It is dispiriting to watch the wretched excesses of Mr. Trump’s slapstick presidency and the rabid audience he commands. But there may be an upside to his crude performance art. His relentless lies, impulsive acts and gassy pronouncements have emboldened American journalists and quickened their senses.
And just as heartening, the Trump phenomenon has sharpened the wits of a whole new breed of entertainers. These are the daring TV comics who gleefully turn Mr. Trump’s outrages against him every night of the week: Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Seth Meyers and others.
As entertainers, they are everything Mr. Trump is not. They’re smart, informed, disciplined, self-aware and genuinely funny. Not a single item in the day’s news goes unexamined by these warrior satirists, and unlike the late-night comfort food of days past, their comedy is heightened by the bright fire of their anger.
Entertainment, it turns out, ain’t beanbag.
Everyone loves a good villain onscreen and onstage. Shakespeare himself must have especially relished writing lines for Macbeth, Iago and Richard III. But coldhearted monsters in movies and plays are the stuff of fantasy. When we’re sitting in the audience, some part of us is reassured knowing that we are watching fiction.
Reality is a lot less entertaining and a lot more frightening. There has to be a way to rein in real-life villainy in public life. Our government of checks and balances has finally taken on that challenge. With House committees examining Mr. Trump’s recent invitations to foreign governments to meddle in our elections, impeachment is not only possible but probable.
But it will be an uphill struggle. Impeachment would not necessarily close down this long-running freak show. Other forces need to be brought to bear.
Soon, with any luck, journalism and entertainment will act in concert with an energized voting public to bring an end to the Trump nightmare. If not, we’ll have to wait a little longer for quality drama and accommodate ourselves to a continuing diet of B-movie horror.
John Lithgow, an actor and illustrator, is the author of the forthcoming book “Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse.”
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