Trevor Noah, the new host of “The Daily Show,” capped the inaugural Politicon in Los Angeles on Saturday by offering an analytical, sometimes sobering take on the state of political discourse, comparing it to that in his native South Africa.
In a conversation with James Carville, Noah said that one of the differences is the “artificial creation of hype” around the election, and gave as an example the influence of polls conducted months before voting begins.
“I don’t understand polls, for instance,” he said to a packed audience at the Los Angeles Convention Center. “There is no logic to it. People go, ‘He’s number one in the polls.’ I say, ‘So he’s going to win?’ And they say, ‘Oh no, polls don’t mean anything.’ And I go, ‘Why do you have polls?’ And they go, ‘Because we need them.’ That’s not logical.”
He added, “Every election cycle, you are going to have a bunch of crazy people leading in the polls. This is what frightens me with the polls. Let’s say you have radicals. Often those people are not the most sane individuals. But then when a poll comes out that verifies that person is in the front, this is someone that could become they president, you are almost in a strange way adding credence to what they are saying. [The candidate] will say, ‘See I said the thing, and folks are in my favor. I am saying the right thing.'”
He said that the United States and South Africa share much in common, in history and economy as well as in ignorance. As an example, he cited xenophobia.
“When I see Donald Trump say these things I go, ‘I know what this is. I have seen this before. I come from a place where there is xenophobia to a point where there is violence in the streets against people from these other countries. You just have to be careful with how much credence you give it. That is the scary thing to me.”
When Carville asked whether that violence could happen in the United States, Noah replied, “It can always happen. It is just about who you are made to believe who the enemy is.”
Carville also asked Noah what advice he would give to Hillary Clinton. “Strangely, I would say to her, ‘Stop trying to be, and just be.'”
Carville, who rose to fame as campaign adviser to Bill Clinton, replied, “I know some people.” The audience laughed.
Noah said that the “hardest thing I had to learn as conversation wasn’t as frank as it was in South Africa.” In the transition to a democracy in South Africa “the niceties were put aside in exchange for honesty. People worried less about what people would feel about what they would say, and more about communicating effectively what they felt.”
Noah also talked about the importance of “nuance” in political discourse. “You can think two contradictory thoughts at the same time. In fact, two contradictory opinions can be correct,” he said.
He added, “I see people have a conversation, and the words they use sometimes throw the opposing person off so no one wants to listen anymore.” He cited the phrase “gun control” as having multiple meanings — from “background checks” to the government wants to “take my guns away.”
“I don’t think it’s an obsession with the guns as much as what the gun represents,” he said.
The two-day conference featured a mixture of panels, comedy acts, an art installation, film screenings and a few debates, such as one between Ann Coulter and “The Young Turks” host Cenk Uygur.