Political Satire in the Trump Era

Political humour, provocative comedy and freedom of expression came into play at an engaging event held on Monday by the Hist and Pol Soc

trinity-lifeOn Monday, the Hist and Pol Soc came together to host a panel of both student and guest speakers for an insightful discussion on political satire in the Trump Era. The panel was notable not only for an analysis on the ineffectiveness of satire throughout the American Presidential Election, but also for the provocative humour of Irish comedy writer and performer David McSavage, who made for domineering presence throughout the discussion.

The event was opened by Oisin McElhinney, secretary of the Burke Sessions Committee. He described how satire related to the Trinity College context that we are in by pointing out College’s links to Jonathan Swift, author of one the most famous works of satire, Gulliver’s Travels. Another student speaker, Andrew Blennerhassett, moved the discussion on to the present day as he described how “in a world that is so apathetic to politics, getting people interested is really important”. He explained how the Irish satirical show Nob Nation was what originally engaged him in Irish politics.

One of the founders of the Northern Irish satirical newspaper Ulster Fry, Ciaran Murray, then gave insight into the effectiveness of satire, describing how, under the power-sharing agreement, there is no viable form of opposition other than satire. Responding to a question on whether satire could make a difference within the political sphere, he responded by saying that that he believed the Ulster Fry’s focus on the ‘Cash for Ash’ scandal had helped cause bring attention controversy. Yet he also mentioned a personal frustration at some of attempts made at making fun of Trump, whom he described as “impossible to satirise”.

Kevin Smyth, a second year Law student, continued the discussion on Trumps’ ability to survive criticism. He questioned whether the impression that a large portion of the media was against Trump could have actually mobilised those who supported him during the campaigning period. This discussion was continued by Sinead Harrington, Chair of the Burke Sessions Committee, who explained that “if you see someone you support being laughed at all the time, it is angering”. She expressed a desire for liberal comedians to move away from criticizing trivial and personal details such as the size of Trumps hands, and instead focus on the more pressing issue of the ridiculousness of his policies.

McSavage opted to change the tone of the discussion, which he unashamedly compared to “having sex with a dead woman”. He persevered with a comedic and provocative tone throughout the his speech and the Q&A which followed by describing how he dislikes Trinity students: “What I love about Trump is that it annoys people like you. You liberals, with your books and your education”. He furthered that he hates the Irish Times, hates the people who read it, hates Donnybrook and also yoga.

McSavage expressed an admiration for Trumps’ ability to tell things as he initially sees them, drawing on the example of Meryl Streep: “Meryl Streep has 20 Oscar nominations [so] nobody ever tells Meryl Streep to fuck off”. On the subject of Charlie Hebdo and censorship in satire, he told of how he received death threats whilst performing outside a mosque. He said “Radical Islam aren’t playing by the same rules” of freedom of expression, and he would consider his own safety before attempting to make fun of them. McSavage continued to push boundaries throughout his time on the panel, with other  notable quotes included calling satirist Oliver Callan “a load of shite” and going to the effort of explaining how “you can’t grab a pussy; you can grab a dick but not a pussy”.

There was a marked difference in his tone than the rest of the discussion, as McSavage continued to have a loud presence during the Q&A. The panel was brought to a close with a wine reception to finish off what proved to be a highly engaging and worthwhile discussion on the role of political satire in the age of President Donald Trump.