On Tuesday night, Stephen Colbert hit Mel Gibson hard: “Hey, Mel-Mels? When you look back on your life, do you think you’ll have any regrets?” (Mel-Mels’ reply: “No. Not one.”) And had Gibson asked Colbert the same question in return, I’m sure Stephen could have come up with at least one regret of his own: going soft on erstwhile interviewee Donald Trump.
But regret is not nearly the same as repentance. So while it’s easy for Colbert to say he regrets the way he interviewed Trump, his interaction with Mel-Mel-Mel easily failed Maimonides’ famous test for true repentance (which is, I think, a commonsense approach): “When, while he’s yet able to sin, he is faced again with a situation in which he had previously sinned, and he nonetheless doesn’t.”
Sure, Colbert tried to elicit some measure of regret from Mel Gibson, but it quickly became apparent to both him and his audience that nothing remotely apologetic was forthcoming. As Megan Garber summarized for the Atlantic:
Gibson has undertaken what would otherwise seem to be a classic apology tour without seeming to have any intent of actually apologizing. Instead, he defended himself. He pitied himself. He has never taken any action, he insisted to Colbert, that ‘ever supports that label they put on me.’
Given plenty of time and repeated opportunities to apologize, Gibson has failed to do so. That’s not Stephen’s fault. But given another opportunity to call someone out for unapologetic anti-Semitism (and various other species of racism), Colbert let Mel off as easily as he did Donald. And that is.
I thought, for a brief moment, Colbert would finally address his failure on Wednesday’s show, when he began to discuss George Lindell, the Trump supporter recorded bizarrely shouting “Jew-S-A! Jew-S-A!”, and muttering to the camera that “We’re run by the Jews, OK?” After recounting Lindell’s lame cover-up, Stephen declared:
I’m going to call this the worst excuse of all time. It’s the worst possible – I think it’s even worse than the close second – this is the second worst-excuse of all time: “We weren’t burning that cross on your lawn to scare you! We just wanted you to see our cool ghost costume!”
Sorry, Stephen, but maybe you just didn’t have time to replace that one with the new second-worst excuse of all time — since Mel only gave it to you the night before: “It’s a pity that one has to be defined with a label from, you know, having a nervous breakdown in the back of a police car from a bunch of double tequilas, but that’s what it is.”
Double tequilas didn’t make you decide “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” to think of a female officer as “sugar tits”, or believe that your girlfriend “deserved” to be hit [see Garber for all relevant citations, and more examples!]. Tequila may have made you say those things, but it didn’t make you formulate these hateful beliefs in the first place. It’s not really about anything you’ve said — it’s about the dank recesses of your soul that endlessly contrive noxious beliefs and inflict them on the rest of us, and which evince no sign of understanding what might be wrong.
Yet you underlined this lack of understanding in response to another of Colbert’s questions (“If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?“) when you said, “I’d also tell myself, my younger self, to shut the fuck up.” Sorry, but that’s not the problem. True, you shouldn’t have said any of those things, and the decision to open your mouth is why we know all about what you think, but the problem is about much more than just words. Until you can somehow show you’ve exorcised the dark thoughts that allowed them to emerge in the first place, ongoing efforts to rehabilitate you are almost certainly doomed to fail.
So while you go sit in the corner and (hopefully) think about what you’ve done, here’s a message I would happily relay to your present, older self: Please take your own advice, and shut the fuck up. At least until you’re ready to actually make some amends.