Since the coronavirus pandemic forced Stephen Colbert out of his Late Show theater nearly eight months ago, he has delivered his nightly monologues sitting down. Without a studio audience, it just seemed phony to stand up and perform his jokes to no one.
On Thursday night’s show, he was standing for a different reason.
“We’re taping this just a little while after Donald Trump walked into the White House briefing room and tried to poison American democracy,” the host said. “That’s why I’m not sitting down yet. I just don’t feel like it yet. That’s also why I’m dressed for a funeral. Because Donald Trump tried really hard to kill something tonight.”
Over the next several minutes, Colbert decided to forgo jokes in favor of both somber and searing commentary about the president’s lie-filled speech about the state of the 2020 election Thursday night.
“Just nonsensical stuff about illegal vote dumps and corrupt election officials and secret Democratic counting cabals and, I don’t know, long-form birth certificates, probably. It’s all the same,” he said. “And if you didn’t know that Joe Biden was getting close to 270, Donald Trump just provided all the proof you will ever need.”
As predictable as all of this has been, Colbert seemed to surprise himself by how much it was affecting him emotionally. Catching himself and appearing to fight back tears at one point, he said, “We all knew he would do this. What I did not know is that it would hurt so much. I didn’t expect this to break my heart. For him to cast a dark shadow on our most sacred right, from the briefing room in the White House—our house, not his—that is devastating.”
“This is heartbreaking for the same reason that I didn’t want him to get COVID, certainly why I wanted him to survive, because he is the president of the United States,” he continued. “That office means something and that office should have some shred of decency.”
“For all the predictable behavior of the last few days and the last four years, right now something unpredictable needs to happen,” Colbert added. “Republicans have to speak up. All of them. Because for evil to succeed, all that is necessary is for good men to do nothing. So say something, right now, Republicans.”
He went on to argue that it’s in their “best interest” to “get off the Trump train” immediately. “You only survived this up until now because a lot of voters didn’t want to believe everything that was obvious to so many of us: that Donald Trump is a fascist,” Colbert said. “And when it comes to democracy versus fascism, there are not fine people on both sides. So you need to choose: Donald Trump or the American people?”
To newly re-elected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who “declined to comment” on Trump’s speech, Colbert said he heard him “loud and clear, you’re OK with this.”
“I guess Mitch McConnell is saying he was re-elected through fraudulent votes as well?” Colbert asked. “And he’s holding onto the Senate because of fraudulent elections in other states, and Republicans picked up seats in the House because of fraudulent elections? So cast them all out? Is that what your silence is saying, Mitch McConnell?”
“So America’s going to count something else right now,” he continued. “They’re going to count who is willing to speak up against Donald Trump trying to kill democracy. And they’ll count who will stay silent in the face of this desperate attack on the bedrock institution of this truly great nation. Because he just attacked the thing that most makes us great. And it is time for you to all mean what your hats have been yelling.”
Before moving on, Colbert told viewers, “We’re not going to show you a second of what that sad, frightened fraud said tonight. Because it’s poison. And I like you.”