"In times like these, we need empathetic and moral leadership. Unfortunately, we have Donald Trump."

By Nick Romano
June 02, 2020 at 09:48 AM EDT
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The Late Show With Stephen Colbert

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After a week-long hiatus, the crowd of late-night TV hosts tried returning to their regularly scheduled quarantine programming, except it was anything but normal.

Trevor Noah over at The Daily Show had delivered a passionate, thoughtful message to his audience in light of the George Floyd protests around the country and the rioting and police brutality that ensued. Now, the likes of Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon, James Corden, and Conan O'Brien found themselves wading into the topic of conversation.

"Remember when we were all afraid of our groceries? I miss those days," Colbert remarked.

A few of these talk-show personalities came out to condemn President Donald Trump's response to the situation. Trump was briefly moved to an underground bunker Friday as protestors gathered outside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. On Monday, protesters gathered near the White House were hit with tear gas as Trump called himself "the president of law and order," held up a Bible in front of a church, and declared even more aggressive action against protesters. It's not exactly the kind of material that lends itself to a lot of late-night quips.

“Now, in times like these, we need empathetic and moral leadership. Unfortunately, we have Donald Trump," Colbert said during his opening monologue. “If history has taught us anything," he added, "it’s that things always work well for strongmen who retreat to underground bunkers."

The Late Show host also interviewed CNN's Chris Hayes and Run the Jewels rapper Killer Mike, the latter of which spoke about the impassioned speech he gave in Atlanta that has since gone viral online.

"I just wanted to save the city,” Killer Mike said. “And not like everything is right, but just in a way I didn’t want us to lose hope and destroy what we have because hope exists here. And I wanted the black officers to be aware that this was in no way un-appreciating what they do, but at the same time, I wanted the protesters... to know that we can do it differently in this city." He added, "I think Black America should treat Atlanta like a land where anything is possible for us. 'Cause it’s not perfect, but anything has proven possible here."

Hayes emphasized the link between Trump's "enemy of the people" rhetoric about journalists and the violence many cops have used against reporters trying to cover the protests. "You couldn't find a worse person for the moment in terms of whatever rhetorical gifts he has, which are rhetorical gifts designed to incite and to provoke as opposed to communicate and becalm," Hayes said of Trump.

Meyers dedicated his "A Closer Look" segment on Late Night to the protests and Trump's "deranged screed" to U.S. governors that "sounded like a cross between a brutal military dictator and a racist grandpa shuffling around the nursing home with his robe on backwards."

In that conference call Meyers referenced, Trump called governors "weak" and "fools" in their response to the protests. "You have to arrest people and put them in jail for 10 years and you'll never see this stuff again," Trump said, according to the Associated Press. "You have to dominate," he was also quoted as saying. "If you don't dominate, you're wasting your time. They're going to run over you. You're going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate."

"They insist that communities of color politely and obediently request change from a system that systematically ignores, dehumanizes, and disenfranchises them," Meyers said. "We saw that on display yet again this week with the rampant acts of police escalation. And we know it's not necessary because just a few weeks ago police were physically confronted by angry right-wing protesters calling for an end to lockdowns, and oddly they seem to have left their tanks and tear gas at home." Meyers was referring to the predominantly white protests invading state houses to demand an end to lockdown. In some locations, including Harrisburg, Pa., and Lansing, Mich., these protesters had guns.

Meyers then spoke with Saturday Night Live's Michael Che about the Floyd protests and Amber Ruffin, a long-time writer on Late Night, shared her own experience with a police officer when she was a teenager learning to drive. She recalls the time when, while blasting Busta Rhymes to calm her nerves, she found herself in a speed trap and the cop screamed at her to pull over, despite other cars going faster than her. "I think, 'This is how I die. This man is going to kill me,'" she said. "And I start crying." As soon as he sees a teenager in tears, he's "taken aback" and drops the act.

"I have a thousand stories like this," she said. "The cops have pulled a gun on me, the cops have followed me to my own home. And every black person I know has a few stories like that. Many have more than a few. Black people leave the house every day knowing that at any time we could get murdered by the police. It's a lot. And sometimes when you see news footage, like we have seen the past week, and you hear people chalking it up to a few bad apples instead of talking about how corrupt an entire system is, it becomes too much."

Fallon, while also apologizing again for his past blackface on Saturday Night Live, spoke with CNN's Don Lemon, who applauded the Tonight Show host for being "open" to addressing his past mistakes as a white person. "That's exactly what we all need to do is examine ourselves," Lemon said, "and that was really honest and very brave of you and I appreciate you having the depth really to do what you did in that open[ing monologue]. I wish more people would do that because we can't go back to the way we were."

Lemon described how tough it is to cover the Floyd protests as a black journalist. "I see people who look like me, who have similar backgrounds, who have loved ones who look like my family, dying. Literally watching them die," he said. "We've watched [Floyd] die on camera. We watched Ahmaud Arbery die in Georgia on camera, literally with in the span of a week or two. It's been tough to go on and not be emotional, but I lead from the heart and I'm very candid. I don't always say the right thing but I always say what I'm feeling in the moment and it's real."

O'Brien and Corden both gave statements regarding the protests from their quarantined late-night desks, while O'Brien also spoke with another CNN voice, attorney and news commentator Van Jones.

"I've been struggling all weekend wondering what to say to you here tonight because who needs my opinion?" Corden said during his monologue. "Why is my voice relevant? There is not one person in the world who woke up this morning and thought, 'I need to know what James Corden thinks about all of this.' Surely, this a time for me to listen, not talk. And then I realized that is part of the problem. People like me have to speak up. To be clear, I'm not talking about late-night hosts or people who are fortunate like I am to have a platform. I'm talking about white people. White people can't say anymore, 'Yeah, I'm not racist,' and think that that's enough because it's not. It's not enough because, make no mistake, this is our problem to solve. How can the black community dismantle a problem that they didn't create?"

On Conan, Jones described the range of emotions he felt from "despair" to "hope" following Floyd's death. "Lynchings were designed to humiliate and intimidate the whole community. When it's law enforcement, you really feel helpless," he said. "That's why, I think, you see this real despair in the black community."

He then urged both Republicans and Democrats to come together on this issue. "I'm trying to be fair with everybody, there have been things that the Trump administration has done that are appropriate. We need to stop during certain things, and then beyond what has been done, we need to get together. We need to come together. If we don't come together, we're gonna end up where we're headed."

Watch EW's new daily series, Last Night's Late Night, every morning on Quibi. 

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