Is that he got paid well to watch right-wing news all these years and can afford to walk away. If I could say that, I’d be gone. Because this work does erode the soul:
And that is why the last show that Stewart did before taking his break was so revealing. On that show he went after Donald Trump, pointing out the stupidity and arrogance of his remarks about Mexican immigrants. He then did a classic Stewart move and followed up his satire of a politician’s idiotic behavior with more satire of the idiotic media coverage of the idiotic politician. Stewart pointed out all of the insanity of Trump and of Fox News’ adoration of Trump. He joked that Trump has been there for him all along and that he was sure “the Donald” would give him more than enough material to finish out his show. He went after the “buzzword, fucking bullshit” spewed by Ted Cruz as he tried to blame “the p.c. crowd” for misunderstanding Trump’s concern for the border. He was sharp and insightful and fun and engaging.
But then came the moment of reckoning. As he wound down the bit he exclaimed: “There is one good thing to come out of this. The farce of his candidacy is finally exposed. His unseriousness on display for all people and voters to see. And the results will be obvious.” He then cut to coverage that shows Trump polling at second place nationally and second place in Iowa and New Hampshire. A dejected Stewart looks down at his desk and simply mutters “fuck me.”
That “fuck me” resonates with all of us that are tired of watching Fox News and exhausted by covering GOP politics while their discourse becomes more extreme, more delusional and more dangerous. Now we can hope that their rhetoric represents a relatively small—but extremely loud—segment of society. And we can take refuge in the reality that smart coverage of these issues—especially when it takes the form of satire–can have a powerful impact on those of us with access to critical reasoning skills. But we can’t ignore the real fatigue that sets in when neither the truth, nor reason, nor irony seems to make absolutely no difference to those who need to hear us most.
Stewart will go down in U.S. history as one of the most important satirists of all time. He changed news media, he rallied the public, and he offered a vision of citizenship that was engaged and entertaining. He made political satire not just a take on the news, but a source of the news. His real commitment to democratic ideals and equal rights made his satire seem well-meaning and inspired, rather than malicious and caustic. As he claimed in the Guardian interview, stepping down as host does not mean giving up his interest in politics:
Whether it’s standup, the show, books or films, I consider all this just different vehicles to continue a conversation about what it means to be a democratic nation, and to have it written into the constitution that all men are created equal – but to live with that for 100 years with slaves. How do those contradictions play themselves out? And how do we honestly assess our failings and move forward with integrity?
It is hard to imagine how we can “assess our failings and move forward with integrity” without going after Fox News and the GOP. It’s even harder to imagine what this election cycle will be like without Stewart. I understand his fatigue, but seeing him go feels like watching our star player give up while the bullies take over the field.