The most surprising thing about Bill Clinton’s interview on The Daily Show Tuesday night is that he is still making talk-show appearances to promote his new novel, The President Is Missing, after the way his book tour started.
Back in the beginning of June, the former president got more than a little testy when NBC News’ Craig Melvin asked if he thought he owed Monica Lewinsky an apology. Things went only marginally better the following day when he tried to clean up that mess on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
In both cases, Clinton had his co-author, James Patterson, seated awkwardly by his side. And that was the case again this week when the pair sat down with Trevor Noah to talk about a lot more than just the fictional president in their debut collaboration.
“It would be very difficult to write fiction about what’s going on now,” Patterson said at one point in response to a question about the current White House occupant. Clinton concurred, saying the plot of their book used to seem like realism until Donald Trump came along.
Instead of starting the interview by rehashing the Lewinsky story with Clinton, Noah instead tried to get his take on the national conversation about “civility,” especially following the incident in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked to leave a Virginia restaurant because she works (and lies) for this president.
Clinton recalled a time when he was serving as president and a man confronted him in a church about his lack of action on AIDS. He said that incident spurred him to do more about the crisis. “That I thought was fine,” he said of the man’s behavior. Clinton does not feel the same about the situation with Sanders.
While he admitted it was a decision the restaurant owner could make for herself, he also asked, “Would it be better if that didn’t happen? I think it would.”
“But, you know, a lot of poison has been poured down America’s throat since that 2016 campaign,” Clinton said, adding that it started with Trump called Mexicans “rapists and murderers.” So, he said, “It’s hard to pour poison down other people’s throat and not have some of it come back up and bubble up.”
After reading about the Sanders incident, Clinton said he came away “with a lot of respect” for the restaurant owner. But he also “had a lot of respect” for how Sanders handled herself.
“Maybe what I’d like to see is that this be the beginning of something where it would be better if we started talking to each other again,” he added. “Sooner or later, people have to stop tearing each other down and go to work. But I think you can’t foment as much hatred as has been fomented by the administration without having a blowback. So if they want to have civility, they have to stop the name-calling and take the lead.”
It wasn’t until nearly 19 minutes into their 23-minute extended interview that Noah finally brought up Clinton’s “evolution” on the #MeToo movement. “Has it been hard for you to reprogram your brain?” Noah asked.
“It means I have to not react to having to relive the raw pain of something that happened 20 years ago,” Clinton answered. “And I need to be aware that unfortunately there are still millions of people every day who face objectification, disrespect, discrimination and sometimes outright abuse in the workplace, on the street and at home.”
Clinton said that “most of us” are “trying to work our way through how we can use this moment to build a better country.” He said he “regrets very much” what he did to—or with—Lewinsky, depending on how you view it. “And I’ve tried to pay for it and atone for it and do right,” he said. Instead of getting “angry” at a reporter for asking about it, he said he should have remained focused on the larger problem of sexual harassment and abuse.
Then, because he seemed ready to stop talking about his own past, he pivoted to praising Starbucks for the way it handled its recent racial bias training. “That’s how we should think about this #MeToo moment,” he said. “We can’t waste it, we’ve got to do better.”