In ancient Rome victorious generals were awarded Triumphs by the Senate in recognition of a great victory. When the winning general rode through the adoring crowds to soak in the glory a slave held the laurel leaves, the symbol of victory, over his head and constantly whispered into his ear “Remember, thou art only human”. The tradition was wise because Rome had suffered at the hands of general who tried to exchange the glory for personal power.
The modern United States has its own triumphs in the Presidential campaign for the winning candidate and it comes in the form of Inauguration Day and the ceremony surrounding the Office of President. Yet, one aspect of Roman times still continues, the tradition of reminding the President that he is still only human and that he too is subject to the observations and judgments of his fellow citizens.
This tradition takes the form of #Satire and it can be fatal to the image of any Head of State and not only the President.
Even during the presidential campaign and before his surprise victory #Donald Trump was subject to satire and particularly to the attention of #Saturday Night Live on NBC. In the course of the last year Alec Baldwin presented the former businessman become politician in all his idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. This did not stop on November 8th and drew the ire of the victorious candidate..
This progamme drew on news items and controversies and did not even save Russian President Vladimir Putin who allegedly ordered the hacking of the presidential campaign which is now the subject of a number of investigations by the country’s intelligence community. What raised the profile of the satire even more were the numerous tweets of protest and disdain by #Donald Trump which did nothing to make the issue go away and in fact drew even more attention to the criticisms.
Yet the President Elect and now President did not understand that satire is in fact a major warning sign of disquiet in at least a part of the population and that disregarding these messages effectively does nothing to reduce the opposition to his position of power. Rather, his allergy to personal criticism or any comments directed at him and his quick, often impulsive reactions are potential indicators that his political opponents on the international stage, such as the Chinese and Russian leadership, can use to their advantage..
President Donald Trump would do well to study what happened to another politician who in many ways was a precursor for his political career. Amongst the many points that Trump has in common with disgraced former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was also this impatience for satire and in a famous occasion during a press conference in Bucharest during a state visit to the Rumanian capital publicly ordered the ban of satirist Daniele Luttazzi from state television and naturally Berlusconi’s own television networks also obeyed the directive. This act would hang over Berlusconi’s head as a sign that his behaviour was not that of a democratic leader.
Freedom of speech and criticism
Satire is a form of freedom of expression, even though it can be uncomfortable for its subjects. It allows its creators and actors to put on stage those matters and themes which are causes for worry amongst the population. The ratings success of such programmes around the world reflect this fact and politicians would do well to remember this when they protest the way they are presented. Praise and criticism are both legitimate forms of speech and as such to be encouraged.
Satire gives those with worries a means to publicly express them and in a peaceful manner, even if it is sometimes uncomfortable for the subjects. At the same time the subjects of the satire must remember that the alternative is much worse and potentially more violent as we have seen too often around the world. Satire is an expression of a true Democracy and not something to be banned or limited.