CHOOSE THE FORM OF YOUR DESTRUCTOR. “How Jon Stewart’s Culture of Ridicule Left America Unprepared for Donald Trump,” as explained by Jesse Bernstein of the left-leaning Jewish-themed Tablet magazine:
The process went something like this: Someone said something on Fox News that mainstream liberalism didn’t like; Stewart and/or Colbert aired a sustained critique of the idea and the thinking behind it; liberal internet publications hailed it as the greatest rhetorical victory since Darrow argued for Scopes; liberals’ Facebook feeds full of liberal friends filled up with clips of the takedown. No one learned anything, no one engaged with an idea, and nothing outside of a very specific set of ideas was given any real credence. As Emmet Rensin so perfectly put it:
Finding comfort in the notion that their former allies were disdainful, hapless rubes, smug liberals created a culture animated by that contempt. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy. … Over 20 years, an industry arose to cater to the smug style … and culminated for a time in The Daily Show, a program that more than any other thing advanced the idea that liberal orthodoxy was a kind of educated savvy and that is opponents were, before anything else, stupid.
As Rensin deftly discerns, this sort of intellectual elitism is probably part of the reason that the Democratic Party went from getting 66 percent of the manual laborer vote in 1948 to outpolling the GOP by just 2 points in 2012. It’s the inevitable consequence of eight years of reducing George W. Bush and all of his supporters to dumbass hicks, and choosing to denigrate the poor and uneducated (if only they read The Atlantic!), rather than doing real outreach to them.
But having won WWII, the aging New Dealers of 1948 could at least look to a world-changing accomplishment with pride. (The New Deal itself, on the other hand…) In contrast, as Richard Fernandez writes, the only thing that today’s left can offer middle America is smug itself:
But to anyone outside the echo chamber the joke was on Stewart and his cronies. The average person could see the invidious contrast; how easily the email accounts of 100 Democratic bigwigs could be hacked, with what contemptuous ease someone could make off with the DNC’s emails, steal all the OPM records. They watched as time after time suspects “well known to the police” executed successful terror attacks in Western cities despite the assurances of the laughing men.
They saw ISIS run off with billions of dollars of foreign military aid; saw the “smartest people” in history rolled. They were regaled by the spectacle of Putin booting Obama out of the Middle East with a midget air force and a rustbucket navy. They witnessed a bunch of armed thugs torch a US consulate in Benghazi without the dying ambassador even able to make that 3 am call to Hillary Clinton. They watched Turkey wobble and Europe overrun by migrant tides.
It hit them: it was these ineffably superior people who were the jokers, the clowns whose only tangible skill was to make fun of everybody so nobody would notice that’s all they were good for. In fact the only person they could stop with any probability of success and only if they ganged up on him was Donald Trump. That was it. They can’t see the audience in darkness beyond the footlights heading for the exits.
And with Stewart and Colbert having departed their spawning grounds, “Donald Trump Is Jon Stewart’s True Successor,” Robert Tracinski adds at the Federalist:
The real giveaway is Trump’s employment of a classic Jon Stewart trope: Clown Nose On, Clown Nose Off.
This approach dates back to Stewart’s famous, or infamous, appearance on “Crossfire” in 2004, when “The Daily Show” was still fairly new and “Crossfire” was very, very old. In a fit of insufferable self-righteousness, Stewart denounced the hosts for “hurting America,” I guess because of the way they promoted bitter partisan bickering as a form of entertainment. Because Stewart is all about Democrats being nice to Republicans, don’t you know.
Yes, there was something to this. I did my first TV appearances about this time, and the big revelation to me was that it’s no accident that people always shout each other down on today’s cable news shows. Producers deliberately induce this style because they think it makes the show more exciting than if everybody just waited his turn to engage in some kind of Dullsville substantive discussion.
But in retrospect, I think we can tell which show “hurt America” more. One was just another fairly forgettable cable TV shoutfest. The other had a transformative effect, convincing a whole generation of millennials to get their news and political opinions from one-sided fake news shows run by blatantly partisan comedians. There are now about a dozen of these, all imitating Stewart. If the sin of “Crossfire” was its attempt to turn political debate into entertainment, it had nothing on “The Daily Show,” which replaced political debate with entertainment.
But for a rather limited audience — the Northeast Corridor ruling class, and those who aspired to be, as Thomas Sowell would say, their mascots.