Comedian Michelle Wolf delivered a risqué performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner last Saturday and became a hot topic overnight. The annual dinner, which is typically a stuffy affair, brings together Democratic and Republican politicians and media personalities for a night of awkward, elitist camaraderie. Wolf’s performance, laced with explicit references to President Trump’s scandals and sexual history, earned the ire of the far-right – a rich irony, given that group’s crusade against political correctness.
Some of the highlights of Wolf’s routine included a joke about Mike Pence being “what happens when Anderson Cooper isn’t gay,” a reference to the Trump Administration “going through Cabinet members quicker than Starbucks throws out black people,” and a suggestion that Democrats could blow a race against “a guy named Jeff Pedophile Nazi Doctor.” She labeled Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders a liar to her face and closed her routine with a sincere condemnation of the perverse, profitable symbiosis between Trump and corporate media.
Wolf attacked establishment Democrats, Republicans, and the alt-right with fervor. She delivered several truth-to-power moments that agitated her audience. In response, the White House Correspondents’ Association issued a statement saying that Wolf’s routine “was not in the spirit” of their mission, which apparently consists of a “commitment to a vigorous and free press” – but not at the risk of offending elite power.
The dinner and its aftermath have become a topsy-turvy cultural mess. Conservatives railed against Wolf for picking on simple, humble members of a United States presidential administration and a Koch Brothers lobbyist walked out of the dinner, incensed at “elites mocking all of us.” A Breitbart editorial lamented, “The monsters who cover the White House hate us, hate anyone who is not like them, hate women who dare not think like them, and Wolf was their avatar.” Trump himself tweeted, “The filthy ‘comedian’ totally bombed.”
Wolf’s remarks weren’t any more venomous than the language the far-right regularly uses against the left. Talk radio host Michael Savage, who called Wolf “so pornographically vile” and recently visited the White House, once told a gay caller, “You should only get AIDS and die, you pig; how’s that?” And nothing Wolf said approached the violent belligerence of far-right icon Ted Nugent, who called Barack Obama a “piece of shit,” told him to suck on his machine gun, and told Hillary Clinton to “ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.”
Trump has said plenty that was just as vile as any joke Wolf made. He insinuated that the women accusing him of sexual assault were too ugly to rape. He referred to Haiti and some African nations as “shitholes” and launched his campaign by labeling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers. He suggested Megyn Kelly was on her period for asking him an antagonistic question. Importantly, and unlike Wolf, Trump has always been in a position of power over those he diminishes and demeans.
During the campaign, Trump made opposition to political correctness a cornerstone of his campaign. Some pundits argued he won the election because of it. Yet for the second year in a row, Trump didn’t even show up at the Correspondents Dinner. So thin-skinned is Trump that he allegedly resolved to run for president after being humiliated by then-President Obama at the dinner in 2011, during the height of Trump’s white supremacist “birther” crusade.
Political correctness has long served as a useful boogeyman for the alt-right to cover their blatant homophobia, xenophobia, racism and sexism. Their reaction to Wolf’s routine illustrates that it isn’t really free speech or irreverence that motivates the right, but a fierce loyalty to the identity politics of their tribe. She offended all sectors of the establishment and underlined her material with a serious message – exactly the kind of politically incorrect material free speech champions should admire and defend.
For years, there’s been much debate over whether the Correspondents Dinner should even happen. It is an often distasteful event, with media personalities sipping cocktails alongside the politicians they’re supposed to hold accountable. If the event consistently gave us performances like Wolf’s, though, it just might be worth keeping – though the elites would never subject themselves to it knowingly. It took tremendous guts for Wolf to stand before a roomful of powerful people and tear through so many sacred cows. She should be commended.