trevor noah supreme court

Trevor Noah ignores my advice to demonstrate its limits

On Thursday, Trevor Noah opened The Daily Show by reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision to grant a stay of Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Noah noted that the Court’s move was essentially unprecedented: “The Supreme Court blocked Obama’s climate regulation before the case even reached them. And this is the first time . . . that they’ve ever done this.”

And he followed up with a bit of advice for the Supreme Court that began to sound extremely awkward only about a day and a half after Thursday’s show. Highlights (i.e. the most relevant bits) are in bold:

Now is not the time to be trying out new things, Supreme Court. You don’t try something for the first time when it could be the last time. Global warming could catastrophically change the world in just a few decades. And you might not care, because you’re not gonna be around. I understand that, yeah, yeah. These guys might not even be around for season seven of Game of Thrones. I mean, hell, they might not even make it through the credits. So I understand. But we’re gonna be here.

Noah’s monologue appears to be  a clear violation of some advice I directed to another late night host on Comedy Central just last year. In a post titled You don’t want to be like Larry Wilmore, which argued that you should treat people like it might just be the last time you ever see them. And as you may have heard, one of Noah’s five targets — erstwhile Justice Antonin Scalia — made it through the credits by an uncomfortably narrow margin. I have to imagine someone over at the Daily Show regrets, at the very least, the timing of this mortality talk. Vindication.

Or is it?

Bear with me as I briefly revisit the substance of Noah’s impolitic observations. The specific rebuke he delivered to Scalia & friends highlights an important nuance I did not fully convey on my first try. While you should certainly treat others like it may be your last chance, that suggestion is limited to the concern that others may cease to be a part of your life. Implicit presumption: your life will go on. I obviously did not intend that the possibility you may be the one who meets an untimely end means you have the ability to forego all civility. That your own demise could come at any moment only reinforces the imperative of minding the legacy you’ll leave behind.

So, to the other four justices who were at the receiving end of Noah’s diatribe: It’s never too late to start thinking about how you’ll be remembered. But as this past Saturday forcefully demonstrated, it may become too late too soon. And as Noah put it, do you really want future generations to wonder what ice was, only to be told it’s all gone because “we liked going to the grocery store in a Hummer”?

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