Tomi Lahren and the rise of mainstream extremism

When I first saw the headlines of the Daily Show’s epic interview showdown between Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren I was more than a little skeptical. I haven’t been a big fan of Noah, the talk-show host, as he and the show try to find their comedic tone and angle post-Stewart. More than anything, my biggest complaint has been that in the ever precarious struggle to be both political and funny, Noah has leaned heavily on predictable and shallow jokes that inevitably lack the bite and substance of his predecessor.

So it both surprised and excited me to see Noah engage in a calm, well-reasoned, and pointed debate with Lahren, a self-proclaimed “liberal agitator” famous for her unabashed rants against everything from the DAPL to the Black Lives Matter movement. Noah was prepared for Lahren’s fast-talking, logic-bending style of debate and did well to point out the hypocrisy of many of her points. Maybe the new guy isn’t so bad after all!

The debate felt fair and civil (something the country has been woefully deprived of this election season) and it was refreshing to finally see an open discussion between two strongly opposed sides. Noah got his wisecracks in and Lahren looked silly but, in the end, both sides seemed to tolerate the other’s view, or at least respect their right to have them.

All in all, it looked like a good piece of political banter. And that’s the problem.

If you examine the issues being discussed in the interview, by and large they are embarrassingly unbalanced. Lahren defending her point by comparing the Black Lives Matters movement to the KKK is not a sound defense. Her assertion that a few actions of the movement represent the entire cause and then subsequently refuting that same logic for the KKK members that support Trump is not only irresponsible, it’s dangerous.

As David Dennis, Jr. so aptly put it “ Tomi Lahren spouted violent propaganda on national television while Noah tried to get her to value his black life. That’s not a healthy debate.”

And yet, to read the headlines the following morning, you would think the interview was nothing more than a “spar”or a “face off”. In fact, many headlines even seem to praise both parties for being a “brief twinkle of light in the dark sky” of mud-slinging politics.

This legitimization of outright ignorant viewpoints as acceptable mainstream thought, is becoming increasingly detrimental. So detrimental, in fact, that it allowed a candidate who openly bragged about sexual harassing women to be brushed off a “locker room talk”. When the boundaries of what is “extremist” is pushed farther and farther without protestation, we open ourselves up to a political dialogue fraught with confusion and miscommunication.

As the mainstream media continues to allow outlandish and outrageous candidates and viewpoints to dominate their coverage, it becomes increasingly difficult to tell outrageous, baseless claims apart from outright false ones. Indeed, a major talking point post-election was the influence “fake news” had in swaying the opinion and votes of millions of Americans.

Lahren, a rising conservative star, embodies this problem better than any current figure. If you watch her videos you will see someone who makes her points through conviction and controversy, not facts. Her Facebook page’s banner image states as much: “Whether you love what I’m saying or hate what I’m saying, you’re having a reaction to it. And that’s exactly what needs to happen in this country.”

At a time when quick soundbites are all people have the attention for, Lahren’s loud and blistering statements make for perfect front page watching. But you can only pack so much into a soundbite until facts have to take a back seat. This brand of sensationalized speech fuels groups like the so-called “alt-right” and the media’s constant coverage of it legitimizes their presence.

Perhaps the most frustrating part is that, at the core of her argument, Lahren and pundits like her do have a point. They do represent a population of the country that has been widely ignored and who made their presence felt this election. But she represents them as a population unwilling to try to understand a different point of view.

This is counter-productive to compromise and progress and that is what needs to happen to this country.