Comedian Jon Stewart sat down for a lengthy post-election conversation Wednesday with New York Times editor Chris Smith and dished on all aspects of politics in the era of Trump.
Stewart was set to discuss his new book, The Daily Show: An Oral History, but spent most of the evening airing his thoughts on the presidential election, why Obama was bad for freedom of the press and Hispanics, and how corporate media helps divide America.
“Not everybody that voted for Trump is a racist,” Stewart said, mimicking remarks he made in November. “I don’t give a fuck what any of you say to me. You can yell it at me, you can tweet it at me. They’re not all racists. Or they’re not giving tacit support to a racist system. We all give tacit support to exploitative systems as long as they don’t affect us that badly.”
Stewart acknowledged that Hillary Clinton “was an unqualified Secretary of State because the way she handled classified material.” The comedian then dinged Trump for choosing David Petraeus as his Secretary of State, noted that the four-star general “had pled guilty to mishandling classified material.” However, Trump has merely met with Petraeus.
“He said she was unqualified because she gave a speech to Goldman Sachs. His Secretary of the Treasury is somebody from Goldman Sachs. We’re in post-accountability,” Stewart said of Trump’s selection of former Goldman Sachs Partner Steven Mnuchin.
Stewart scolded the media’s obsession with presidential politics.
“How long is the campaign? A year and a half? I assume [television media is] talking right now about who’s running in 2020,” he said. “They don’t give a flying fuck about governance, they care about campaigns and that’s where the fun is for them. That’s devastating. And not only is it devastating news-wise, it’s devastating to all of us.”
Stewart said America’s prolonged presidential campaigns promote division.
“Because if a campaign is too long, the fault lines between different tribes in our societies solidify,” he said, adding, “A campaign is 18-months-long and you’ve got to choose a side for 18 months and then a disagreement becomes an argument and an argument becomes a fight and a fight becomes a feud and a feud becomes a war.”
The former Comedy Central star insisted that while satire makes for entertaining television, it’s political activism that gave Republicans majorities in both houses of Congress and put Trump in the White House.
“I think of one of the lessons of this book and what we’re talking about is to put satire and culture in its proper place,” Stewart said. “That controlling a culture is not the same as power. And that while we were all passing around really remarkably eviscerating videos of the Tea Party ― that we had all made great fun of ― [they were] sitting off a highway at a Friendly’s taking over a local school board.”
“And the lesson there is,” he continued, referencing the Daily Show, “as much as I love what we did and I liked it, there is a self-satisfaction there that is unwarranted, unearned, and not useful.”
Stewart scorned social justice warriors who’ve demonized Trump supporters as racists and homophobic and sexists.
“This has to stop,” Stewart said. “This idea that we’re all … that our team is perfect and the other team is demons. And this is not like a Kumbaya, let’s all get along.” He added:
And I’ll say this, I know a lot of first responders. I spent a lot of time in that community. A shitload of them voted for Trump. The same people that voted for Trump ran into burning buildings and saved whoever the fuck they could no matter what color they were, no matter what religion and they would do it again tomorrow. So, if you want to sit and tell me that those people are giving tacit approval to an exploitative system ― I say, ‘OK, and would you put your life on the line for people who aren’t like you? Because they did.’ I get mad about this stuff.
Turning his attention to President Obama, Stewart said, “Obama has been in office for eight years and I don’t know about you, but it seems like there’s still shit to do.”
“And there’s a lot of shit that I didn’t agree with. I thought they were terrible for press freedom,” Stewart said of the Obama administration, adding, “I still am not quite sure I understand a centralized policy of spying and droning. Like, I don’t know.”
“There will be real victims of the policies over the next four years, but there were real victims, like Barack Obama’s administration deported more people than any in history,” Stewart continued. “That was real and whether we took comfort in the fact that he was one of the good guys that did that, real people paid a price for that. And you have to care about that, even if it’s one of your guys that did that.”
Asked by an audience member how he remains optimistic after the election, Stewart urged the crowd to seek out and support “the vulnerable people, where are the vulnerable societies. And not in tweets, in practice. In reality.”
“If [Trump] tries to deport Dreamers, then that’s where everyone has to go, to protect them,” Stewart added. “If he tries to make a Muslim Registry, then everyone has to go there and help them. You have to find the people that are going be most in jeopardy, I think, and put your attentions on them because now it’s about reality.”
“But the only thing I would tell everybody to hearten is we’re still the same country,” Stewart continued. “Obama didn’t change and fix everything and Trump can’t ruin everything. If we’re that vulnerable to one guy, that guy — that’s how we’re going out? This incredible experiment in liberty and democracy that we fought and died for is going to go out ― with that guy?”
“That can’t be how this story ends,” he said. “Maybe I’m naive or idiotic, but I feel like ― when has this been easy? Fucking buckle your seat belt and get ready.”