By Dave Pezza
Yes, that headline reads like one of those shitty Facebook posts that the most annoying people can’t help but share every 20 minutes. We used to call it a hook, now we call it click bait, but either way you still clicked on it so...fooled you!
This election cycle is considerably unbearable not because of this year’s morally repugnant, economically exploitive, and embarrassingly hypocritical candidates. Although, those facts are not open for interpretation in the comments section. We are quite possibly facing the worst Democratic and Republican candidates for president in the last 40 years, maybe longer if you considered Nixon v. McGovern a terrible prospect (a quick reminder that Nixon won that election by 520 electoral votes to 17!). No, the true horror of the 2016 election is that we must brave it without our fiercest weapon in the fight against political tyranny, Jon Stewart.
I’m always a little late to the party, but after recently watching Stewart take over “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” I realized how much I not only miss him, but how much I need him. His is the only public voice that has ever come close to harmonizing with my own. I watched “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” religiously for years, especially during election years. Stewart has always had an inexplicable knack for sniffing out bullshit. But more than that, he can present the flip-flopping, the contradictions, and the straight-up lies with such a grounded tone that any disagreements I may have with his personal politics melt away in the heat of his fiery carpet bombs of truth. And perhaps that is how we as a culture are most hurt by his absence. The absence of Jon Stewart is an absence of intelligent political conversation.
My fondest memories of “The Daily Show” are not his tirades on President Bush or his utter destruction of the Fox News Network, but his conversations and debates with guests with whom he simply did not agree. For example, Stewart and Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly have had one of the best working relationships among political pundits of opposite sensibilities. They have appeared on each other’s programs a handful of times, and each time they managed to have intelligent, albeit heated, discussions about legitimate political topics, including popular vote versus electoral vote, white privilege, and the role of television journalism. They even took part in an actual televised debate in 2012 that lasted more than an hour and a half.
My fear is not that conservatism will run wild without the liberal Stewart keeping it in check (I think it is clear nothing can keep the Republican Party from a Death Star-scale implosion). My fear is what will happen now that these types of conversations are ending. Trevor Noah has tried his best to facilitate his own, unique version of “The Daily Show,” one that clearly and unapologetically skews to a younger and at times angrier fan base. And there is certainly nothing wrong or undignified about that approach. We also still have Stephen Colbert, who has never strayed too far from the Stewart mentality of responsible query and dissonance. But Colbert’s role in the zeitgeist is different from when he and Stewart shared an hour of late night coverage on a backwater network. Colbert now finds himself in an environment that calls for a bit more poise, some self-control, and some nonnegotiable ass kissing. Stewart put it more diplomatically (to no one’s surprise) after Colbert playfully reminded him that “The Late Show” is recorded live and that he couldn’t use the word “bullshit:” Stewart apologized, saying, “I’ve never been on a television show with stakes before.”
And again, no one should criticize Colbert or his program for this. He is still Colbert, but a different forum on a different network means concessions. Even so, he has still done a terrific job of skirting that line in order to stay true to his faithful fans.
At the end of the day, we’re still missing our scrappy, Mets-loving, Arby’s-trashing political outlaw with nothing to lose, barreling ahead with appropriate abandon at the talking heads, the empty pant suits, and the spewers of nonsense and lies.