The week after the election, when our anxieties about the future of this country were at an all-time high — when high school students were bullying and taunting people of color, when Muslims were literally getting beat on the street, and when hate crimes spiked — I suggested to my wife that capitalism might eventually save us. Trump’s win may have been a symbolic victory for hate, but the American economy runs on sneakers and smart phones, and the generation responsible for fueling that economy is far more diverse than the generation responsible for electing Donald Trump. Trump couldn’t push his agenda on corporate America, because corporate America relies on diverse America to sell its products. That notion was borne out in this year’s Super Bowl ads, many of which sought to strengthen the appeal of brands to diverse America, and it was seen in the mass deletion of Uber accounts during the travel ban, forcing Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber, to quit Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum (the Uber brand is now in crisis, compounded by nasty sexual harassment allegations).
Based on the way several companies have distanced themselves from Trump, we know that Trump can be damaging to brands, but we haven’t really seen any hard numbers proving just how damaging Trump is, except maybe in late-night ratings. A few outlets have written this week about Stephen Colbert’s rise in late night, a rise attributed to his resistance to Donald Trump. It’s true, too: Last week, Colbert won every night of the week in overnight ratings; he’s won in overall viewers over The Tonight Show two weeks in a row; and Colbert is closing the gap in 18-49 viewers. Colbert’s ratings are up 33 percent over the same week last year, and it has everything to do with segments like this, from last night, where Colbert suggested that Donald Trump has been “smoking Vladimir Putin’s dick.”
The rise of Colbert is one story — and a positive one for the Stephen Colbert and resistance — but the other story is the fall of Jimmy Fallon. In the fourth quarter of 2015, before the election really got going, The Tonight Show was not only trouncing Colbert on the regular, Fallon was commanding four million viewers a night. As the election began to become the focus of the nation, however, Fallon slowly began to shed viewers until September 15th when late-night arrived at an inflection point after Jimmy Fallon tousled Donald Trump’s hair, helping to normalize the candidate (and I will never forget a news article I saw in the days after the election in which one voters said that he voted for Trump because he saw him on Fallon and said he seemed like a nice guy). In that week in September, Fallon was still whipping Colbert by a million viewers a week.
Now? Colbert has not only edged ahead, but Fallon — who once commanded 4 million viewers a week — is now down to 2.88 million viewers a week. In other words, since the fourth quarter of 2015, Fallon has lost as many viewers as Stephen Colbert has gained, which is a remarkable shift in late night where viewers are generally entrenched for years and years (just ask Letterman, who spent 20 years in second place).
That shift has everything to do with one man: Donald Trump. Not only is Colbert going after Trump every night, but Fallon continues to treat the President with kid gloves. Even when Fallon does make fun of Trump, he does so broadly and without any bite. Fallon, rightly or wrongly, has been linked to normalization of Donald Trump, and that has, in turn, badly hurt his ratings. Meanwhile, Colbert — who a year ago was fending off rumors that he would be replaced — has now pulled ahead.
The ratings increases of Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, and Seth Meyers (who maintains a comfortable lead over James Corden) further illustrate that while Trump will remain a divisive figure, where it really matters in America — ratings — Trump is losing. Here’s the thing about the United States of America — for better or worse, there are two things that are bigger than the Presidency: The National Intelligence community and capitalism, the latter of which is a much better reflection of our America than any vote count.