I have always hated the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Its cozy mix of journalists and the powerful politicians they’re supposed to be holding to account has embodied every populist critique of the relationship between the press and political power. The best thing that ever happened to the dinner was Stephen Colbert’s humiliation of George W. Bush at the 2006 dinner, an event that simultaneously appalled the attendees and became a viral sensation that propelled Colbert to new heights. When Donald Trump came to power, it began to be clear even to many of the dinner’s regular attendees that the whole affair was inappropriate: Trump is famously humorless, does not take well to criticism, and his relationship with the press has been abysmal. Yesterday CNN said it might sit out the dinner this year.
But today changed everything, because today Donald Trump also announced that he would be skipping the dinner this year. Trump’s motivations are obvious: his joke of an administration is in freefall, he’s a recipient of constant brutal satire on every comedy show, and he has taken an aggressively totalitarian approach to news organizations and comics who challenge him. He is incapable of the sort of self-deprecating humor that makes for a good stand-up routine of his own, as he embarrassingly demonstrated at the Al Smith. The thought of spending two hours smiling while being mocked by the very press establishment he hates surely seemed intolerable.
I’m sure there’s nothing Trump would like better than to see the entire thing be canceled permanently. But while I might have agreed with him in the past under normal circumstances, that’s precisely why the dinner should go on as planned.
Because Trump won’t be attending, the dinner won’t a chummy confab between the press and its targets of accountability. Instead, it can and should be a two-hour roast of an empty chair–which would be extremely appropriate under the circumstances.
Moreover, canceling the dinner would allow Trump to take credit for its discontinuation. He should not be given that satisfaction.
Trump’s refusal to attend has very possibly made the White House Correspondents’ Dinner great again. Let the roast begin.