It is very, very easy to make fun of President Donald Trump. He often comes across as a loudmouthed boor, a lech, a liar, a braggart. Since his inauguration, his behavior has, if anything, grown more erratic and bizarre. As a general rule, most presidents are able to pull off a standard getting-to-know-ya call with the Australian prime minister without sparking a minor diplomatic crisis. Not so Trump, who abruptly ended a conversation with Malcolm Turnbull earlier this week.
It’s no surprise, then, that much of the parodying and satirizing of Trump has taken the form of exaggeration of his worst or most salient qualities, turning him into even more of a petty and bombastic fool than many people believe he is. On Saturday Night Live, Alec Baldwin simply makes Trump even Trumpier, a rendition that has proven both popular and, if Trump’s tweets are any indication, very aggravating to the president himself. Then there’s “President Sassy,” a video series by the British actor and voice artist Peter Serafinowicz, which transforms Trump from a blustering uber-masculine authoritarian into, well, an extremely sassy and whiny gay guy:
Other comics take a bit of a more zoomed-out approach in which they simply lean into the senses of doom and surreality permeating our present political moment. The video editor Vic Berger IV is one exemplar of this approach, and has been executing it quite successfully since the prime of the 2016 campaign:
These are very entertaining, cleverly done sendups of President Trump. But for my money, the most brilliant take on Trump produced so far is Presidential Trump, or @MatureTrumpTwts, and it cuts in exactly the opposite direction. Rather than stretch and twist Trump’s already cartoonlike persona, Presidential Trump envisions a world in which he is simply a normal, respectable, not-crazy president. It’s a bit like those accounts that envision someone else won the presidency, like @IfHillaryHad, but instead of imagining we have a different president, Presidential Trump imagines that the president is different.
The format is simple: Presidential Trump simply quote-retweets Trump’s tweets and envisions how they would read if Trump were any other president.
The account is run by a “50ish” guy in the Midwest who doesn’t want his identity revealed, and who has adopted the moniker “Barry” since, as he explained in a DM interview, people on Twitter keep saying they think Barack Obama is secretly running the account. A “professional communicator and keynote speaker” who said he focuses on “issues around the need for kindness, living a full life, etc.” Barry explained that he was inspired to start the account after Trump went after the cast of Hamilton for criticizing him at the end of their performance on a night when Mike Pence, who was in attendance, got booed by many of his fellow theater-goers. “It felt like an assault in 1st Amendment rights, and an inappropriate punch to the stomach,” he explained. “I felt I needed to do something cathartic that gave me some control. My sister-in-law and first follower said she thought this would resonate with a lot of people. Turns out she was right!” The account has in fact been quite successful so far, racking up more than 116,000 followers since its launch.
Barry believes there is an important distinction between his work and that of other online personalities seeking to skewer the president. “I think my approach works because I’m not sardonic or biting, instead simply providing a primer for a better way of being statesmanlike, something a lot of Americans want and expect from their President,” he explained. “So my approach appeals to both sides of the aisle. Anger is hard to sustain, and humor can be shrugged off as just that. So what was once a selfish therapeutic activity became an antidote for a lot of people.”
“Antidote” might be too strong a word, but there is a potency — and poignancy — to Barry’s tweets that other forms of mockery don’t provide. They emphasize the extent to which, as countless outraged observers have pointed out online, this is not normal. It is not normal for a president to brag about himself in front of the CIA’s memorial wall to foreign officers and subsequently describe his appearance as a “WIN!”:
Nor is it normal for a president to whine repeatedly about SNL impressions of him:
And it definitely isn’t normal for a president to aggressively undermine protesters who have turned out in record numbers to stand up to his agenda.
Presidential Trump has the effect of whiplashing the reader back to a temporarily banished reality where presidents act presidential, and by dint of its aggressive normalcy and oh-so-politic niceness, it’s much more jarring and visceral than the 150th joke about Trump’s hands or demeanor (as entertaining and cathartic as those jokes can be). To read it is to get smacked upside the head by the asininity of the year 2017, over and over and over.
Despite the fact that it would give him less material to work with, Barry said he hopes Trump tweets less, given how dangerous his habit could be. “When a tweet can cause death threats, tank the valuation of a company or cause a int’l kerfuffle with China, it’s time to pause,” he said. “Trump needs someone to stand between him and the send button. And to understand that 140 characters is not nearly enough to provide context on any issue.”
For now, though, Trump shows no sign of slowing down — in just his tweets from this morning, Trump threatened Iran, criticized Arnold Schwarzenegger (whom he’s in a spat with, because of course he is), and complained about the “fake news” that revealed his tense call with Turnbull (there’s no sign anything that was reported about it was inaccurate) — and Barry has some ambitious hopes for the presidential persona he has developed. “I’ll keep doing this because we can’t allow Trump’s tone to be normalized,” he explained. “I have a plan to expand this beyond 140 characters, which I hope to reveal soon. It will help people cope, resist when needed and more effectively return to civil discourse.” Barry pointed out that he went to college with Brad Pitt and Sheryl Crow, and is the least famous of the three. “For now…,” he added.