Jon Stewart discusses things that aren’t Donald Trump

I think it was Facebook that, two days ago, suggested a popular Vox article to me titled “Jon Stewart is back with some strong words for ‘man-baby’ Donald Trump” — which embeds a video with Jon Stewart talking with former Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod about Donald Trump. This video:

And the entire article was about what Jon had to say about Donald Trump.

And this was ironic. Because in the very same video — where Jon, as usual, has many insightful things to say that are not about Donald Trump — he talks about the media:

The media is, as usual, focused on the wrong things and abdicating responsibility for the general filtration of toxicity; you have enormous amounts of money flowing into crazy people who are channeling populists of years past…

See, while it makes perfect sense for Jon Stewart — as a comedian — to say silly things about Donald Trump, it makes a lot less sense for the media to “filter out” everything that isn’t either (A) sensationalist or (B) as a special case of A, things related to Donald Trump.

So let’s see what else he had to say.

What Jon says that isn’t about Trump.

About Hillary Clinton

What I think about Hillary Clinton is, I imagine to be a very bright woman without the courage of her convictions, ’cause I’m not even sure what they are. […] When I watch her campaign it reminds me of […] Magic Johnson’s talk show.
If you ever watched Magic Johnson’s talk show, Magic Johnson was a charming individual, but he wasn’t a talk show host, and when you watched his show [….] it never seemed authentic and real to his personality, it seemed like he was wearing an outfit designed by someone else, for someone else, to be someone else, and that is not to say that she is not preferable to Donald Trump, because at this point I would vote for Mr. T to Donald Trump, but I think she will be in big trouble if she can’t find a way — and maybe I’m wrong, maybe a real person doesn’t exist underneath there, I don’t know. […]
Look. There are politicians who are either rendering their inauthenticity in real-enough-time to appear authentic, and then there are politicians who render their inauthenticity through, it’s like when your computer, if you have a Mac and you wanna play a Microsoft game on it? And there’s that weird lag.
Axelrod: Yes. No, I mean that’s a big problem, there’s like a seven-second delay and all the words come out in a perfectly politically calibrated sentence.
Stewart: Right. Now, what gives me hope in that, is that there’s a delay, which means, she’s somehow fighting something. I’ve seen politicians who don’t have that delay, and render their inauthenticity in real time, and that’s when you go, “that’s a sociopath”. [audience laughs]

About Larry Wilmore at WHCD

Larry Wilmore did the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and everybody went nuts. “My God! He’s done!” With what? “He’s finished!” He’s not running for anything, he’s not finished. “He’ll never get asked back.” I don’t think he gives a shit. [audience laughs] You know, and when you watched the post-show analysis, it was all based on, whether or not he had helped himself, how some of the room had read it, and not in any way […] an examination of the foundation of what he was saying, which was, “you are an incredibly corrupt and blinded symbiotic terrarium.”
Axelrod: Yeah, I don’t understand why that message wasn’t well-received. [audience laughs]
Stewart: Here’s the thing, “not well-received”? Not received. Not noticed. They did not notice it. What they noticed was, “he didn’t get that many laughs. He really bombed.”

About The Washington Cesspool

(And he has a lot to say about this)

I think that the problem is that the system is incentivized in all the wrong directions, and right now the system is incentivized in the way that a crack dealer is incentivized, which is, it can do tremendous damage, but as long as people are buying crack, everything is good on his block. And I really believe it’s that… corrosive, and corrupt. When you have the presidents of networks saying “Trump is good for business”, when you have the lead anchor of Fox News having to go to Trump’s hotel to make him stop being mean to her, and now he says she’s terrific ’cause they’ve had a détente. That’s fucked. [….]
I have never in my life experienced what I experienced in my one day of lobbying down in Washington D.C., and let me just say, for however I painted it on the show, it’s so much worse than you could possibly imagine. It is a cesspool. There are some good people trying to survive within the lava but it’s a fucking horror show — [looks at David Axelrod] no disrespect. [audience laughs] [….]
I was down there with firefighters who had spent a year on the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center. The guy that I was with, Ray Pfifer, had a titanium rod in his leg that was breaking because of the metastasized cancer that was roiling through it, that he got from being on the pile. We had the scientific evidence with us. You cannot imagine the disrespect, the lack of compassion, that was exhibited towards this man and this cause, by individuals in higher office. It was, I will never recover from it. […]
When I say “don’t get it on you,” I don’t mean “don’t engage.” I mean, “take appropriate precautions, wear a hazmat suit, wear [audience laughs] — bring your ideals. […] We used to do this thing every year where we’d bring the press secretaries for all the senate and all the house people that wanted to come in, and they would say to me, “so what can my candidate to to have a successful appearance on your show?” and I would say “he could, or she could say what she thinks about the issues concerning America?”
They would say, “But what should I tell them? What works best?” [hesitantly] “When people say what they believe.” [Nods.] “What’s that?” [audience laughs] And honestly like, I know you think that I’m being hyperbolic, I recognize that you don’t understand this. I am not. They are as unaware of their own machinations as you could possibly imagine.
Axelrod: Yeah. I don’t want to sit here as the defender of a system that is badly broken, but there are people who do make a difference.
Stewart: Every day. […]
The amount of energy that you have to expend, I’ll just go with the 9/11 vote, this is as no-brainer as you can possibly get. This is, a horde of zombies would stop their brain-eating rampage to go “yeah those guys should get some health care, that makes sense.”
So these guys, for nine years, had to travel, with cancer, with mesothelioma, with low lung function, with heart failure. Nine years of incessant lobbying to move this body, and it only, through their lobbying efforts and some measure of public shaming, they relented in the most condescending of ways, to finally give in to it. If it takes that effort to do something that easy, it is a system that must be, it is self-perpetuating in a way that is dangerous at this point.
Axelrod: […] I saw people cast votes for the Affordable Care Act who lost their positions, people who voted for Cap & Trade to try and do something about climate change, who lost their positions — and there are some who didn’t — but we should at least acknowledge that there are those people who are willing to do that.
Stewart: I guess my point is, why in God’s name should that be courage? […]
And by the way, what’s incumbent on those who believe that government can make a difference in people’s lives is to try and make it more efficient, and I think that’s where the democrats fail in an enormous way. [….]. Don’t just open the Fed Window at 0% corporations, force them at some level to at least give a percentage of that to small business loans, I mean, and I understand that they are trying but — and you and your boss and I had a big argument about this with the VA — if you can do an executive order to kill an American citizen from above with a missile, how can you not do an executive order to re-evaluate the DOD and the VA system so that you don’t spend a billion dollars trying to get two computer programs to talk to each other when probably 3 of these idiots [points at audience of students] could probably do it for five hundred dollars. [audience laughs and claps] It doesn’t wash.
And at some level — and I’ll lay the blame then with the democrats — the door is open to an asshole like Donald Trump, because the democrats haven’t done enough to show the people that government that can be effective for people can be efficient for people, and if you can’t do that, then you’ve lost the right to make that change and someone’s gonna come in and demagogue you, and that’s what happens.


While Jon Stewart did talk about Trump, if you ask me the best parts are not what Jon says about Trump, but what he says about the environment from which Trump springs.

Trump vs. Other Republicans

He makes sense if you view it through the prism of talk radio. I like to drive, and so I listen to talk radio, and it is 24/7 of “your country’s being taken away from you”.
In some ways it’s a natural reaction to fear. Now, if you have that fear stoked on a daily basis at an incredibly high pitch — and this is not “we really need to do something about this country, we’re facing some difficult problems,” this is “you are run by a tyrant, he is going to take away our rights, we are falling, there are rapists and murderers at the border coming to kill you”. If that’s what you’ve been fed and that’s what you’re buying into, Donald Trump makes more sense than anybody else out there because he’s going “great […] the Visigoths are at the gate, let’s build a fuckin’ wall […]” it makes total sense. What wouldn’t make sense are the general Republican leadership going “there are Visigoths at the wall, they are here to kill you… let’s try and not pass a new budget resolution. […] their rhetoric has never matched their action.

Trump and Political Correctness

The whole idea of political correctness is, everybody’s so sensitive, just get over it. You know, why should African Americans be so sensitive about police shootings? Why do they have to be so sensitive about, uh, years of sensitive racism creating economic disparity, come on, I’m not a slave owner! […]
But, the idea being that, Muslims — “hey man, all he’s saying is, they’re evil and they shouldn’t be allowed in this country, he’s just telling it like it is.” But God forbid you say “Happy Holidays” in December, it’s fuckin’ war, so who is it who’s exactly sensitive here? We’re only talking about, what are the trigger points? And the trigger points seem to me to be, on one side, grounded in a certain reality of life that only those with no experience or empathy toward what those people are going through are having, and the other seems to be a clinging to a society paradigm that just doesn’t exist anymore and probably never did. When was America great? What is this time that he speaks of? [shrugs] ’81 to ‘82?
But here’s the real political incorrectness, if they really wanna be truthful. The problems in this country are not because of Mexicans and Muslims, and if they want to in any way confront what’s really going on, the problem in this country is, you have one party in America whose sole purpose is to freeze the government, and to not fix any of the problems that are associated with it. They have a great game going, which is “government sucks and can’t get the job done.” And then they can sit as an impediment to that government and point to their destruction as evidence of their thesis. It’s a great tautology and it’s — for what everyone would say for the democrats, maybe they’re feckless, maybe they focus too much on identity politics, or they’re not fiscally responsible, at least they’re fucking trying.

Trump and the 24/7 Media

…There are heads of networks who have said “Trump is great for business.” Well, why would you kill the thing that’s great for business? Why would you even say what it was? […]
Kennedy understood it a little bit, rudimentary, he thought “I should probably wear makeup” and Nixon was like [Nixon impression] “I look great”, so, he went out there and everybody thought he had hepatitis and that was the end of his campaign.
Since then, an entire industry has risen up, as to how to manipulate and skew that medium to the advantage of the politicians and the powerful, and the industry, rather than in some ways creating a counterweight to that, have been subsumed by it, and so now it’s a symbiosis. The media is no longer predator and pray — which I think should be the relationship — but a remora that’s just attached underneath, hoping for crumbs to fall off of the shark. […]
A counterweight does not mean that occasionally, you push back to a small extent as the waters rush by you everywhere else. That’s I think where Fox has an advantage is that they understood that to take over the cycle you have to be relentless. You have to be perpetuating your point of view and your propaganda in the same way people consume it, which is, constantly, self-reinforcingly, and over an over and over again.
What works for 24-hour networks? What is it incentivized for? Here’s what you would want it to be incentivized for: clarity. It is incentivized for what? Conflict. The voices that are amplified are the ones that are the most conflict-oriented, that are the most extreme. Those are the guys that get the airtime.
So if they’re incentivized for conflict, Trump is not playing this like a — everybody keeps talking about “he’s amazing”. He’s not — this is the first season of Survivor. It’s Reality Show 101: I’m gonna be an enormous dick at the beginning of the show to get all this attention, and then once I make it to final counsel, then I’m going to reveal — he’s, what’s the guy’s name, Johnny Fairplay. He’s Johnny Fairplay. He’s the guy who said “oh my grandmother died, and don’t vote me out”, and then finally when he got to the final tribal counsel — that’s what he’s playing.

Final Thought

We can all thank Jon Stewart for drawing our attention to the problems with Washington and the Media over the years, but something important that Jon hasn’t quite figured out is this: now that we know we have a problem, how do we fix Washington and the media? Honestly, I don’t know how to fix the media — and if you have the solution, feel free to respond. I do, however, know how to fix Washington.

The key is to change the incentives under which Washington operates. So first you have to understand why Washington is more screwed up than it ever has been before — the root cause — and then you have to push for a change that addresses that root cause. And I can think of no better way to learn about this than to watch Lawrence Lessig’s TED talk. This is the same man that later ran for president on an anti-corruption platform, only to be defeated in the most fitting way possible: after Lessig qualified to be included in the Democratic debate near Halloween, the DNC changed the rules a bit so that only Lessig — and no other candidate — would be excluded from the Democratic debate.

So I doubt we the people will be able to change the way Washington works in the next four years. But in the words of Jon Stewart, let’s make sure that we’re “fucking trying”.

See also: full transcription