For a few weeks now, I’ve been trying to isolate what might be Donald Trump’s kryptonite, because people like Donald Trump exist all around us. I have kids, who I know are going to have to deal with Donald Trumps all of their lives (though, it never occurred to me that one would live in the White House), and I’m trying to figure out how to teach them to combat a bully.
You stand up to him, right? Well, no one is doing that right now, or at least, no one is doing that effectively. Jeb Bush gave it a shot, but poor Jeb Bush is like that 60-pound weakling whose parents tell him to stand up to bullies, only to see that poor boy get massacred on the playground in front of all his friends. With a guy like Trump, we need someone forceful, authoritative, and intelligent to stand up to him, someone who knows how to go beyond late-night television monologue jokes about Trump’s hair, someone who can sink his teeth in, express the appropriate amount of outrage without being called an outrage monger, and who can call Trump on his sexist, racist, xenophobic bullshit without being accused of being “overly politically correct.” We need someone who can actually hurt Trump.
We need Jon Stewart.
Here’s a look at Donald Trump in the polls last summer.
Note the huge uptick in Trump’s polls numbers. That came around the same time that Jon Stewart left The Daily Show. That’s not a coincidence.
We live in a different cultural environment than we did just a year ago, a friendly, kinder environment that’s allowed Donald Trump to prosper unchecked. It’s an environment dominated by the nice, gracious guys like Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy Fallon doesn’t tell mean jokes, and meanness is what’s required here. Fallon’s influence has rubbed off on everyone else. Stephen Colbert humors Donald Trump instead of challenging him. James Corden is the British Fallon. Seth Meyers is good, but he doesn’t have the requisite anger of Jon Stewart. John Oliver has refused, so far, to weigh in. Trevor Noah has many of the same writers as Stewart, but he neither has the temperament nor as much of a personal stake in the outcome. Noah himself has admitted that, as a South African, he can reflect on American politics as an impartial observer. That’s great, but we don’t need someone who can observe our pain; we need someone who can feel it along with us. When Jon Stewart spoke about the Charleston church shooting, he didn’t come at it as an outside observer. He approached the subject as someone who felt personally and intimately affected by it.
We don’t need someone to laugh at Donald Trump right now. We need someone who can tell Donald Trump to go fuck himself. The future of this country is at stake, and there’s a bully who is plowing his way toward inauguration day and no one is standing up to him. They are standing on the sidelines and pointing and laughing, but no one is standing in front of Donald Trump.
Worse still is the way in which the media plays along, afraid to alienate Trump and cost them ratings that come with having access to the candidate. The media gives him millions and millions of dollars in free exposure. NBC took a principled stand when Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” but they backed off when presented with an opportunity to have him host Saturday Night Live. Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski over on MSNBC not only won’t stand up to Trump, they’re his goddamn lapdogs. At least Megyn Kelly over on Fox News has attempted to stand up to Trump, although doing so cost them Trump’s participation in their debate (and a lot of ad revenue). That’s not something Colbert or Fallon or the Today show is willing to risk.
But that’s something else that Jon Stewart did exceptionally well: He called out the media for not calling out Trump. He held the media’s feet to the fire, and it mattered because they had respect for Stewart (so much so that Megyn Kelly was reduced to tears when Jon Stewart call her on her hypocrisy). Television newscasters and pundits were more careful, because they didn’t want to end up in one of Stewart’s Daily Show segments, and I can only imagine the holy hell that Stewart would’ve brought down on Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. Trevor Noah hasn’t even covered that, and we’ve had to rely on some putz over on CNN to express limp, half-hearted outrage.
I’m not suggesting that if Jon Stewart were still around, Donald Trump wouldn’t still be winning, but I am saying he could’ve shifted the narrative. Right now, it feels like something over which we have no control, like something that is happening to us while we cower in the corner and pray that the bad man goes away. With Jon Stewart in The Daily Show chair, it’d feel different. It’d at least feel like we had a few punches to throw, that we were fighting back. Right now, we’re 100 million voices crying in the dark. When Jon Stewart was around, he unified our concerns, our fears, and our anger and gave it one voice loud enough to cut through the meaningless blather.
There was an ongoing joke with Jon Stewart before he left, about how much he was going to regret leaving while Trump was running for President, because Trump was like an endless supply of punchlines. But here’s the thing: We don’t need more jokes. We need someone to step up and attack the substance, to expose the hypocrisy, to reduce the size of the bully. We have never needed Jon Stewart more than we do now.
This video below is the perfect example of why. In one of Stewart’s last Trump segments — way back when Trump was still polling only second — The Daily Show took not only Trump, but the media to task. He made a few jokes at Trump’s expense to warm us up, then he illustrated the danger of Trump’s actual policies, then he chastised the media for refusing to push back on Trump’s bullshit reasoning. Finally, he left us with two words that succinctly summed up our situation: “Fuck me.”