Home LIFESTYLE Style News Can Sarah Silverman Make You Love America—Including Trump Supporters?

Can Sarah Silverman Make You Love America—Including Trump Supporters?

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Throughout Donald Trump’s ascent to the presidency, one question has increasingly dogged those who oppose him: is it better to engage with bigots, or to isolate them? Sarah Silverman’s new talk show, I Love You, America, will likely challenge viewers to consider and reconsider where they stand on that question. In its premiere episode on Thursday, for instance, Silverman interviewed not only a family of Trump supporters from Louisiana, but also a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church. Some viewers will find these conversations galling and ill-considered; for those willing to stick around, however, I Love You, America is a fascinating, if occasionally challenging exploration of what, precisely, a streaming talk show can do.

Lest you think we’re getting too cerebral here, this show’s potential was signaled most by the fact that Silverman featured a full-frontal shot of a naked man within its first five minutes. (See, streaming can get away with things broadcast can’t.) Was it a juvenile digression? Certainly. But those clinical shots of bare genitalia also efficiently drove home Silverman’s point: this is not a typical late-night talk show.

Yeah, this show is weird. Just in case it felt too jarring, Silverman had a plan: “Whenever things veer off the beaten path,” she said, “all we have to do is just cut over to Mather and he will bring us back to the relatable comfort of familiarity.” Who’s Mather? Why, a man in a suit behind a desk, like nearly every other host in late-night history.

But perhaps the most jarring—and potentially most off-putting—feature of Silverman’s program is the open dialogue she engages in with people that most late-night programs would never interview. Plenty of straight news outlets have attempted to “humanize” Trump supporters from middle America; will liberal viewers jump at the prospect of watching Silverman do the same thing? Sure, she’ll rebuke someone who, say, believes that gay people should not be allowed to raise children—but she also has the power to do that because of her privileged position. The leeway viewers are willing to give her could make or break the show as a whole.

After her interview with the Louisiana family, Silverman returned to her set—which looks a lot like a log cabin filled with Ikea’s finest; why not!—for another interview. This time, she chatted with Meghan Phelps-Roper, a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church. Phelps-Roper left the hate group and her family five years ago after expanding her social circle on Twitter, where she got into a series of discussions with her now-husband. With this exchange, Silverman clearly makes her case for conversation—even when it’s difficult, frustrating, or yes, even dangerous.

“I think one thing that’s really important for people to understand is that I think extremists generally are not psychopaths,” Phelps-Roper told Silverman. “They’re psychologically normal people who have been persuaded by bad ideas. And we can’t expect to, like, isolate these people and hope that those ideas will just fade into oblivion. We have to actually engage those ideas and find ways of, one, understanding the mindsets of the people that we’re dealing with and then effectively constructing arguments and evidence and presenting those things. And it’s not just for the sake of these extremists. . . because they impact the rest of society.”

The fate of Silverman’s show, it seems, will lie in finding enough people who agree.

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Pool

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SHAWN THEW/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

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