“I’m in the lions’ den, Trevor.”
This is how Tomi Lahren chooses to begin her segment on the November 30 episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Noah jokingly asks if that’s a comment on his being African.
Tomi Lahren is the embodiment of one of the two sides of the Trump supporters who have irked “the rest of us” for the past 18 months. (Of course, there are some tolerable Trump supporters. Probably. Somewhere.)
Most Trump supporters are the non-college educated white voters. According to the Pew Research Center:
In the 2016 election, a wide gap in presidential preferences emerged between those with and without a college degree. College graduates backed Clinton by a 9-point margin (52%-43%), while those without a college degree backed Trump 52%-44%. This is by far the widest gap in support among college graduates and non-college graduates in exit polls dating back to 1980. For example, in 2012, there was hardly any difference between the two groups: College graduates backed Obama over Romney by 50%-48%, and those without a college degree also supported Obama 51%-47%. Among whites, Trump won an overwhelming share of those without a college degree
Trump is also popular among privileged, heterosexual, cisgender white people.
Tomi Lahren certainly falls into latter category, unabashedly and unashamedly letting her privilege show.
Noah begins his interaction with Lahren seriously and respectfully; he asks her straightforwardly if she considers herself a conservative. She responds, almost antagonistically and unironically, “I’m a millennial so I don’t really like labels, but yes, I’m conservative in thought.” Noah responds the way any thinking person would: “I’m sorry. My brain…you just used a label to say that you don’t like labels.” Lahren does not seem to see the irony in her statement and continues to sit across from Noah, smiling emptily.
Lahren prides herself on “call[ing] people on their shit,” but does not seem to like it when the strategy is turned back on her. Noah calmly and clearly calls her on her shit frequently in the interview. After the Millennial label exchange, Noah’s audience’s laughter, usually appropriately raucous, is only scattered. And that scattered laughter is the awkward laughter of people who notice a young, entitled woman’s refusal to see her own shit. Lahren continuously unironically declares what a great person she is, and what a service she is doing for her viewers, and wishes that others would do as she does, except not in her direction apparently.
Noah asks Lahren to explain her past comments on the Black Lives Matter movement being “the new KKK” (it hurts me to even type that). Noah challenges her and asks her to explain, which she does not and just, hopefully rhetorically, asks Noah what the KKK does. He interrupts his own sentence to ask, “Did you say what does the KKK do? Wow.” When even Trevor Noah can’t find a joke in something, we all have to take a moment to consider the implication. In response to Noah’s questions, Lahren insists that she doesn’t “see color.” She smugly says this, again with no irony, because she is privileged and white; she does not have to see color. But saying this to Noah, who was born in South Africa during Apartheid to a white father and a black mother, is especially ignorant.
Noah has discussed in his stand-up — see African American on Netflix from 2013, shortly before he began hosting The Daily Show — that he, as a person, was the manifestation of his parents’ illegal relationship. Noah’s mother had to drop his hand if a police officer was nearby when they were walking down the street or risk criminal charges.
So while Noah superficially falls into the category of the liberal Millennial that many conservative pundits, Lahren included, call “cry-baby safe-spacers,” he is very much not of that category. His experiences with race and racism go beyond anything that Lahren could possibly imagine. Him sitting across the desk from her and calmly asking her to explain herself. He is not antagonistic, nor does he try to trick her. He says several times that he would just like to know what the “right way” to protest is, given her insistence that groups like BLM and Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests during the national anthem were protesting incorrectly. Incidentally, she never provides an answer.
Instead, she says, “I wish that we could disagree with each other without thinking that we are bad people or ill-intentioned folks.” What she really means, though, is that she wishes she could disagree with people without them thinking that she is bad or ill-intentioned. She wants to be free to see the bad intentions of Occupy Wall Street, BLM, those protesting the election results, and any other liberal movement with which she does not agree. She wants the freedom to continue to judge the marginalized groups of the United States and accuse them of being whiney. There is a great deal of irony in her lack of irony, leading to a sense of hypersincerity.
Throughout the interview, Noah’s audience chuckles awkwardly, or where they believe that they should. The problem with when a comic or satirist gets serious is that many don’t realize that he is. Noah’s typical deadpan delivery of satirical skits is now part of his audiences’ expectations of the show. So when someone like Noah gets sincere, that sincerity is amped up because his satire seems sincere. The sincerity of a comic is hypersincere: Think of when Robin Williams leaves behind the voices and gets serious in Good Will Hunting; or when Jason Segel, a regular in Judd Apatow movies, embodies David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour. Because we’re used to seeing them under a comedic mask, their sincerity is even more so due to how alarming we may find it. Robin Williams’s performance in Good Will Hunting is, at times, just plain heartbreaking; Jason Segel is surprisingly Wallacean, to the surprise and relief of the many Wallace scholars among us.
Trevor Noah’s hypersincerity should not be viewed flippantly. He has shown us how to expose someone’s privilege, though Lahren is not exactly trying to hide it. To her “why can’t we all just get along” comment, Noah retorts, “What you’re saying is, I have the right to say whatever I want, so shut up.” Which is exactly what she believes. She wants to call others on their shit without being called out on her own. Noah again asks her what the right way to protest is, and asks how she would go about protesting. She responds, “I don’t protest because I’m not a victim.”
When you’ve never been a victim, when you’ve never been marginalized, you don’t have to think about what it’s like when others have been victimized and marginalized. So don’t speak for them. Tomi Lahren, your privilege is showing, and it isn’t pretty.