Bill Maher has figured out precisely what is wrong with conservatives: They're missing an empathy chip. "I have a lot of conservative friends. I meet them on the show, and over the years we talk after the show. They tend to be the nicest people except when it comes to dealing or thinking about people who are not like them. That seems to me, their tragic flaw," he says.
The standup comedian and host of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher points this out when the topic of the Confederate flag comes up. "It was always insulting to black folks, and that should have been enough to take it down," he says. However, Maher argues, that missing chip mucks it up for conservatives. "They can't see that this obvious symbol of slavery would be horribly offensive to people who were slaves, who live and work among them and are their friends. To claim that it is just about heritage, to claim that it's just about pride — yes, pride about racism."
In the days after the Mother Emanuel tragedy, Maher watched right-wing media squirm as the facts about the shooting and Dylann Roof came out. Maher says, "If you watch Fox News or almost any Republican commentator talk about it, they were desperate to find any other reason besides racism for this to have happened. Many said it was because of a lack of religion. No, the shooter made it very explicit why he was doing this, over and over again. He said basically, 'I have to kill these people because black people are ruining America.' And yet it so upset the official conservative line that's been there for so many years now, which is, 'Racism is over in America.' So if you find somebody who is racist, it just doesn't fit their way of thinking."
But whereas the hard-line white supremacists of the past had no qualms admitting their white supremacist ways, today's bigots employ an entirely different tactic. They deny it. "The question I asked on the show after the shooting was, 'Isn't denying racism the new racism?" Maher says. "They say the most racist shit, and then they are mystified when people call them out on it."
On no other issue perhaps has that Fox News bubble twisted reality more than the issue of illegal immigration. Maher points out that the number of new immigrants entering our country has gone down dramatically during the Obama administration, in part because Mexico's economy has improved and birth rates have declined. Still the dittoheads can't see that. "We don't have this horde of people they imagine — like zombies I think they picture it — just climbing over each other to get across the border and yet they are still fixated on how we have to secure the border and build a giant wall and all of that, and it's all pretty much in their head," Maher says.
While most of the GOP has long played to the let's-build-a-wall crowd, no present Republican Party presidential hopeful tosses boiling hot bags of peanuts to the peanut gallery better than Donald Trump, the billionaire bloviator and reality TV comb-over. Much to absolutely no one's surprise, Maher has few, if any kind words, for The Donald. After all, Trump previously sued the comedian for making a joke in which he proclaimed that he would donate $5 million to charity if the real estate developer could prove he wasn't sired by an orangutan. "I'm very flattered there is one presidential candidate on the Republican side who has sued me, and I'm looking forward to another lawsuit if I keep talking about him when I get back to work," Maher says.
However, Maher does have a modicum of respect for The Donald's willingness to stand by what he says. "What's interesting about the candidacy is that he's such a non-politician," Maher says. "I can totally understand why Donald Trump is appealing to people because he just literally says what he thinks. He doesn't seem to have handlers. He doesn't seem to have speech writers. That sort of confidence and honesty is so rare in politics that even the fact that he's saying stuff that's bat shit, it sort of doesn't matter to a lot of people."
He adds, "There is something very attractive about not apologizing."
Make no mistake, Maher loves a straight-talker. After all, he's one himself, and his comments have certainly gotten him in trouble over the years, whether noting that the 9/11 attackers weren't cowards — that one cost him his show on ABC — to his recent showdown with Ben Affleck regarding Maher's harsh criticism of Islam, a criticism which causes most progressives to recoil in horror. Like Trump, Maher refuses to apologize. Instead, he doubles down, proclaiming that he's not anti-Islam, he's anti-bad ideas. "People have come to understand that I'm the liberal in this debate. I'm the one speaking out about intolerance," he says. "Covering women up is a bad idea. Not allowing them to participate in society is a bad idea. Killing cartoonists because they draw a picture of somebody is a bad idea. Killing people for leaving the religion is a bad idea. Hating gay people for simply being gay is a bad idea. And it's not our fault that these ideas are prevalent in Islam."
He adds, "We need to combat bad ideas and stand up for liberal ideas."