We've barely made it through 48 hours in the one-world authoritarian government known as the Trump World Order, but the pundits and armchair prognosticators are already building up quite the resume of terrifying and mundane glimpses into our immediate future. ABC knows what his transition to the White House "might" look like, NPR is counting down the things he maybe-probably-maybe-not wants to do in his first one hundred days in office, Alternet wants us to know there are exactly 16 terrible things coming, People is speculating on how Trump is going to change the look of the White House,, the Washington Post is speculating on where Barron will go to school, and even The New Yorker has written fanfic on Trump's first term.

The thing is, no one really knows what Trump is going to do—especially not the new, oh-golly-I'm-just-glad-to-be-here Trump who met Obama yesterday and called him a "very good man." Sure, we know what he said on the campaign trail, but he routinely contradicted himself and changed his mind on his own policies mid-sentence. All those campaign promises he's disinterested in pursuing will probably roll off him like hair on a lint brush. This is what makes him so terrifying—no matter what people have been assuming, we really don't know what he believes in or what he will pursue.

But in trying to parse his political agenda, perhaps pundits are looking in the wrong place. Trump is a product of television (reality TV in particular)—as Time wrote this week, the more viewers saw Trump appearing on late-night shows and comedy specials during the election cycle, the more normalized he became. (A sample headline from September: "Nice Moves Normalizing A Racist, Sociopathic Scumbag, Jimmy Fallon!") There's no such thing as bad publicity, especially when your most immediate and obvious endgoal is continued relevance in the social media sphere. In TV trope terms, bad guys also win popularity contests.

So the most accurate lens from which to view Trump—and to understand how he views himself—may be through his idealized, televised self. And brushing aside the Jimmy Fallon hair petting fiasco, the most remarkable and damning TV appearance Trump made over the campaign was when he hosted Saturday Night Live in November 2015.

That episode has gone down as one of the lowest points in the history of SNL, if not the nadir for the comedy institution (mind you, Lorne Michaels has reportedly said he'd rather have a truly horrible show than a mediocre show "because those are the ones you remember," so maybe he was okay with it). It was an instantly embarrassing misread across the board by the Powers That Be at SNL that was roundly criticized, and a no-win situation that left the writers and actors in a creative ditch where they were forced to help an avowed misogynist and racist look cuddly and in-on-the-joke (the joke being his presidential aspirations and remarkable ability to cynically play to the worst qualities in his followers).

At the time, I called it a "comic toxicity" that infected every sketch and idea in the episode (and all that selling out for just 12 measly minutes of airtime!). And the worst moment of the worst episode in SNL history was White House 2018, a look into the future of the Trump presidency where everything was fan-tastic, racism was hilarious, and Omarosa was part of his cabinet. To me at the time, it was "hack comedy, [which] stands as one of the worst things I've ever seen on SNL."


Thinking about what the next four years is going to look like—and the way Trump envisions his presidency, at least before Tuesday made it real—I was reminded of this godawful sketch. Revisiting it now, I am struck by the eerie silence where punchlines and laughter would normally be. When Ivanka Trump ("Secretary of the Interior") strides in with a giant smile on her face, you can hear a pin drop. All the Not Ready For Primetime Players look like they're being held against their wills, phoning it in with slightly off-rhythm line readings. Trump doesn't actually make any jokes, just gets oodles of praise thrown his way before the sketch suddenly breaks the third wall and becomes a glorified campaign ad.

In the most telling lines of the sketch, Donald reveals how he sees himself: "Well you know what, I don't have to get specific. With me, it just works, it's just magic. It's always been that way my whole life." Thanks to SNL cast member (and avowed Staten Island hater) Pete Davidson, we can say with some assurance that this is NOT how the SNL writers wanted to portray him, or tried to squeeze some humor out of a bad situation.

In Samantha Bee's award-winning (in my dreams) piece of investigative journalism on Trump's purported illiteracy, she pointed out a Davidson interview (see the 6 minute mark in the clip below) in which Davidson explained Trump's approach to comedy: "So he doesn't really know how to read. He loves to improv. So during the table read, he would go, 'Ehhh, I'm not going to say this. I think I'm gonna say it the way I want to say it.'"

New laws are tweeted, ISIS is completely eliminated, Syrians are employed as Trump Casino blackjack dealers, Omarosa is in the cabinet, the economy has bounced back, Mexico has paid for the wall, and everyone is sick and tired of winning. It's just magic. When Trump closes his eyes to go to sleep at night, this is what he sees. The evidence strongly suggests this fantasy portrayal—much like his constructed, canny television personality—is about as deep as Trump has been willing to go in imagining the responsibilities of being president. That's not just terrible comedy—that's a terrifying reality.