forte’s comedy felt like a release—and the cast responded with vigor.
The new variant seems to be our quickest one yet. That makes it harder to catch with the tests we have.
It certainly might not seem like it given the pandemic mayhem we’ve had, but the original form of SARS-CoV-2 was a bit of a slowpoke. After infiltrating our bodies, the virus would typically brew forabout five or six daysbefore symptoms kicked in. In the many months since that now-defunct version of the virus emerged, new variants have arrived to speed the timeline up. Estimates for this exposure-to-symptom gap, called the incubation period, clocked in at about five days for Alpha and four days for Delta. Now word has it that the newest kid on the pandemic block, Omicron, may have ratcheted it down to as little asthree.
If that number holds, it’s probably bad news. These trimmed-down cook times are thought to play a major part in helping coronavirus variants spread: In all likelihood, the shorter the incubation period, the faster someone becomes contagious—and the quicker an outbreak spreads. A truncated incubation “makes a virus much, much, much harder to control,” Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me.
To see the most compelling evidence of the former president’s criminality, look to the Peach State.
Yesterday, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis sent a letter to the chief judge of the Fulton County Superior Court requesting to empanel a special grand jury “for the purpose of investigating the facts and circumstances relating directly or indirectly to possible attempts to disrupt the lawful administration of the 2020 elections in the State of Georgia.”
The request was triggered by the reluctance of key witnesses, including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, to cooperate without being subpoenaed to testify. The special-purpose grand jury wouldn’t have the power to bring indictments, but it “may make recommendations concerning criminal prosecution as it shall see fit.”
With this letter, Willis brought back to the fore the actions surrounding the 2020 election contest by former President Donald Trump that are most suspect under both state and federal criminal law. The district attorney seeks a special grand jury with good reason, as Trump appears to have crossed the line into outright illegality, and that behavior merits a serious and thorough criminal investigation.
The question is who will benefit most when it finally falls.
To hear Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema tell it, they hoped to defend voting rights. They also hoped, even more fervently, to defend the Senate filibuster.
In the end, they did neither.
It’s true that by joining their Republican colleagues this week to reject a rules change and block a pair of voting-rights bills, the two Democrats ensured that the filibuster remains temporarily intact. But Manchin and Sinema’s goal was not merely to block a piece of legislation or preserve a procedural rule in the short term. As Manchin himself put it, “We must never, ever, ever, ever tear down the only wall, the necessary fence, that this nation has against the excesses of the executive branch and the resultant haste and tyranny of the majority.”
That conclusion might seem harsh, but it’s been almost 20 years since the NFL adopted the Rooney Rule, which was intended to give candidates of color a better shot at head-coaching jobs and was eventually expanded to cover front-office openings as well. What the league has to show for its efforts in 2022 is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin as the lone Black head coach in the league. The reason is painfully obvious: In a league where roughly 70 percent of players are Black, owners have no real interest in seeing Black coaches thrive.
The variant is spreading widely, but won’t necessarily give us strong protection from new infections.
Even before Omicron hit the United States in full force, most of our bodies had already wised up to SARS-CoV-2’s insidious spike—through infection, injection, or both. By the end of October 2021, some 86.2 percent of American immune systems may have glimpsed the virus’s most infamous protein, according to one estimate; now, as Omicron adds roughly 800,000 known cases to the national roster each day, the cohort of spike-zero Americans, the truly immunologically naive, is shrinkingfast. Virginia Pitzer, an epidemiologist at Yale’s School of Public Health and one of the scientists who arrived at the 86.2 percent estimate, has a guess for what fraction of the U.S. population will have had some experience with the spike protein when the Omicron wave subsides: 90 to 95 percent.