“Well, we’re back after 10 days off,” Stephen Colbert said at the top of his Late Show monologue Monday night. “And I never imagined that after 10 days, a global pandemic would not be the lead story. Remember when we were all afraid of our groceries? I miss those days. No, the story that has pushed 100,000 COVID deaths below the fold is America’s preexisting condition: racism.”
The host attempted some jokes about the mass protests that have followed the police killing of George Floyd, but it was harder than usual for him to break through the seriousness of the moment.
“Now, in times like these, we need empathetic and moral leadership,” Colbert said. “Unfortunately, we have Donald Trump.” He also mocked the president’s Friday night retreat by alluding to Adolf Hitler: “If history has taught us anything it’s that things always work well for strongmen who retreat to underground bunkers.”
Ultimately, Colbert decided to drop the comedy and speak frankly to viewers.
“Now I make a lot of jokes about Donald Trump because he is a dull and dark corrupting force that is undermining America’s moral leadership around the world and sowing hatred and fear among his own citizens,” he said. “So that’s fun. And during this COVID crisis, the president has totally abdicated his responsibility of leading the people to understand the need to do the right thing for themselves and each other.”
Since the American people “largely did the right thing” when it came to the coronavirus, the host said he hopes they step up again now. “Because ultimately they have to,” he said. “For too long, those of us with opportunity and privilege have failed in our responsibility to look at the truth squarely and name the system of racial oppression that artificially divides us and benefits those already in positions of relative power.”
“It is time to ask ourselves, as it’s always the time to ask ourselves, what kind of nation do we want to live in?” he added. “That requires moral leadership. So take it upon yourself to be a leader and set an example of the kind of country you want to live in. That might mean going to a protest or making a donation or having a tense conversation about race.”
“But you’re not going to get that from the White House,” Colbert concluded. “So we need to step up and provide it ourselves. America is now officially BYOP: Be Your Own President.”
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