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Getting serious about the goofball in chief

With a smirk, President Trump said he wishes Alec Baldwin 'luck' after a reporter told him the actor had been arrested in New York City.

A message for Lorne Michaels and “Saturday Night Live”: It’s time to put Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump character out of its misery. And ours.

The act was never particularly funny. Now it’s cringe-worthy. I’m not faulting Mr. Baldwin. The problem is Mr. Trump. He’s not funny.

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Which is odd. Mr. Trump appears to provide a wealth of material. He lies, he boasts, he exaggerates; he demands his subordinates praise him — and then there’s the hair.

Comedian Jon Stewart considered a Trump candidacy a “gift from the comedy gods.” In a 2012 clip from his show, Mr. Stewart begged Mr. Trump to run against Obama and Romney.

“Donald, you have to get back in the race for president,” Mr. Stewart urged, to laughter from the audience.

What a joke!

The clip hasn’t aged well. Back then, poking fun at Mr. Trump’s “birtherism” antics still seemed safe.

This week, the New York Times devoted two full pages of its print paper to the 280 or so "people, places and things Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter since declaring his candidacy for president." I took the liberty of putting the text of those tweets into a database and crunching some of the associated numbers, assuming it would lead to an insightful analysis of Mr. Trump's psyche. I assumed wrong. What it does show, however, is not without value, albeit mostly entertainment. Here are the

We knew that nobody spouting that racist nonsense could get elected president. We had voted for Mr. Obama.

But Mr. Trump was shrewder than we knew. He was shrewder than we were. From his decades-long career of conning people, he knew that forcefully delivered lies worked — again and again.

He knew that childish attacks and name-calling would appear to many as “authentic.”

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And he sensed, better than anyone, the wellsprings of hate and resentment lurking beneath the surface of American life. Probably because he too raged with hate and resentment.

Thirty years ago, Mr. Trump was funny. In 1991, the great Mike Royko wrote a column entitled, “Trump, Marla Maples Good for the Nation.”

Today, the title sounds jarring, especially from a tough-guy newspaper columnist, but Royko had a point:

“Browsing through the news wires the other day,” Royko wrote, “I was becoming depressed. The economy is sagging, with leading indicators down, up or wherever they shouldn't be; AIDS on the rise; public confidence down; Japan on the rise; the United States in decline; illegitimate births on the rise; new jobs in decline.

“Then I brightened. There was the latest story about The Donald and the lovely Marla.”

Four years ago with Jon Stewart signing off the nightly airwaves and Stephen Colbert leaving the relative freedom of Comedy Central for the more tightly regulated network world, I worried about the future of political satire on TV. But as of last weekend, I am officially worried no more.

Back then, Mr. Trump provided distraction and comic relief. He still provides distraction, of course, but he’s no longer comical.

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The column was about one of Mr. Trump’s many outstanding public spats with Ms. Maples.

It was, Royko said, “one of their finest,” with Ms. Maples throwing both her spiked-heeled shoes and her $250,000 engagement ring at Mr. Trump in the lobby of a fancy Washington, D.C., hotel.

(Royko noted that Mr. Trump and Ms. Maples, unlike most couples, seemed to enjoy an audience for their arguments.)

It was classic Donald Trump. At a time when the nation was in a funk, The Donald provided a few laughs. He gave people something fun and inconsequential to talk about.

“He has become sort of The National Goofball,” Royko wrote. “And he’s darned good at it.”

The election of Donald Trump has lifted a lot of media boats - from the New York Times to MSNBC‘s Rachel Maddow. Add “Saturday Night Live” to that list of media enjoying a big Trump bump.

Mr. Trump, of course, is still something of a National Goofball. What are we to make of a man who insists, despite photographic evidence, that his inaugural crowd was the largest in history? Who insists, despite recorded public testimony to the contrary, that he and his national security team are “on the same page.”

Who brags of having a larger “nuclear button?”

All achieve the surreal. But the first was the last echo of Mr. Trump as a figure of fun. The last two — two of many, many troubling actions and statements by Mr. Trump as president — are beyond parody. They are not funny.

Shakespeare understood this. He created many comic characters. His most famous, Falstaff, is something of a spiritual twin to Mr. Trump.

Falstaff’s fat, lazy, boastful, manipulative, dishonest and corrupt. Sound familiar?

“Saturday Night Live” returned for a new season in full election mode this week, and while it had some very smart and funny political moments, I could not help

Except for Falstaff’s penchant for pubs and Mr. Trump’s affinity for golf courses, they’re nearly interchangeable. Why couldn’t one be as funny as the other?

But unlike Mr. Trump, Falstaff never held power. Shakespeare didn’t even allow him near positions of power.

When his pal the merry Prince Hal becomes king, Falstaff assumes he’ll have a place at the royal court. Instead, King Henry V rejects him; publicly, coldly. Shakespeare knew there was nothing funny about such a character having the king’s ear.

Now we have a Falstaff-like character not with mere access to the president; he is the president.

And for our country and our Constitution to survive, we’re going to need to be as serious as Trump and his supporters.

Don Flood (don.g.flood@gmail.com) is a political columnist who divides his time between Grasonville, Md., and Lewes, Del.

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