Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Late-night has some notes on that anonymous White House op-ed

Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah
Screenshot: The Daily Show

On a day when the Senate is hotly debating a lifetime Supreme Court seat for a right-wing ideologue appointed by a guy Stephen Colbert accurately described as “a former reality star and unindicted co-conspirator,” some late-breaking news wound up hijacking much of the late-night hosts’ monologues. That would be the anonymously published op-ed in the New York Times, written by what the Times assures us is a “senior White House staffer” whose identity is known to them, but whose fear of retribution from an enraged, paranoid, desperate Captain Queeg Donald Trump saw him/her slipping the memo under the editorial department door. You know the one by now—where said staffer claims that people around Trump routinely and unilaterally thwart whatever wantonly ill-advised action he’s all hot to unleash on the world. Yeah, that one.

For Trevor Noah—who began by voicing the nation’s collective “Holy shit”—the unknown author’s assurances that there are “adults in the room” curbing Donald Trump’s worst impulses isn’t exactly the calm cup of tea he or she intended. “This whole time, we’ve been dealing with the watered-down version?,” The Daily Show host asked incredulously, continuing in alarm, “This is Diet Trump?” In addition to that, Noah called out the supposedly altruistic staffer’s judgement in not invoking the 25th Amendment to begin the process of removing a president “not moored to any discernible first principles” because it would be too much of a disruption to the country. As it turns out, both Noah and Colbert employed the same apt metaphor for that bit of self-exculpating illogic, comparing staffers’ supposed caution to someone not busting out the fire extinguisher when his house his burning because he doesn’t want to get broken glass everywhere. Said Noah in his best indecisive White House wonk impersonation, “Maybe we can just try to steer the fire in a different direction?”

Colbert, parallel crisis imagery aside, went further in criticizing this self-proclaimed adult in the room for “having the courage to stand up to say … hide my name from the bad orange man.” The Late Show host also called into question just how “adult” it is that these patriotic Americans supposedly block Crazy Donnie’s “amorality,” while still believing in his administration’s “agenda and goals.” (You know, like stealing kids from their families, stripping environmental protections, gutting the economy in order to funnel billions back to billionaires, trying to take health care away from sick and poor people, attacking civil rights, praising Nazis, assaulting women’s rights, a racist and insane Game Of Thrones border wall, wiping out net neutrality, demonizing people of color at every opportunity, attempting to revoke the citizenship of brown-skinned Americans. That sort of stuff.) And while Noah employed an airline comparison (“The pilot is actively trying to crash the plane... but Mikey’s got a pretty good choke hold, and I’ve said some pretty harsh words.”), Colbert suggested that the reassurances from this this “White House resistance” that they’ll keep trying until “one way or another” this administration is over is more like a mom telling her kids not to sweat it, since “Dad’s either driving us to Six Flags, or careening off off a cliff into the sea.”

Jimmy Kimmel, also playing catch-up since the op-ed was released about an hour before the late-night shows taped, spent much of his monologue simply reading from the piece and goggling along with his audience at how fucking bananas this all is. (Maybe that explains his and Colbert’s identical jokes about “The calls are coming from inside the White House!”) Apart from noting how he hopes the recent lightning strike on the White House came from the late John McCain, Kimmel used the rest of his time to speculate on just who this anonymous almost do-gooder is, landing on Ivanka and Mike Pence as at least the most joke-worthy suspects. Mike Pence does use the word “lodestar” more than anyone you’ve ever heard, it’s true, and, if the author is trying to prepare the ground for a presidential reign just as heartless, bigoted, and venal—but with far less irrational tweeting and porn star payouts—then that’s a strong indicator, too.


Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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