For almost an hour on Thursday, President Donald Trump managed to earn Stephen Colbert’s respect. Then he went and threw it all away.
“Before we begin, I want to send out our thoughts to the people of Barcelona, Spain, who suffered a horrific attack today,” Colbert said at the top of his Late Show monologue. “A vehicle drove into a crowd, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more. This is a heartbreaking reminder that evil is real and the United States is not alone in fighting it.”
He applauded Trump for tweeting “the right thing” after it happened: “‘The United States condemns the terror attack in Barcelona, Spain, and will do whatever is necessary to help. Be tough and strong, we love you!’”
“Thank you, sir,” Colbert said. “Simple. Dignified. Presidential. That’s what you want. That’s what you hope for. That’s all you can ask. He’s right. We love you, Spain. And I was sincerely happy to see that kind of moral leadership from our president... for about 45 minutes.”
In his very next tweet, Trump wrote, “Study what General Pershing of the United States did to terrorists when caught. There was no more Radical Islamic Terror for 35 years!” He was referring to the widely debunked myth that U.S. General John J. Pershing executed Muslim terrorists in the Philippines by shooting them with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. It’s a tall tale that Trump liked to tell on the campaign trail.
“That is a dark story. No wonder his kids turned out the way they did,” Colbert said of the president’s children. “Trump’s point is, we got to be tough, like we used to. But here’s one problem with that: the story is not true.”
“So this story is complete nonsense,” the host added. “However, one thing about General Pershing that is true is this quote of his: ‘A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.’”
For some reason, Trump never mentions those words.