On Tuesday night, Ta-Nehisi Coates sat down with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show to talk about his new book, We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy. Colbert asked the journalist and author if he has hope that America will become a “better country, have better relations, better politics”—to which Coates flatly said, “No.”
Coates, who is a national correspondent for The Atlantic, is famed for his writing on race and what it means to be black in America today. He has never shied away from sugarcoating history for a white audience.
“The history is what the history is,” he once said. “It is disrespectful, to white people, to soften the history.”
Colbert began the interview asking for Coates’s take on the “Take a Knee” controversy, pointing out that “the majority of Americans didn’t approve of the bus boycotts, didn’t think there should be a march on Washington.”
“No, and why would they?” Coates asked. “If a majority of Americans approved that, there would be no need for a protest in the first place.”
The talk-show host brought up Coates’s new book, asking him to specify the “tragedy” in the title, following President Barack Obama’s eight years “in power.”
“The tragedy is that you have a president who is effectively conducting diplomacy with a nuclear-rogue state via Twitter,” Coates said bluntly of President Trump. “The very situation we find ourselves in would not be possible without the reaction to the first black president—and is in many ways a direct result to it.”
Colbert agreed that many of Trump’s actions seem motivated by the idea of merely reversing “something that Barack Obama did.”
Then the host zeroed in on his central question.
“You have had a hard time in some interviews expressing a sense of hope that things will get better in this country,” Colbert said. “Do you have any hope tonight for the people out there about how we could be a better country, have better race relations, better politics?”
Coates flatly responded: “No.”
“But I’m not the person you should go to for that,” he continued. “You should go to your pastor. Your pastor provides you hope. Your friends provide you hope. In better times, the president of the United States provides you hope. There are people who have that kind of moral place in the world. That’s not my job.”
Colbert seemed unsatisfied with this answer.
“I’m not asking you to make shit up,” he pressed further.
“I would have to make shit up to actually answer that question in a satisfying way,” Coates responded.
They continued into a discussion about changing demographics in America and their potential for the future.
“You might have a possibility of the demographics actually changing,” Coates said. “But who has the ability to use those demographics in an electoral system might also change, too.”
“I hope you’re wrong,” Colbert said.
“I hope I’m wrong, too,” Coates replied.
Here’s the full interview below.