On a day with another horrific terrorist attack involving plowing into people with cars (this time in Barcelona), Stephen Colbert started off Thursday’s Late Show with an unaccustomed kind word for Donald Trump. Noting Trump’s (undoubtedly ghost-written) tweet (of course) of support to the Spanish people, Colbert, after offering his own heartfelt words of condolence, praised Trump for “that kind of moral leadership from our president… for about 45 minutes.” Naturally, Trump pulled the football away from those foolish enough to think he’s operating with a sense of propriety and decency by then tweeting out (natch’) a long-debunked, oft-repeated-by-Trump tall tale of prophylactic butchery involving General John J. Pershing, some Muslim insurgents, and some blood-dipped bullets that all reputable historians call a ludicrous, racist urban legend. (One that’s beloved of willfully ill-informed Islamophobes everywhere.) Nuts, right?
Well, that’s what Colbert wanted to ask his first guest, John Dickerson, the even-keeled host of CBS’ Face The Nation. Noting that Republican Senator and occasional Trump golf buddy Bob Corker (R-TN) this week openly questioned both Trump’s “stability” and “competence” in the wake of his recent and repeated defense of the “very fine people” involved in a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia this past weekend, Colbert—after pouring himself and his guest a generous draught of what appeared to be scotch on the rocks—asked Dickerson if the guy with the nuclear codes is as hair-trigger nuts as his actions increasingly suggest he is. Colbert punctuated Dickerson’s hesitant response with an expertly timed swig of liquid courage before the newsman and presidential historian tactfully enumerated the ways in which Trump’s behavior as president is completely unprecedented. (After coining the term “improvisational president” to describe Trump’s manner, Colbert slipped into his Trump impression, calling out, “Could I have a location I shouldn’t go, and a way I end the world?”)
Dickerson, himself a UVA alum, fielded Colbert’s questions about Trump’s failure to unequivocally condemn the Nazis who marched there (and who killed a woman) with restraint, but didn’t hesitate to say that Trump completely shanked his duty as moral leader by, as Colbert said, “blowing the easiest clap line in the world.” “There’s not a sports metaphor for how easy this is,” agreed Dickerson, who also offered up his mild-mannered yet stern denunciation of Trump’s Robert E. Lee-George Washington comparison. While conceding that both men owned slaves, Dickerson, noting that Lee is not called “General” at West Point (what with being a traitor to America and all), fought, unlike Washington and the other founding fathers, to preserve “America’s original sin.” Sadly, such a presidential-sounding turn of phrase isn’t in the current president’s wheelhouse, apparently. Drink.