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Both Sides: Late Night Edition

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My hero and why Trump was elected probably, Sam Bee
My hero and why Trump was elected probably, Sam Bee

Caitlin Flanagan  of The Atlantic clutches her pearls at what’s become of political discourse. A sensible person might say that the dialogue–such as it is–has coarsened because we just elected a toddler with nukes to the highest office in the land, but not Caitlin. She’s pretty certain that libs should continue going higher and higher and higher, even as conservatives take a Pepe-guided tour straight to hell.

The late-night political-comedy shows—principally Noah’s Daily Show, Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, and John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight—staked their territory during the heat of the general election: unwavering, bombastic, belittling, humiliating screeds against Donald Trump. Fair enough. Trump is a man who on any casual summer day during the campaign could be found inciting a crowd to violence. This isn’t the slippery slope; this is the ditch at the bottom of the hill. Once a man stands before a mob and exhorts the powerful to beat the outlier, it’s all over except for the cannibalism and the cave painting. “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” said Abraham Lincoln. “Knock the crap out of them,” said Donald Trump.

OK, so, Caitlin, using her very own finger-words, admits that Trump is terrible, his very own terrible designation of terrible. But…

But somewhere along the way, the hosts of the late-night shows decided that they had carte blanche to insult not just the people within this administration, but also the ordinary citizens who support Trump, and even those who merely identify as conservatives. In March, Samantha Bee’s show issued a formal apology to a young man who had attended the Conservative Political Action Conference and whom the show had blasted for having “Nazi hair.” As it turned out, the young man was suffering from Stage 4 brain cancer—which a moment’s research on the producers’ part would have revealed: He had tweeted about his frightening diagnosis days before the conference. As part of its apology, the show contributed $1,000 to the GoFundMe campaign that is raising money for his medical expenses, so now we know the price of a cancer joke.

“Ordinary citizens” “who merely identify as conservative” is doing an awful lot of work here. Caitlin just admitted that Trump is a horrible person and president. So, what, exactly, am I–a coastal elite living in Tucson–supposed to think about his voters? Really. What am I supposed to think? I’ll tell you what I think: I think that a lot of the people who voted for him were at least cool with his racism and xenophobia. I think they counted on his always hurting the right people  in a precise manner. (Using sort of precision-guided bombs of cruelty, is how I’d put it.) I think they thought he was a big fat phony and a liar but they had the secret code to know when he was lying and about what. And now we have a misogynistic, racist toddler with nukes in the White House. This man may very well get us all killed. So, yes, when I’m not living in existential dread, I do feel a bit smug about not voting for the orange Id machine.

I’d also like to add that a few conservatives of conscience decided that Trump crossed a red line for them. Perhaps we should be busy interviewing and lauding them instead of endlessly traveling to Bumfuck, PA to find out why Joe Asshole voted for a guy who’s gonna deport his neighbor.

But, listen, the author  just tried to make a “both sides” argument in an article where she–with words she presumably read–admitted that Sam Bee promptly apologized to the nazi-hair guy then donated to his medical funds. When has our current president ever apologized? When has ever admitted error? When has he ever acted with humility? When has he ever contributed to someone else’s well-being?

Are you seeing where this goofy bothsidesism argument falls apart?

It was hardly the first time Full Frontal had gone, guns blazing, after the sick or the meek. During the campaign, Bee dispatched a correspondent to go shoot fish in a barrel at something called the Western Conservative Summit, which the reporter described as “an annual Denver gathering popular with hard-right Christian conservatives.” He interviewed an earnest young boy who talked about going to church on Sundays and Bible study on Wednesdays, and about his hope to start a group called Children for Trump. For this, the boy—who spoke with the unguarded openness of a child who has assumed goodwill on the part of an adult—was described as “Jerry Falwell in blond, larval form.” Trump and Bee are on different sides politically, but culturally they are drinking from the same cup, one filled with the poisonous nectar of reality TV and its baseless values, which have now moved to the very center of our national discourse. Trump and Bee share a penchant for verbal cruelty and a willingness to mock the defenseless. Both consider self-restraint, once the hallmark of the admirable, to be for chumps.

Listen, the kid was a smarmy, horrible boy who may grow up to be a lovely young man but will probably grow up to be…Jerry Falwell. Furthermore, I’m guessing he’s a fan of Falwell, so I fail to see how that’s an insult. I saw the segment. At no point were they “cruel” to these “defenseless” buttwads. Sam’s show is smart enough to let the awful awful awfulness of these people speak for itself.

“When they go low, we go high” may have been a ravishing meme, Trump’s mockery of a war hero, grieving parents, and a disabled man showed how you get the job done. When John Oliver told viewers that if they opposed abortion they had to change the channel until the last minute of the program, when they would be shown “an adorable bucket of sloths,” he perfectly encapsulated the tone of these shows: one imbued with the conviction that they and their fans are intellectually and morally superior to those who espouse any of the beliefs of the political right.

Well, yes? And the feeling is mutual I presume.

Trump didn’t have a chance, because he lacked a “ground game.” After his victory, one had to wonder whether some part of his ground game had been conducted night after night after night on television, under flattering studio lights and with excellent production values and comedy writing.

And…oh, screw it. I just can’t anymore with this shit…

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