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Jimmy Fallon is a silly man. That’s neither a compliment nor an insult; it’s a statement of fact. As a cast member of Saturday Night Live, he was best known for being unable to maintain a straight face during a joke. Fallon is a congenial goofball, which is why he ultimately was the perfect replacement for Jay Leno on The Tonight Show.
To Fallon’s credit, that silliness and amiable disposition has made him uniquely capable of humanizing all of his guests. Some people arguably don’t deserve such treatment, though—folks like Donald Trump, who is a bigot of the highest order, a consistent sexist, and a man who’s willingly tied his brand to the tenets of white nationalism in the same way he slaps his his name to various tall towers across the world.
Fallon has spent the last year or so making fun, and making light, of Trump, but his interview with the Republican candidate on Thursday night—the same night that Trump’s camp had to assure everyone that he isn’t still a proponent of the birther movement—was an all-time low. Already, there are articles pouring out condemning Fallon for being far too jovial with a racist than necessary. Fallon has been dismissed for “pandering” to Trump and not truly weighing the severity of the looming presidential election. As a viewer who loathes Trump and all he embodies, Fallon’s line of questioning is wince-worthy. The late-night host asked Trump hard-hitting questions like:
“Do you still want to do this?”
Of course he does.
“There’s probably kids watching. They do stay up late and watch our show. Why should they grow up and want to be president?”
Why would anyone encourage this foolish man to influence kids?
“Did you always see yourself getting into politics?”
Has Fallon never seen that clip of The Oprah Winfrey Show from 1988 in which Trump is talking about what he’d do as president? He’s been notoriously teasing a run for decades now.
“Do you think your business background helps you with campaigning?”
A shady businessman goes into politics. What could possibly happen?
“Do you pay attention to the polls?”
What planet has Jimmy Fallon been living on?
When Trump tells a story of why he orders fast food—he fears someone at a restaurant who dislikes him will do nasty things to his order—Fallon says, “I never thought about that.” What does Fallon think about? Honestly. Truly.
Yet, as annoying as one finds Trump’s interview on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, we have to remember who we are dealing with. Jimmy Fallon is not Stephen Colbert. Jimmy Fallon is not Jon Stewart or Trevor Noah. Jimmy Fallon is nothing like David Letterman, who routinely mocked Trump to his face and even dared to call him a racist when opportunity presented itself. After Trump said he would stop doing Letterman’s show, Letterman responded in very Letterman-like fashion, noting that, “Maybe he’s not a racist. Maybe he’s a guy that says stupid things for attention.”
Fallon is not the type to drill a guest, which is exactly why Trump does his show. It’s easy to understand if not share frustration at Fallon’s lack of urgency to take on a racist. The anger is valid, but is Jimmy Fallon the best person to aim it at? As pop culture and politics have merged over time, it has become common for presidential candidates to do these sort of shows. More often than not, they go on there to convey “relatability,” and much of that time is spent being apolitical or asked softball political questions.
Most seem to be upset that Trump’s appearance on the show further illustrates what many have deemed the normalizing of bigotry. That’s a stance I continue to take issue with because the party that has nominated Trump for president has been using racism and sexism and xenophobia to attain power for decades now. Trump just took that shtick and added showmanship to it. When I think about media throughout this campaign—notably in the past few weeks—I roll my eyes at Fallon, but profess greater anger for those who are trained to do better.
Just this morning, I watched an MSNBC anchor describe Trump’s birtherism as “controversial.” Yeah, but why? ‘Cause it’s racist. Then there is the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment, which has largely focused more on Clinton’s turn of phrase than the truth that’s easily proven by polls.
There are many people right now making it far too easy for Trump, but I don’t expect a comedian to do their job. All Fallon did last night was be himself. It’s okay to want more from him, but to begrudge him for who he always has been feels fruitless. Fallon was doing his job. When it comes to Trump, though, I’m more upset that others still aren’t doing theirs.