A video of CNN news anchor Don Lemon laughing hysterically as his guests mocked Donald Trump’s supporters went viral this week — and it couldn’t have been a more effective campaign ad for the president.
In the video, which was clipped from a live broadcast that aired on Saturday night, Lemon can be seen crying tears of laughter, and at one point even slamming his head on his desk, because he’s apparently so overwhelmed with joy and amusement.
It all started after one guest, ex-GOP strategist Rick Wilson, joked that Trump would be too stupid to find Ukraine on a map, before calling Trump’s supporters the “credulous boomer rube demo.”
Lemon laughed heartily, and so Wilson continued his mocking:
“‘Donald Trump’s the smart one — and y’all elitists are dumb!’” Wilson said in a heavy, stereotypical southern accent.
Then, the other guest (CNN contributor Wajahat Ali) chimed in, saying: “‘You elitists with your geography and your maps — and your spelling!’”
“‘Your math and your reading!’” Wilson added. “‘All those lines on the map!’”
By Tuesday night, Lemon was receiving considerable backlash over the clip — prompting him to address the controversy on his show:
Ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you — I don’t believe in belittling people, belittling anyone for who they are, what they believe. During an interview on Saturday night, one of my guests said something that made me laugh. And while in the moment, I found that joke humorous. And I didn’t catch everything that was said.
“Just to make it perfectly clear,” he added. “I was laughing at the joke and not at any group of people.”
(Notice that Lemon stopped short of actually apologizing for his behavior.)
First of all, it seems pretty clear to me that Lemon’s defense (that he simply “didn’t catch” everything the panelists were saying) is a blatant lie. He is laughing, consistently, while the guests are making their jokes, and then continuing to laugh after the guests make them. You don’t need to be a human-behavior expert to understand that, when someone is laughing during and after a joke, then the laughter is because of that joke.
Lemon knew exactly what he was laughing at — and, by refusing to apologize, he has made it clear that he doesn’t see anything wrong with that, either.
The thing is, though, he should regret it — for his own sake. After all, it’s clear that Lemon hates Trump, and his performance in that segment is going to be a way bigger help to the incumbent president than anything that Trump could ever do for himself.
Make no mistake: Clips like this embolden Trump’s supporters. They don’t see this sort of mockery and start to question their beliefs — rather, it just strengthens their view that it is them (and Trump) against the world. It makes them more loyal to the president, not less.
If you don’t understand what I mean, just think about what happened after Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” comment. Did that turn people away from Trump? Far from it. In fact, it prompted countless Trump supporters to use the word in their names or handles on Twitter. It prompted the Trump campaign to sell “deplorable” T-shirts. It prompted Trump to use the comments for his own campaign’s fundraising, and to bring his supporters closer to him, as well as to present himself as the foil who would never demean them in that way. (“While my opponent slanders you as deplorable and irredeemable, I call you hardworking American patriots who love your country and want a better future for all of our people,” Trump said during a rally in Iowa shortly afterwards.)
In other words? Rather than question their choice of alliance because of Clinton’s insult, Trump’s supporters embraced it — clearly seeing it as evidence that the people who disagree with them, in fact, don’t just disagree with them; they hate them, too. They think that they’re stupid. Nobody wants to listen to anyone who just got done calling them dumb, and all Lemon did here was further solidify the narrative that “liberal media elites” like him think Trump supporters are fools, which, in turn, only makes them hate Trump’s opposition more.
What’s more, in Lemon’s instance, his guests’ usage of stereotypical Southern accents — clearly intended to signify “stupidity” — could extend the consequences of this particular blunder to include turning off those voters in rural areas who are on the fence politically. Trump can point directly to this segment as evidence whenever he makes one of his favorite claims: that his opponents don’t respect his supporters or rural Americans.
In fact, this clip actually also provides ammunition for another one of Trump’s favorite claims: the idea that CNN is “Fake News.” Looking at this clip — and seeing a CNN news anchor laughing at Trump supporters this way — makes it easier for Trump to tell his supporters that all the news coming from CNN is tainted with this same bias, and therefore not reliable. It makes it more likely that they will blindly believe Trump, who hasn’t insulted them, and less likely that they will believe that anyone affiliated with CNN could ever have a legitimate criticism.
Lemon, I’m guessing, didn’t expect that any Trump supporters would ever see this clip of him laughing at them — but, unfortunately for him, millions of them did. If he doesn’t want to apologize to the people he insulted, then that is perfectly fine. He might, however, want to consider apologizing to the people who are going to actually be hurt by it the most: the people who want Trump out of office, and the network he represents.