Trevor Noah Is Painfully Wrong

On Monday, Daily Show host Trevor Noah penned a piece in the opinion pages of the New York Times asking for everyone across the political spectrum to focus on what unites us instead of “screaming at each other about what divides us”. He goes on to point out that this is what authoritarian figures like Trump want since a divided people are easier to rule. On the surface this line of thinking makes a ton of sense, but when we dig below that paper-thin surface, it begins to fall apart.

First we need to acknowledge what the main tool of division is in our particular case: Unrepentant bigotry. On one side of the political spectrum (the right) we have people who (to varying degrees) either advocate for, or accept the restriction of the rights and civil liberties of historically marginalized people. This is a side of our political spectrum that likens Black Lives Matter and the original Black Panthers to the utterly barbaric and undeniably evil white supremacist terrorist group known as the Ku Klux Klan.

This side of the political spectrum jumps through flaming hoops and reaches for Alpha Centauri in order to justify the murders of unarmed black men and boys, no matter the circumstances or evidence. These are people who dug to the core of the earth in their attempts to delegitimize America’s first African American president. These are folks who voted for a man who promised to force Muslim’s to go on a national registry, and they are also people who are willing to implement any and all draconian policies necessary in order to take away a woman’s right to choose.

On the other side of the political spectrum (the left), we have all of the people who are the political and social targets of those on the right. For these people, their ideology is tied to the very existence of all of their civil liberties and rights. Moderating on their views and “coming to the center” is a dangerous, potentially life-threatening course of action for people on the left, whereas moderation from people on the right poses no threat to right-leaning folks whatsoever.

The only thing that people on the right could possibly lose by coming closer to the center are the certain social privileges that they may have. Maybe far-right conservatives drifting to the center deals a blow to white supremacy, or maybe it deals a blow to the patriarchy or to the oligarchy or to the oppression of LGBTQ individuals.

It seems as though the only thing people on the left gain by moderating is a greater restriction of freedom while people on the right are able to strengthen the vile systems that oppress all of us (including those on the right themselves). So why is Noah so steadfast in demanding that both sides moderate? Because it seems as though there is only one side of the political spectrum that truly needs to “moderate”. Over the past few weeks Noah (not unlike the majority of the media) has been working hard to reinforce the horrifically silly notion that both sides of the political spectrum have some sort of equality of ideology.

The arguments being had aren’t anything like “Did the 2000 Ravens have a better defense than the 1985 Bears?”. The arguments are more like “Is there any case where a cop shooting an unarmed black person is unjustifiable?” or “Is it OK to imprison a woman for having a miscarriage?”. The two sides of these arguments are not equally valid, there is a right answer and there is a wrong answer, and it is the responsibility of Noah and his peers in the media (especially those who are left or center left) to act like it.

People do not win civil rights victories and change hearts by moderating. What if Martin Luther King Jr. had “moderated”? What if Lyndon Baines Johnson had “moderated”? What if Abraham Lincoln had “moderated”? What if the protesters at Stonewall had “moderated”? What if all of the great fighters and allies of freedom had moderated over the course of our nation’s history? Now ask yourself how different our nation would be if the people who have fought to restrict rights and muffle cries for equality had moderated on their views.

Trevor Noah is making the centuries long centrist mistake of equating the validity, and ultimately the morality of the advocacy for civil rights and intersectional equality with those who seek to trample civil rights and maintain a de-facto caste system along gender, racial and economic lines. Legitimizing bigoted views that help to perpetuate oppression does nothing but bring that frame of thinking into the mainstream, ultimately shifting the center further to the right.

In his opinion piece Noah says “We can be unwavering in our commitment to racial equality while still breaking bread with the same racist people who’ve oppressed us”, and I couldn’t disagree anymore. Us assuaging the feelings of oppressive bigots is a concession, not the building of bridges. We can’t continue to live in a society where people think it’s the norm to hold bigoted views.

Those of us who advocate for equality and justice have been trying to extend the olive branch for hundreds of years, and that course of action has failed. The heart of our message has always been “let’s make this work together as one united nation, as brothers and sisters, as true equals”. But the other side has rejected the offer time and time again over the course of American history.

I’m not saying that we should completely shut these people out, but we must firmly establish that respect for our rights, equality and humanity is a non-negotiable pillar of our ideology and we must never budge from that.