How Late-Night Comedy’s Political Bias Helped Trump

The Atlantic

A month after the election, Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show, published an op‑ed in The New York Times that sought to position himself and his show as instruments of healing in a broken land. It was called “Let’s Not Be Divided, Divided People Are Easier to Rule,” and it zapped around progressives’ inboxes and Facebook feeds like a digital balm of Gilead. It was a reminder that we were not, in those fevered early weeks, being our best selves: “Instead of speaking in measured tones about what unites us, we are screaming at each other about what divides us.” How true that was, and—one might churlishly observe—what a sea change from Noah’s tone during the campaign, when he berated the Republican candidate for tweeting with “those fat little tiny fingers of yours” and for trying to think with “that stupid head,” and when he advised the candidate that “maybe you should look in the mirror, asshole.”

This combination of sentiments—the excoriating, profanity-strewn, ad hominem tirade against the president (and by extension against anyone who might agree, in any small measure, with his actions), and the saintly appeal for reaching out to the other side—dominates the political discussion inside the blue bubble these days. The excoriating outweighs the reaching-out at a ratio of about 20 to 1, but the earnestly expressed desire for a more humane form of discourse is enduring.

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.

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