Tavis Smiley on Trump’s victory: People wake up after they “feel the heat’’

Tavis Smiley appeared at Miami Book Fair Wednesday night.
Tavis Smiley appeared at Miami Book Fair Wednesday night.

You may have imagined, since his latest book is “Before You Judge Me: The Triumph and Tragedy of Michael Jackson,” that TV host Tavis Smiley wouldn't spend most of his Miami Book Fair event talking about the 2016 presidential election.

You would — of course — be wrong.

Smiley admitted to the audience at Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus that Wednesday did feel like an “odd time” to talk about his 21st book.

“It seemed a bit frivolous,” he said.

But Smiley, ever the showman, found a way to equate the despair many Americans feel after Donald Trump's victory to the King of Pop's death, in a warm, often amusing and ultimately inspiring talk that included detours into the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and, the need for the Republican and Democratic parties to take responsibility for their errors and bad judgment. (He also believes Bernie Sanders would have beaten Trump, but that's another story.)

Sounding more like a preacher than a radio host, Smiley said he had heard from many upset friends who were crying after the election results, struggling to get out of bed. His view is a bit more upbeat, hopeful, he said, rather than optimistic.

“I think we can survive this," he said. “The question is, what do we do in the interim?”

People tend to wake up, he pointed out, when they've “seen the light or feel the heat.” And he has a feeling a lot of people have experienced both in the wake of the election.

The host of a PBS late-TV talk show, Smiley did finally work his way back to “Before You Judge Me,” which details the final 16 weeks of Jackson's life. Like Jackson, Smiley grew up in Indiana. He calls the pop star's music “the soundtrack of my life.”

What he hopes is that America does not find itself as “unmoored” as Jackson did in his final weeks.

That's where the hope comes in.

If You Go

What: Miami Book Fair

When: Through Nov. 20

Where: Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., downtown Miami

Tickets and information:

Schedule of events this week

Thursday: Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf, 6 p.m.; Jeffrey Toobin, 8 p.m.; $15

Friday: An Evening with the National Book Awards Winners and Finalists, 6 p.m.; $15

Street fair: Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; $8 for adults; $5 for 13-18 and over 62; 12 and under free. Bernie Sanders will speak at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Chapman Auditorium. Tickets are sold out for the free event. Those interested in attending can try to get tickets at the standby tickets line at the auditorium.