Stephen Colbert scrapped a taped monologue and went live at 11.35pm ET on Wednesday night, hours after a mob of armed Trump supporters stormed the Capitol at the president’s behest. “I really want to do the show we’re about to do and I also really don’t want to do the show we’re about to do,” a visibly shaken Colbert said, “because, Lord have mercy, there are some dark subjects that we talk about on the show occasionally, but I’ve rarely been as upset as I am tonight.”
The Late Show host then spoke directly to those responsible for inciting the mob, starting with Trump’s allies in Congress who have tolerated or sustained his baseless rejection of Joe Biden’s victory. “Hey, Republicans who supported this president, especially the ones in the joint session of Congress today, have you had enough?” he asked.
“After five years of coddling this president’s fascist rhetoric, guess whose followers want to burn down the Reichstag? Because today, the US Capitol was overrun for the first time since 1814, and a woman died. Who could have seen this coming? Everyone? Even dummies like me. This is the most shocking, most tragic, least surprising thing I’ve ever seen.
“For years now, people have been telling you cowards that if you let the president lie about our democracy over and over and then join him in that lie and say he’s right when you know for a fact that he is not, there will be a terrible price to pay,” Colbert continued. “But you just never thought you’d have to pay it, too. I really do hope you’re enjoying those tax cuts. And those judges, cause those judges are really going to be working hard. They’re going to be busy throwing these idiots in jail.”
Colbert then turned on Fox News: “Do you think maybe years of peddling his conspiracy theories had anything to do with this? ‘Oh, but come on, man, you know we have our opinion side and our news side. And come on, we’re just trying to turn a coin for uncle Rupee, sell a few lubricated catheters.’ Like those lubricated catheters, you know where you can stick your excuses and you can skip the lubrication.”
Colbert kept going, pressing Republican senators who until late Wednesday indulged the president’s doubt-mongering over the election: “A little question for the Republican senators who helped foment this insurrection: why’d you run away? I mean, these are your peeps, they love you. Why don’t you hang out with your buddies, Marsha Blackburn, Kelly Loeffler, Ron Johnson, John ‘not that Kennedy’ Kennedy? Because you can run all you want, for the rest of your lives, but you can never escape the responsibility of what you brought upon American democracy today.
“This was never some sort of peaceful protest,” he concluded. “This was Charlottesville come home to roost on Capitol Hill.”
On Late Night, Seth Meyers issued a sober, measured rebuke of any attempt to minimize what occurred at the Capitol. “I think it’s important, as the first draft of history is being written, and as we’re all processing what we witnessed today, to be as plain-spoken and clear-eyed as possible,” he said. “What we saw today was a violent insurgency, an attempt to overthrow the legitimately elected government of the United States, and it was incited, directed and encouraged by President Donald Trump and more than a few members of the Republican rightwing media.”
Trump responded to the mob, which replaced an American flag with a Trump one, brandished Confederate and QAnon paraphernalia, and ransacked congressional offices, with a video of support: “I love you, you’re very special, I know how you feel.”
“And he does,” Meyers said. “He knows how they feel, because he spent four years telling them in great and odious detail how they should feel. So we can be shocked, but we can’t be surprised. The president wanted this. He directed it, supported it, he incited it and encouraged it.”
Meyers called for Trump’s immediate removal from office and for prosecution – “anything less is tacit permission to continue to use his office and his influence after he leaves office to foment sedition and dismantle democracy” – and redirected attention to the overshadowed runoff races in Georgia, in which the Rev Raphael Warnock became the first black Democrat from any southern state elected to the Senate.
“Multiracial, pluralistic democracy is fragile, and precious, and it requires our vigilant stewardship and protection,” Meyers concluded. “And anyone not willing to forward that project with the fullness of their effort must be shamed and disgraced and removed from office.”
On the Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon struck a much softer if still grave tone. “In times like these I think to myself, ‘How is this happening? How can this be happening?’” he said. “But I’m also thinking, how can I help? And being here tonight, talking to you at home and reassuring you that we’re gonna be OK, and this is not what our country is about, is how I can help.
“Today was not patriotism; today was terrorism,” he added, then echoed Biden’s words for Americans to step up. “We’ve seen it over and over again during this pandemic, from the frontline workers to the cashiers at grocery stores to everyone delivering food or raising money for people who need it. We are best when we work together and step up.”
He also reiterated the president-elect’s words that “enough is enough is enough”. “I believe that is what a majority of this country has been saying, has been screaming, for a long time now. Enough is enough,” Fallon concluded. “Today was a disgrace. Today was disappointing. But sadly, today was not a surprise. But it’s important to remember that this is not who we are. I assure you that there are more good people then bad. And good will prevail.”
And in Los Angeles, Jimmy Kimmel recapped the “treason finale of the Donald Trump era” with palpable anger. “The police were very laidback compared to the Black Lives Matter protests,” he said, as some were seen taking selfies with the rioters and opening the gates for them.
“It was a terrible day for this country. Our president and the scumbags who have kept this stolen election charade going – that’s you, Josh Hawley, that’s you, Ted Cruz – either intentionally or wildly irresponsibly lit these fires to start a war just to distract us from the fact that Donald Trump lost the election.”
Kimmel called Trump, Cruz, Representative Jim Jordan and other Republicans who courted conspiratorial or delusional support based on lies and fear “not Americans”.
“There is no ‘we the people’,” in that ideology, he said. “It’s ‘me the people’.”