Thanks to this year’s White House Correspondent’s Dinner, we now know that the president’s thin skin trumps his obsessional need for television ratings.
Had President Donald Trump attended this year’s WHCD on Saturday night, the world would have tuned in to see his roasting, along with those awkward close-ups of a sullen-faced leader of the free world surrounded by laughing journalists—or as he calls them, the “enemy of the people.”
The weight of his absence was palpable, the atmosphere bizarre. That’s when Comedy Central comedian Hasan Minhaj from The Daily Show took over, delivering a 25-minute set that skewered both the Trump administration and many of the news organizations in the room. More importantly, the 31-year-old “first generation Indian American Muslim kid” used his voice to speak out on the hardships of life as an immigrant—particularly under Trump—and to exercise the constitutional right to free speech that is clearly under attack under the current administration.
One of his best jokes of the night played on this theme with the backdrop of ongoing hostilities between the president and members of the news media. “I don’t have a solution on how to win back trust. I don’t,” Minhaj said. “But in the age of Trump, I know that you guys have to be more perfect now more than ever. Because you are how the president gets his news...So that’s why you’ve got to be on your A-game. You’ve got to be twice as good. You can’t make any mistakes. Because when one of you messes up, he blames your entire group.
“And now you know what it feels like to be a minority.”
At the end of the roast, Minhaj grew serious, and visibly emotional. “This event is about celebrating the first amendment and free speech,” Minhaj said. “Free speech is the foundation of an open and liberal democracy from college campuses to the White House. Only in America can a first generation Indian American Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president.”
It was a powerful message. But a question lingers the day after: Does the president care enough to listen?