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Trump's America: When the joke's on you

The president looks for approval from a friendly audience as the media comes together elsewhere.
Donald Trump speaks at a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, rally on Saturday.
President Trump waves to supporters during a campaign-style speech in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Saturday night. Photo: Getty Images

Why get roasted when you can get hugged?

You saw where Donald Trump was on Saturday night. He skipped the traditional jocular ribbing of the black-tie White House Correspondents' Dinner at the Washington Hilton. Instead, he chose the deep adulation of a ball-caps-and-work-boots crowd at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

During the campaign, he'd called Harrisburg "just rotting … just a war zone." This time, he called the city "a wonderful, beautiful" place. And 9,000 people roared their approval.

We all need affection, just not as much as Donald Trump does. At 102 days and counting, he has chosen a dicey way to get it: by isolating himself from criticism of any sort, even the humorous kind, and then watching way too much "Fox & Friends." As he put it Saturday night while the Washington media swells partied on without him: "CNN and MSNBC are fake news," and the media in general are "a disgrace … incompetent, dishonest people."

The media’s latest sin? Pointing out that the touchy president has failed to achieve his Obamacare repeal, his tax overhaul, his Muslim ban, his sanctuary city cutoff or any other major legislation. Why listen to talk like that when you can gather another round of swing-state applause. The people in Harrisburg certainly obligated, even breaking into fresh rounds of "Lock her up! Lock her up!" — just for old times' sake.

You'd think that Barack Obama, the biracial kid whose father abandoned him, would be the one with an oversized need for adult approval. But no. That title falls squarely on the privileged white boy whose father was a real estate mogul.

You could argue that Trump won the Battle of the Cable News Split Screens on Saturday. In a down-home showdown, it's easy to beat Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on C-Span, squeezed like gray-haired sausages into black tuxedos. But it also helps sometimes to laugh at yourself. At the Washington Hilton, "Daily Show" correspondent Hasan Minhaj was busy working the Trump-less ballroom.

"Who is tweeting at 3 a.m. sober?" he marveled. "Donald Trump, because it's 10 a.m. in Russia. Those are business hours! ... Now that a professional wrestler is our president, anything is possible. 'Anything is possible' used to have a positive connotation."

The jokes weren't bad, but the person who should have been laughing was 120 miles away.

Metro columnist Ellis Henican is a veteran journalist, bestselling author and frequent commentator on CNN and other TV networks. Follow him on Twitter @henican.

 

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