It occurred to me today that this election campaign has been largely silent. No, I do not mean by the candidates and their rabid supporters. Only God knows if they will ever shut up. What I am referring to is the almost deafening silence of the campaign by America’s best satirist. This election reminds me of woods full of birds singing only to be silenced immediately by the sound of a rifle shot. What is missing from the public arena for the first time in almost two decades is the voice of the most influential Jew in New Jersey, Jon Stewart. Sadly, too, Comedy Central’s stellar alumni Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore, Samantha Bee, Jon Oliver and the other graduates of the Jon Stewart-led Daily Show will not be performing their take on the U.S. election “Indecision 2016” this election cycle. And that should be a crime.
It is probably no coincidence that Donald Trump has risen to become the Republican party’s standard bearer just as Jon Stewart relinquished his swivel seat to a South African who probably had to endure a crash course in American politics. No one skewered Trump better or faster than Stewart on The Daily Show; but the fact of the matter is that no one showed Americans their own society — warts and all — including how she elects her politicians, better than Jon Stewart.
Most importantly, Jon was uncompromising in his attacks on the media for their failed stewardship of American democracy which is their primary function in a fluid and properly functioning society. His special ire was reserved for Fox News throughout his 16-year reign at Comedy Central and he remains the master at holding up the mirror to the butt-naked emperors of American political life. For proof, I invite you to watch his ten-minute harangue as a guest on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show the other night as the Republican convention was mercifully winding down. When you watch this segment, you can only wonder what might have been had Stewart not left his show a year ago and had kept leveling attacks on Trump and his followers.
While there are those who would argue that no single individual, much less a professional comedian, is able to swing an election, I beg to differ. Stewart’s command over the age demographic that will be critical for either candidate to win is illustrative of my point. He simply ruled the potential voters in the 21-45 age group. He could ask people to show up at a rally and almost one-quarter of a million people gladly complied and traveled to the National Mall in Washington on short notice for his “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” six years ago.
Perhaps more important than the things he has said are his gifts as a thoughtful and profoundly skilled interviewer. Over his tenure, he had the best and brightest of America’s entertainment, politics and education on his show. His take-downs, never mean-spirited, led to careers being lost or boosted. No one gave serious attention to the likes of Glenn Beck or Jim Cramer or even Tucker Carlson after Stewart was finished with them. He offered Twinkies to tyrants, a willing ear to historians and writers, bashed the pizza-eating skills of Donald Trump which already demolished his “man of the people” image he has been trying to replicate recently and has had in-depth interviews with presidents and those who should be president, such as Elizabeth Warren.
Jon Stewart’s influence on the American political scene and his retirement from it should be reversed. His pet projects included offering assistance to first responders on 9/11 who had either become ill or died of exposure from being at the Twin Towers due to increased cancer risks by humiliating Congress into legislative action. He now spends his day on his New Jersey farm helping to rescue animals. I can think of several million human beings who could use his gifts today. And although he has been largely absent from public life, he can still galvanize people into doing the right thing. Stewart’s appearance is somewhat grizzled these days thanks to his scruffy beard; but shave him, slap an Armani jacket back on him and he is the Jon Stewart who could save America from itself once again with a single, well-timed barb.