There’s a nifty little bit at the start of Samantha Bee’s recent Full Frontal interview with Beck—who I am now legally obligated to write is “woke”—where Bee and Beck argue whose audience would be more disappointed in their meeting:
BECK: “My audience wants to stab you in the eye.”
BEE: “My audience wants to kill me for normalizing a lunatic like yourself.”
In a way, that probably tells you all you need to know about both audiences: Beck’s goes straight for violence while Bee’s is more concerned about the rapid degradation of norms. But the segment is there to authenticate the meeting: They are there to bridge a divide, partisan audiences be damned! It also echoes a broader strain of (mostly centrist) thought: If a Republican says Trump is bad, that Republican is good.
The problem is that Glenn Beck has a lot of baggage. Beck incited violence against politicians and political organizations who had done nothing and then laughed at the consequences; said that Obama chose the name “Barack” to identify with his “heritage”; and generally made insane, revisionist (and that’s putting it nicely) comments about the history of segregation.
Beck signals to Bee that he is introspective about this, without naming any of it. “As a guy who has done damage,” he says, “I know what I did. I helped divide. I’m willing to take that. My message to you is: Please don’t make the mistakes that I made. I think all of us are doing that! We do it on Facebook and on Twitter. We tear each other apart and don’t see the human on the other side.” He adds, “I know I wouldn’t believe me if I heard myself apologizing, so I’m telling you now: Don’t take my word for it. Watch my actions.” Bee’s segment takes him up on that, praising him for doing good deeds like giving undocumented children toys and food and sponsoring a program that helps women who escaped from ISIS. But when Beck is pushed by On the Media’s Bob Garfield about his past, he flipped out.
The real takeaway is that Beck may not have changed as much as he claims. “I’m not a pessimist—I’m a catastrophist,” he says, before telling Bee that she’s a “catastrophist” too. Beck spent most of Barack Obama’s first term parading around Nazi imagery, telling his audience that’s what’s coming next. He’s still doing that, but now with Donald Trump—the only difference is that he’s speaking to liberals now.