For the past decade, Britain’s most prescient satirist Charlie Brooker has ended each December with a look back at the year’s most disturbing news developments. And no year was more disturbing than 2016.
In the latest version of his Wipe specials for the BBC, Brooker had plenty of UK-based material to work with, from the untimely death of David Bowie to the canary in a coalmine that was Brexit. Still, Brooker, best known in the United States for creating the all-too-real technological dystopia that is Black Mirror, decided to spend more than 12 minutes dissecting the election of Donald Trump.
“Cue nightmarish dystopian news footage,” Brooker said on his 2016 Wipe program, which aired Thursday night in his home country. From there, he hit viewers with the type of scene that would seem almost too preposterous if he put it in a Black Mirror episode: The USA Freedom Kids, who sang proudly, “President Donald Trump knows how to make America great, deal from strength or get crushed every time!”
Running through a montage of all the things that should have made Trump completely “unelectable,” Brooker marveled that more traditional Republican candidates were ultimately beaten by a man who resembles “a cling-filmed parcel of frankfurter meat that’s been kicked through a yellow cobweb.”
“At first, the media seemed to find all of this wryly amusing,” Brooker added, “smirking through Trump’s ascent like they were watching an adorable toddler playing with a power tool, without apparently considering that he might just learn how to switch it on.”
Over the course of the rest of the segment, Brooker ran through more of Trump’s outrages from the general election campaign, including his shocking response to Khizr Khan and his declaration that President Obama is the “founder of ISIS.” And then there was the Access Hollywood “grab ‘em by the pussy” tape that Brooker, like everyone else, thought would finally end Trump’s flailing campaign.
But he was wrong. “As a street-fighting carnival strongman, Trump operates the Chicago way,” Brooker said. “You pull a knife, he pulls a gun. You send one of his to the hospital, he sends one of yours to the morgue. And whenever an accusation was flung at him, he hit back twice as hard — with his little hands.”
The unwelcome news of Trump’s unlikely victory drove a despondent Brooker out of his studio and into the darkness, leading to an inspired recreation of the Outkast song “Ms. Jackson” using only Trump’s words. “I’m sorry, Ms. Clinton, this is for real,” the president-elect intoned.
The Trump phenomenon has clearly fascinated Brooker for quite some time. When The Daily Beast spoke to him in mid-September ahead of Black Mirror’s excellent season three debut on Netflix, Brooker predicted a Trump victory long before most observers thought it possible. “Hello, we just went through Brexit!” he said. “Of course Trump’s going to win.” But did he even believe his own prognostication?
Six weeks later, Brooker was starting to change his tune, saying in another interview that he still couldn’t “rule out” a Trump victory, but this time he framed it as a long shot. “There are two main candidates, and he could still win,” Brooker said in October. “It could still happen.”
By the time Election Day rolled around, it seems Brooker was just as surprised as anyone that Trump pulled it off.
Moving closer to the present, Brooker pointed to the “confusing signals” from Trump that indicated he might not be quite as terrible as his critics thought. “Perhaps most shocking of all, having said he’d be tough on terrorism, he met with the founder of ISIS,” Brooker joked, cutting to footage of Trump and Obama shaking hands in the White House.
Like much of the year-end coverage of 2016, Brooker’s Trump piece had an air of resignation and defeat. But unlike similar segments from American late-night hosts, Brooker has the benefit of detachment. He and his British viewers are removed from the everyday realities of what life under President Trump will be like for the next four years.
On this side of the pond, Brooker’s look back at the year of Trump gives Americans one of the best glimpses yet of how the rest of the world will see us starting in 2017. And it’s not pretty.