We’ve had a bit of a one-two punch to the country’s collective conscience. It hit us from both sides. I’d say it was more of a right hook followed by a left jab. Just the other day, President Donald Trump said people don’t often ask why the Civil War couldn’t be resolved and said Andrew Jackson could have prevented it. Alright, so Trump isn’t convinced by the history books and historians can debate what a zombie Andrew Jackson could have done for the Civil War after more than a decade-and-a-half in the ground. Commentaries abounded and then Late Night host Stephen Colbert, unsurprisingly, took issue and fired back with a series of puns criticizing the president, which culminated in a vulgar remark about the president and Vladimir Putin.
Now, the two sides of a divided country find themselves in the same boat. Their respective champions have uttered sexual remarks while cameras were rolling. This places us all in the awkward position of defending our side while demonizing the other for similar comments. Long have we heard people defending Trump, saying we at least know what he’s thinking. Somehow, that doesn’t seem to be what people are saying about Colbert, though I would argue it’s just as true.
We were all excited at one point about a President who didn’t care about being politically correct, bucking the system and not playing by the rules. Frankly, in my opinion, that’s why some of us found it so easy to forgive his remarks to former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush. In essence we’re faced with a dilemma. If we extend the same courtesy to Colbert as we did to Trump, we are, by extension, signaling we are comfortable with vulgarity in both cases. If we demand Colbert recant, we will be holding a tv talkshow host to a higher standard than our president.
There’s the problem, I think. On both sides, we’re willing to look past the words as long as we like the personality. One of the most enduring images of the past election for me was Paul Noth’s editorial cartoon which appeared in the New Yorker and cast this concept in a different light. In it, a herd of sheep look up at a billboard of a wolf in a suit that reads, “I’m going to eat you.” One sheep looks at the other and says, “He tells it like it is.”
It’s a frustrating situation to be in. It would be convenient if we could weigh someone’s words against who they are. Unfortunately, the words someone chooses to use are an outward expression of an inward attitude. Body language may betray an attempt to cover up that attitude, but it’s all communication. We cannot separate ourselves from our words and actions. Both are part of who we choose to be.
And it is a choice.
So, while I have been a fan of Colbert since the first episode of the Colbert Report, I don’t support his words and, by extension, I don’t support him. I mean, I can’t dismiss my own postulate.
There may be apologies, but there needs to be actual change. There are lines that need to remain uncrossed. There is honor that needs to be preserved. Actions need to change so people can change. I don’t believe it’s too much to ask for a leader’s words to be both candid and honorable.