Speed Reads

Late Night Tackles Trump and Race

Stephen Colbert, SNL creatively explain why George Washington and Robert E. Lee are not the same

President Trump "has had a lot of problems with history this week, mainly how he'll be remembered by it," Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show, "but also with defending the Confederacy." Colbert took special issue with Trump's argument, on Twitter and at a press conference, that because George Washington owned slaves, the decision to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee will lead America down a slippery, heritage-erasing slope to removing statues of Washington and fellow slave owner Thomas Jefferson.

"Comparing Robert E. Lee to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson is just willful dumminess," Colbert said, coining a word. "Washington and Jefferson have monuments not because of the slaves but because they fought the British, founded the country, and wrote the Declaration of Independence. We have statues of Robert E. Lee because he chose to secede and fight for slavery." Taking down Confederate statues "isn't about denying that slavery happened, it's about not celebrating the people who fought to keep it going," he said. "That's why we remember the Titanic but don't erect a monument to the iceberg."

On Saturday Night Live's Thursday night "Weekend Update," Michael Che invited George Washington, as played by Jimmy Fallon, on to defend himself. "About this Robert E. Lee thing, I'm nothing like that guy," Fallon's Washington said. "I created this country, he tried to tear it apart. I rebelled against England, he rebelled against America. Him bad, me the founding father, the original dad — Who's your daddy? Me!" He tried to leave, but Che stopped him, reminding him that he (Washington) did own slaves. Fallon said Jefferson was worse, prompting Jefferson (Seth Meyers) to come out and accuse him of throwing him "under the carriage."

After some playful banter, the two founding fathers looked solemnly into the camera, music playing. "In the end, Michael, we don't need statues to commemorate us," said Fallon. Meyers' Jefferson concurred: "Our legacy is the country that we risked our lives to create." "That is why this great nation has given us an honor greater than any statue," Fallon said: "a three-day weekend in February during which all Americans get 50 percent off all mattresses."

For a more serious discussion, CBS News political director John Dickerson gave Colbert his historical opinion in the last minute of his Late Show interview. Watch below. Peter Weber