On Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump was named Time’s Person of the Year, a title that has previously been awarded to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. And in late November, Trump supporter Tomi Lahren joined past punching bags Chris Christie and Bill O’Reilly in the grand tradition of controversial Daily Show interviewees. In the year of Trump, political discourse has become more polarized than ever. Actually talking across the aisle has become as difficult as separating real news from manufactured ravings. In light of this much-discussed “bubble,” The Daily Show host decided to engage in a televised conversation with far-right darling Tomi Lahren. On the surface, this is a pretty decent idea. Ultra-blond and uber tan, with clavicles you could take a shot out of, Lahren makes for good TV.
As a talking head for The Blaze, Glenn Beck’s digital network, Lahren has championed a number of controversial opinions, proving herself diametrically opposed to Trevor Noah on issues ranging from Islamophobia to Black Lives Matter. A showdown between the white pundit and the liberal South African promised some explosive chemistry; for Noah, it was doubtlessly an opportunity to school Lahren on some of her more overtly racist opinions.
Unfortunately, that sort of logic fails to contend with the fact that people like Tomi Lahren deal exclusively in illogicality. Attempting to have a respectful, rational conversation with a woman who has called BLM the new KKK assumes that she is trading in reason, as opposed to flat-out racism. Over the course of the conversation, which went predictably viral, Lahren asserted that she doesn’t “see color.” She defended her past critiques of Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter. Throughout the interview, it was clear that neither party was actually attempting to convince the other. Noah appeared to be teasing out Lahren’s line of argument, as if to show his audience how the mind of an ardent Trump supporter really works. Ultimately, this type of interview is ineffective: best-case scenario, it makes the subject look stupid, perpetuating the stereotype that the “liberal media” enjoys gawking and laughing at “real Americans.” Worst-case scenario, it provides a larger platform for a hateful human being with a harmful agenda. These types of conversations don’t bring a divided America together—they amplify a voice that has no place in this country, period.
Furthermore, while Noah may have been trying to build bridges, Lahren is dedicated to burning them down. The pundit’s image is built on attacking and dismissing the “liberal media” that The Daily Show represents. Predictably, Lahren wasted no time converting Noah’s pacifist mission into divisive ammunition. On the heels of the “showdown,” Lahren returned to her own safe space—her show on The Blaze—to spin the segment, telling “liberals”: “I am your worst nightmare. I don’t care what you label me or how many times you come for me. I am fearless and I’m just getting started.” On Twitter, however, the 23-year-old used a decidedly different tone. “I had a great time with @Trevornoah on @TheDailyShow and I respect our obvious differences but common goals,” Lahren tweeted, while the late-night host responded, “Thank you for being my guest Tomi. Our goal should be to destroy these ‘bubbles’ not each other. You’re always welcome on my show.”
If Trevor Noah’s polite interview legitimized Lahren or normalized her abhorrent message, then radio presenter Charlamagne Tha God took it a step further. After publishing a picture with Lahren on his Instagram, Charlamagne attempted to justify their budding friendship. “Do you want diplomacy or do you want division? I’m talking to Tomi because I care about the rhetoric that comes out of her mouth, because she has influence,” he explained on The Breakfast Club. “The narrative she paints about Black Lives Matter is dangerous. The same way people can hit her up on social media and tell her how wrong she is, I can meet with her [in person] and tell her the same things. I don’t like talking about people. I like talking to them.” Giving racists the benefit of the doubt isn’t for everyone, but Charlamagne is more than welcome to waste his breath.Things got a whole lot uglier when Charlamagne sent out an ill-informed tweet praising the political pundit, writing, “Would be dope if a young black or Hispanic ‘WOKE’ woman used social media to create a Platform to be a voice like Tomi Lahren did.” Whole articles can—and have—been written about this tweet. Essentially, the backlash boils down to the fact that there are many women of color making their voices heard on social media. Instead of supporting these women, or critiquing the lack of mainstream access and support that prevents them from becoming household names, Charlamagne encouraged them to be more like a racist white girl who was boosted onto a ready-made platform by Glenn Beck.
Tomi Lahren got her first media gig the same way the rest of us did—by interviewing for an internship and getting handed her own TV show instead. In 2014, she debuted her unique style at One America News Network, with her show On Point With Tomi Lahren. But Lahren reached her true potential as a gun-toting, anti-feminist Barbie in 2015, when she signed on with Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. Her nightly show, Tomi, quickly became known for its “Final Thoughts” monologue segment, which has consistently showcased just how low Lahren is willing to go.
In a February edition of the viral fodder, she raged against Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show, accusing her of unnecessarily “ripping off the historical Band-Aid.” She went on to call the “Formation” performance “a way to politicize and advance the notion that black lives matter more,” ranting, “Guess what Beyoncé? White people like your music too. White people buy your songs on iTunes, memorize your lyrics, and admire your talent and beauty. Little white girls wanna be like you just as little black girls do, but instead of that, you’d rather perpetuate the great battle of the races.”
In June, Jesse Williams rocked the BET Awards with a powerful speech indicting systemic racism and pleading for equality and justice. Williams cited “the data,” noting that “police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm, and not kill white people every day.” Lines like these seemed to have set off Tomi Lahren’s Google alert for disturbing levels of wokeness. She whined that, “The BET definition of a humanitarian is someone who perpetuates a war on cops,” as if Williams was inciting violence, as opposed to condemning it. She went on to address Williams personally, asking “Do you know how many of our ancestors fought in the Civil War to free your ancestors?” This is obviously a rhetorical question, since Lahren seems to know very little about Jesse Williams or the actual motives that fueled the Civil War. In the midst of this BET Awards-centric rant, Lahren unloaded one of her most unapologetically racist thought turds of all time, insisting that, “The term unarmed black man may be literally accurate, but it doesn’t tell the whole story in most cases. In a number of cases, if the victim ended up being unarmed, it was certainly not for a lack of trying.”
In the wake of the 2015 Chattanooga shootings, Lahren urged President Obama to bomb the Middle East—more specifically, to “Put the fear of God in their desert.” That’s not a dog whistle—it’s a full-on bullhorn. “Yesterday’s moderate is today’s terrorist,” she said in the video. “I care that our commander-in-chief is more concerned with Muslim sensitivity than the honor and sacrifice made by these Marines.” She’s also accused Obama of having a “half-way, half-baked, tip-toe, be-friendly-to-jihadis mentality.”
But Lahren saved some of her most racially coded rancor for her “Final Word” segment on controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick. When Kaepernick decided to protest police brutality against black Americans by kneeling during the national anthem, a lot of not-black people took issue with his nonviolent methods. In a video titled “Sit Down Colin Kaepernick,” Lahren delivered a not-at-all-veiled message to the QB: “We’ve had a black president for almost eight years now, maybe he failed you. We also have a black woman in charge of the Justice Department, maybe she failed you, too. Or maybe it’s the liberals, your saviors, which have run your communities into the ground. Where does the buck stop? When will those in black communities take a step back and take some responsi-damn-bility for the problems in black communities?” When Lahren got predictable heat for her Kaepernick comments, she responded to critics directly by calling Kaepernick “your boy.” Now that’s a dog whistle.
Lahren is also an anti-feminist Second Amendment enthusiast, but you probably guessed that already. With upward of 3.6 million followers on Facebook, she was asked to advise Trump’s campaign on its use of social media. Now that her neon-hued hero has sidestepped the popular vote and is about to ascend to the presidency, Lahren is being treated by many as a new, strange toy to tinker with. The erroneous notion that we have to empathize with and understand Trump’s most noxious supporters hasn’t just boosted Lahren’s influence—it’s also led to a slew of contentious articles on the so-called “alt-right.” Apparently, writers and readers alike are fascinated by the notion that, if you squint hard enough, neo-Nazis vaguely resemble Brooklyn hipsters. It’s this brand of normalization that likely prompted Noah to not only respectfully converse with Lahren, but even send her thank-you cupcakes after her interview.
Tomi Lahren has the sort of saccharine demeanor that would inspire a man to send her baked goods. Unfortunately, these disarmingly appealing appearances aren’t just distractions—they’re tools. People are far more likely to engage with a neo-Nazi who has a cool haircut, just as people have historically enjoyed getting their news from pretty white ladies. In the picture she shared with her followers, Lahren isn’t smiling because her new friend bought her cupcakes—she’s grinning because of all the free social media traffic Trevor Noah has helped her generate. Tomi’s looks may have jumpstarted her career, but hatred and bigotry sustain it. Validating her bullshit as a legitimate counter-perspective is anything but productive.