Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Stephen Colbert tries not to laugh in the face of former Trump enabler John Bolton

Stephen Colbert, John Bolton
Stephen Colbert, John Bolton
Screenshot: The Late Show

When it comes both to reading John Bolton’s new book and interviewing John Bolton about said book, well, somebody’s got to do it. The infamously conservative and war-happy advisor, ambassador, and glumly mustachioed cheerleader for killing millions of brown people with nuclear fire appeared for four full segments on Tuesday’s Late Show, with Stephen Colbert doing the public service double duty of first reading Bolton’s recent tome on his 17 months serving at the pleasure of Donald Trump, and of holding the former servant of lunkheaded, xenophobic, “incurious” evil to task for, say, getting a huge advance for writing a tell-all book about said evil once he left government instead of speaking out when it mattered. You know, like when one party was successfully impeaching a sitting president for blackmailing a foreign nation in order to undermine American democracy. Stuff like that.

The homebound Colbert repeatedly attempted to find some weak spot in Bolton’s stonewalling conviction that he—the National Security Advisor—did absolutely and completely the right thing in abetting Donald Trump’s disastrous and dangerously incompetent foreign policy decisions, right up until he was fired (or he and Trump agreed to a totally mutual breakup). Now, we could go through every self-exonerating beat of the Colbert-Bolton interview, but, with a selflessness mirroring Colbert’s in distilling Bolton’s book down to a handful of incredulously searching questions, here are some bullet points.

John Bolton—who worked happily for such rabidly conservative jerks as Barry Goldwater, Spiro Agnew, Ronald Reagan, and both Bushes—thought he could help shape Trump’s chaotic, unstudied assholery into something more in line with Bolton’s view of disciplined conservatism. (Colbert seemed to sting Bolton most by calling that “naive” after Bolton said that he just “couldn’t believe it was that bad.”) Bolton thinks, of all the sycophants, outed white supremacists, venal power-grabbers, and the outright “hand grenade” that is the sundowning Rudy Giuliani, the worst person in Trump’s inner circle is Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, but that’s because, according to Bolton, Mnuchin is “basically a Democrat.”

Speaking of the Democrats, Colbert asked why (the fuck) Bolton didn’t choose to testify about Trump’s Ukrainian crimes during the impeachment hearings (instead of, again, allowing Trump to stay in office until he could make some publishing bank). Noting that the tapes of Richard Nixon confessing to high crimes were the politically unavoidable last straws for Republicans looking to flee that burning White House, Colbert asked his guest concerning his first-hand knowledge of such crimes in Trump’s case, “Isn’t your book the tapes?” To his credit, Colbert dutifully allowed Bolton to finish his self-exonerating explanation before decrying the various brands of “false equivalency” Bolton busted out.

To Bolton’s claim that the Democrats plan to focus on just one impeachable crime was “too narrow,” Colbert retorted that that’s like not testifying against a serial killer because the prosecution is only presenting evidence of one murder. And to Bolton’s repeated dodge that those pesky Democrats actually performing their Constitutional duty doomed their “partisan” effort by alienating those principled, brave Republicans who otherwise would have 100 percent done the right thing to convict Donald Trump, Colbert could only goggle in disbelief, as Colbert noted how Republicans sought to “stymie” any broader investigation or witness testimony. (Bolton’s argument as to why not one single GOP lawmaker voted to convict a person Bolton admits is guilty of impeachable offenses was essentially that their fee-fees were hurt by those mean Democrats.)


It went on. Bolton, while stressing that Donald Trump is a criminally corrupt, perilously out of his depth, dictator-coddling simpleton who is destroying Bolton’s beloved Republican Party from within, told Colbert that he won’t be voting for Joe Biden, because, ew, Democrats. (With the courage of white college sophomore Poly Sci majors everywhere, he will abstain.) As to his insider knowledge that Trump gave a “thumbs up” to Chinese plans for what even noted Islamophobe Bolton admits are concentration camps for more than a million of that country’s Muslim citizens, Bolton said he “thought of resigning many times,” but, you know, didn’t. Colbert tried here to appeal to some core of humanity within the career conservative, beseeching, “Why not tell us then? What is the moral imperative then?” But Bolton remained steadfast that Colbert just doesn’t get it, something that viewers of all four of these segments are welcome to attempt to do. For the iron-stomached, foolhardy, or the “crumbling democracy” completists among you, good luck watching the whole spectacle.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.