Bill Maher is a famously outspoken fan of marijuana (and champion for its legalization) and he’s also notorious for his audacity (or, some would even say, his fearlessness) when it’s comes to skewering the powerful or calling out the corrupt. But on Friday night’s episode, the host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher revealed that those two signature aspects of his public persona don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand anymore.
The comedian and Californian said that he’s sworn off of the marijuana edibles that are sold legally in his home state due to their unpleasant interaction with his growing anxiety about a certain vindictive Washington politician who tunes in to the show (even if its by accident) and thinks “due process” is how library books are returned.
That anxiety came up during Maher’s back-and-forth with one of his guests, Donny Deutsch, the former chairman of Deutsch Inc. and, more recently, host of the MSNBC show Saturday Night Politics with Donny Deutsch. Deutsch is an outspoken critic of Trump and won’t alter that perception with his Friday night comments, which opened with “I’ve known Donald Trump for 20 years. He is a sociopath and whatever the worst tyrants in history were capable of doing, he is capable of doing.”
Maher weighed in with a prediction that the increasingly vituperative commander-in-chief will tenaciously hold on to power at any cost, hinting at 2020 scenarios involving martial law and/or arbitrarily invalidated elections. “I feel like this is the ‘not-going-gently’ edition of the dictator checklist. It’s going to get uglier. You think he’s just going to let us take him out of there?”
Deutsch said Trump’s recent use of the Department of Justice for his own political ends may escalate.”All of a sudden the Justice Department is not an individual branch it serves not only the pleasure of the president but for and on behalf of the president. By the way, you and I could end up in jail really easily. We’re not that far from that. I’m a doom-and-gloom guy but I really believe it’s that bad.”
“Oh, believe me, that’s one reason why I don’t eat pot anymore,” Maher said in a tone that sounded sincere. “Because when I eat it I get paranoid and that’s why I think about. That’s the truth.”
The first guest of the show was Chris Cuomo, the host of CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time, and a good portion of the interview was about the souring of American public discourse, the role of social media, and the increasingly personal nature of political rhetoric under the Trump presidency. Cuomo has spent time in the eye of the polarizing storm. The broadcaster’s heated words with a heckler in August escalated into a social media flashpoint due to the specified source of Cuomo’s ire: he took exception to being called “Fredo,” a reference to the morally comprised character played by John Cazale in The Godfather films. The CNN journalist has characterized the term as an an epithet used to mock Italian-Americans. Maher disagreed, repeatedly shrugging off Cuomo’s take.
“Democrats have a tendency to make everything identity politics,” Maher said. And Fredo? I’m sorry, it’s just not a thing,” Maher said. “It’s not a slur. it’s not an Italian slur. It means dumb brother, which you’re not, but you have a brother [Andrew] who’s the governor of New York…it’s not about ethnicity.”
The guest didn’t appreciate the condescending tone or interruptions. Cuomo got one of the strongest ovations of the night by swatting down Maher’s indelicate approach to the topic. “I’ll tell you what’s interesting, but I guess this is social progress, is that you can now have an opinion about what an Italian can find offensive.”
The guest and host agreed, however, on the bigger issue challenging the national conversation and rattling the foundations of American politics. “This president,” Cuomo said, “is playing on every weakness in our social fabric.”
Also appearing on the show, actor Zach Galifianakis, who spoke about the negative consequences of social media and praised the elegantly simple solution of unplugging more often from the wired world. “This onus we put on social media and ‘being connected’ is false,” the actor said.