Bilateral Commentary


Author:  Dr. Anthony Bryson

Things are getting a little weird out there in America.  Just when you think you understand the polarization in the zeitgeist comes a moment when the political world is turned upside down.  Remember when Conservatives were the party of defending the 1st Amendment?  Remember when they thought it was fair game for the Ann Coulters and Milo Yiannopouloses of the world to have the right to say whatever hateful or ignorant thing that came to their minds?  Remember when Liberals were special snowflakes and were easily triggered by free speech?  Well, it’s opposite world now.  Conservatives have lost their minds and have the pitchforks and torches out for late night comedian Stephen Colbert.

The whole brouhaha erupted after a Stephen Colbert opening monologue, when the late night host went to the defense of an apparent slight against John Dickerson, from Face the Nation.  Mr. Dickerson was interviewing Mr. Trump and the sitting President took a cheap shot at the respected journalist and his CBS show, referring to it as Deface the Nation.  Mr. Dickenson took the shot in stride and allowed the comment to slide.  Later, when pressed on whether President Obama had tapped Trump Tower, Mr. Trump abruptly ended the interview and dismissed Mr. Dickenson in an insulting manner.  Colbert took advantage of this opening and went on a blistering attack with some well-placed insults against Mr. Trump.  The major gut punch joke was an off color joke about Mr. Trump, claiming the only thing Donald Trump’s mouth was good for was acting as Vladimir Putin’s cock-holster.  It was this comment that sent Conservatives off the rails.  It was this comment that inspired the Twitter hashtag campaign,  #FireColbert.

There is one thing that I wish Americans would not be, and that is hypocritical.  This is one value that I think we can all say is one we should embrace.  If you’re going to say one thing, do that thing.  If you’re going to make a big stink about a freedom or right, that freedom or right must apply fairly to all parties.  This is where I must comment on this incident and ridiculous nature of the whole incident, and especially the hypocritical nature displayed by Conservatives.

Freedom of speech is not about picking and choosing who gets to say what.  Freedom of speech is standing by, and fighting for, the right for everyone to have their say, even when you don’t agree with it.  While I find the likes of Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos to be distasteful human beings, who would rather toss around inflammatory rhetoric than have an honest discussion based on empirical data, I still believe they have the right to state their case on all issues.  I believe that the distasteful nature of their comments is more likely to dissuade more people than find agreement, so I think their choice of words will naturally cull them from the conversation.  That is what discourse, discussion, and democracy is all about.  People have their say and the majority opinion usually wins out.

The Colbert incident is nothing more than a freedom of speech issue that Conservatives have long argued about when it came to people they agreed with.  Colbert has every right to say what he wants.  Consumers have every right to respond.  What I hope to see is a lot of consistency in their approach to their responses and what they have to say.  The #FireColbert campaign seems like a bunch of whining to me.  Especially when Liberals were told by many of their own to suck it up on firebombers like Yiannopoulis.  The way that Liberals effectively dealt with Yiannopoulos was to give him time at the table with the adults and see where the chips would fall. 

Bill Maher invited Milo Yiannopoulos on his show and gave him the platform to argue positions against some adult thinkers.  Comedian Larry Wilmore and for CIA anti-terrorism expert Malcom Nance, took turns trading barbs with Yiannopoulos, getting the point where both had had enough with his failures in logic and reliance on inflammatory rhetoric, resulting in a classic delivery of a dismissive “go fuck yourself.”  While this was exactly what Yiannopoulos wanted, it played well in the public sphere.  Yiannopoulos came off as an annoying little gnat out of his element, getting swatted by heavyweights.  The only thing Yiannopoulos could do was to rely on his inflammatory rhetoric to try and score points, which doesn’t work when discussing facts.  Free speech only works when you know what you’re talking about, and Yiannopoulos proved to be the fool that President Lincoln warned us all about.  Free speech works.

Back to Colbert and his blistering monologue, the Conservative reaction again displayed two things.  One, being the efficacy of his humor.  The second, being the hypocrisy in the attack on the comedian. 

Colbert’s intent was obviously to score a laugh at Trump’s expense and get under his skin.  Nothing is better for ratings that a 3 AM tweet storm from @realDonaldTrump.  It appeared that Colbert’s cock-holster comment was the insult that pushed Conservatives over the edge, but one has to wonder why?  There was an argument made that the joke was homophobic in nature, but I certainly didn’t see it that way.  The inference here was not that Putin and Trump were gay lovers, but was instead an inference that Trump would do whatever Putin demanded he do, even to perform fellatio to curry favor.  Based on the things Trump has done in the past to gain popularity, this was not out of the realm of possibilities.  This was about the candidate who argued that he could blow away someone with a gun in the middle of 5th Avenue and it wouldn’t lose him votes, so is blowing the Russian President really so extreme?

I think the crying about the tenor or tone of Colbert’s joke is way over the top.  Have Conservatives forgotten all the quasi racist things said about Obama and his family while he was in office?  It doesn’t take a lot of searching on the pages of Breitbart or the Washington Times or any of the Conservative talking heads on Talk Radio to find off color jokes about anyone on the Democratic side of things.  So why the hypocrisy?  I think the answer is obvious.  The outrage was not because of the dirtiness factor, but because of the political implications.

Colbert’s joke, while being off color, hit way too close to home for Conservatives.  For decades it was Conservatives who warned us about Russia and their desires to impact our democracy.  It was Russia who were trying to hurt our democracy by influencing the leftists in the Democratic Party.  But we have found out that there is over-whelming evidence of Russian influence in this last election to support the Conservatives’ chosen candidate.  The cock-holster comment wasn’t what really set the Right off, it was the inference that Trump was taking direction from the Russians and would happily do whatever was demanded of him.  This is what hit too close to home.  This is the Conservative fear.  They just can’t bring themselves to consider that the guy they voted in is exactly what they have been fearing all these years, and is the guy who will bring an end to the American Empire.  While Conservatives try and make a show that they are upset with Stephen Colbert and his off-color joke, the reality is they are subconsciously terrified that installed in the White House the thing they feared the most.  As Trump continues to make decisions which alienate us from our allies, says things that other nations just can’t support, and provides all sorts of ammunition for late night comedians, it is only a matter of time before Conservatives take to Twitter with a different campaign.  #FireDonaldTrump.

Dr. Bryson is an adjunct faculty member at Fielding Graduate University, teaching classes in media and political psychologies.  He is the author of the book, The Trump Card: The Long Game of Discrediting Media and Influencing Elections.