Colbert's Double-Take on Demonization — First He Revels in It, Then He Reviles It

By Jerry Kammer on September 9, 2015

It didn't take long to find out if Stephen Colbert would bring his famously partisan liberalism to his "Late Show", which debuted last night on CBS.

At the 24-minute mark of Tuesday's show, the screen showed a bloviating Trump perched above a photograph of robed and hooded Klansmen backlit by a bonfire. Ah, the subtlety of Stephen Colbert's immigration politics.

I don't like Donald Trump. I am on record denouncing him for his offensive, obnoxious denunciation of Mexican immigrants.

But I am weary of Colbert's habit of reducing all opposition to illegal immigration to racism and bigotry and ignorance. It cheapens a debate that should be rich with discussion of its many layers and nuances. I have written about that here and here

Last night Colbert, with gleeful recklessness, once again dipped his satirical broad brush into the fetid pool of Klan racism. By implication he spread the smear to everyone who has cheered Trump for promising to stop illegal immigration.

It was classic demonization and guilt by association in the service of Colbert's firmly held belief that only bad people are against illegal immigration.

It brought to mind two observations about the tendency of strident liberals to demonize conservatives.

  • Historian Alan Brinkley observed that liberals are often dismissive of conservative thought because they see it "as if it were a kind of pathology."
  • Conservative intellectual Thomas Sowell has written that among liberals, "It is not uncommon ... to find references to their adversaries' 'real' reasons, which must be unmasked."

A little later in the show, as he spoke with Republican presidential aspirant Jeb Bush, Colbert bemoaned the recklessness of Republicans who have demonized President Obama.

"Do you think you could change that — that the other side is the devil?" he asked Bush.

Bush said he believed that if we start with the assumption that people on the other side of the argument have good motives, it is possible to find common ground.

Colbert talked right past him. He had no idea of the irony of his performance.

When Colbert brings up immigration, his favorite rhetorical device is a straw man in a Klan costume. It was bad enough on Comedy Central. On CBS it could get really ugly.

The combination of Colbert's comic genius and his liberal intolerance for the other side of the debate guarantees it.

In my next post, I'll provide some context for Colbert's riff on Trump's attack on Nabisco for moving an Oreo cookie plant to Mexico.