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A Nasty Piece of Work: the Unreal Politics of Bill Maher

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Randy Miramontez / Shutterstock.com

I have a writing prompt on my blog’s dashboard reading: “Bill Maher’s latest repulsive comments.”

It’s a perennially useful prompt, even though most of what I write about him doesn’t see print.

The nominally liberal comedian uses his weekly discussion show on HBO, Real Time With Bill Maher, to pretentiously preen to a reliably sycophantic audience and spread xenophobic hate speech, barely veiled racism, and dismissive misogyny. It’s a nasty piece of work that enjoys a substantial influence in mainstream liberal circles.

Maher’s base is expanding out of the liberal mainstream, though, thanks to his virulent hatred of Islam and its adherents. Much like evangelical atheist Richard Dawkins, whose views on Islam and the Global South have won him fans across the rising right wing in Europe, Maher is enjoying something of a career renaissance as he garners praise from the American hard right.

Maher’s speechifying last week was at its most inspired when he was speaking with his new buddy Michael Hayden, the former head of the CIA. Hayden came on the show to promote his new memoir/torture apologia. Maher had a lot of fun squawking to one of the architects of the modern surveillance state about how Apple should give the FBI the tech to unlock the iPhone- tech the company claims it has specifically not designed in response to consumer concerns over privacy.

Bad enough, but the real horror show came, as it often does, on the internet-only post-show discussion called “Overtime.”

During Overtime on February 26, Maher and his guests debated the efficacy and wisdom of closing the extralegal Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp which houses upwards of seventy men who have never been tried for any crimes. Most men in the prison were scooped up in the aftermath of the immediate US invasion and destruction of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.

Now, Maher is on the right side here- he believes the prison should be closed and the prisoners given trials- but for the wrong reason. Maher thinks the US should give the Guantanamo Bay prisoners trials because “it works.”

“It works.”

This sounds reasonable enough. It’s not.

What constitutes the judicial system “working” in trying terror suspects in Bill Maher’s world? Why, it’s the fact that the trials have a 100 percent success rate.

That success rate is not necessarily an indication of guilt.

The trial process is heavily weighted towards the prosecution. Much of the evidence that is presented at these trials is deemed far too sensitive for the public and a threat to national security. The deck is so stacked against the defense that the entire process functions more as going through the motions; a military tribunal rather than an actual trial.

This is the system that Maher believes works- a system that is designed to maintain the power of the state to the detriment of the powerless, irrespective of their crimes- because it reliably returns the result he believes it should.

It’s the same logical fallacy that maintains inequality of power, access, and justice, promoted by the same kind of person the fallacy requires: An ignorant, well-to-do blowhard, untouched by the reality of the inequity, all too ready to trumpet it to his receptive audience.

Like Bill Maher.

I couldn’t fit the rest of Maher’s comments from this week into the story, but they can be found here.

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Eoin Higgins has a master’s degree in history from Fordham University. He lives in New York.

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