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‘SNL’ continues to play a role in American politics

Donald Trump hosted this past week’s episode of “Saturday Night Live,” and the man who aims to “Make America Great Again” dominated the show, with nearly every act besides the prerecorded segments focused on the businessman-cum-presidential candidate. Even sketches where he was not physically present, Trump stole the show, such as during the Weekend Update section when Drunk Uncle expressed his love for the candidate.

In many ways, Trump is the perfect host for “SNL.” With his unrestrained quips, trademark hair and maverick persona, even before his first (and only other) time hosting in 2004, the Donald and his likeness have been a staple on the sketch comedy series.

“Part of the reason I’m here is that I know how to take a joke,” Trump said in his opening monologue. “They’ve done so much to ridicule me over the years; this show has been a disaster for me.”

But in others ways, he’s an unlikely choice, considering his strained relationship with the network. After his comments on undocumented Mexican immigrants in June, NBC cut ties with Trump — relinquishing his position as host of “The Celebrity Apprentice” as well as refusing to air either of his beauty pageants: Miss U.S.A. and Miss Universe. Trump himself has even said the invitation to host was extended in the interest of ratings.

The public took note of this as well. Days before he was set to host, protesters marched outside of NBC in outcry to his comments.

Trump’s hosting takes on a new meaning — especially now as a Republican presidential candidate, considering the timeliness of it. In recent weeks, for the first time since the election season began, his political adversaries have begun to narrow in on him in the polls. In the most recent FOX News poll released Wednesday, Trump was favored by 26 percent of Republicans with Dr. Ben Carson barely trailing with 23 percent.

Presidential candidates have often used “SNL” to make them seem more personable to voters. Hillary Clinton recently appeared on the show as bartender “Val” speaking to cast member Kate McKinnon playing Clinton.

“SNL” provides a platform for candidates to openly address personal criticisms they often shy away from in the political realm. In Clinton’s latest sketch, she addressed criticisms that she is not very personal and retorted allegations that she waited too long to support key issues.

Trump’s show focused on his trademark (questionable) political campaign strategies, such as his tendency to demean his opponents via tweet. One sketch depicted Trump tweeting criticisms of cast members as they self consciously performed.

Long before Clinton and Trump, Gerald Ford was the first president to be on the show, when he said “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night” in 1976. However, the 2008 elections displayed the most fervor. That year “SNL” ’s ratings jumped by 50 percent among all viewers.

Tina Fey as Sarah Palin and Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton in the first episode of the 34th season set off a chain of events to unfold. With its dramatic upshot in ratings, “SNL” then established itself as a voice in the election.

Palin and Clinton both personally appeared on the show that season; a year before them, Barack Obama made an appearance on the Halloween episode. But the prominent role the show held in the election was illustrated when, mere days before the polling booths would open, John McCain performed a sort of hail mary where he and Fey as Palin pretended to sell merchandise from his campaign. 

Regardless, Trump is only the most recent iteration of a cultural legacy that pairs politics with pop culture with a dose of self aware humor.  

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