With all that’s going on in the world, there’s no better time for the return of Jon Stewart. The former Daily Show host is back making the media rounds for his new movie, Irresistible, coming to PVOD on June 26th. Given the political nature of the film and the socio-political landscape it’s being released into, it’s no surprise Stewart has a lot to say about the current state of things. In a new interview with The New York Times, he touched on everything from Trump to police brutality to FOX News, all with his usual intelligence and nuance.
Some might wish Stewart would return to the televised political comedy and commentary scene, but even if he were to return (he’s certainly not eager to) it wouldn’t be like The Daily Show. He praised the show’s current host, Trevor Noah, for continuing “to elevate in a way that I couldn’t have,” while applying some self-criticism to how he ran the show. While calling the rise of Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson “the next level” of FOX News’ “one particular goal, which is purely ideological and partisan,” he expressed personal regret at his past efforts to “destroy” FOX guests hosts like Bill O’Reilly.
“Those moments when you had a tendency, even subconsciously, to feel like, ‘We have to live up to the evisceration expectation,'” Stewart said. “We tried not to give something more spice than it deserved, but you were aware of, say, what went viral. Resisting that gravitational force is really hard.”
Very early in the discussion, Stewart was asked about the current wave of Black Lives Matter protests. He sees the uproar as part of “a cycle” that seems to perpetuate because “we’re addressing the wrong problem.” Focusing our efforts on reforming the police with “sensitivity and de-escalation training and community policing” can help alleviate tensions between public services and people of color, but Stewart argued it skirts a larger issue:
“But the how isn’t as important as the why, which we never address. The police are a reflection of a society. They’re not a rogue alien organization that came down to torment the black community. They’re enforcing segregation. Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas. We have that so that the rest of us don’t have to deal with it. Then that situation erupts, and we express our shock and indignation. But if we don’t address the anguish of a people, the pain of being a people who built this country through forced labor — people say, ‘I’m tired of everything being about race.’ Well, imagine how [expletive] exhausting it is to live that.”
While noting that “police brutality is an organic offshoot of the dehumanization” of societal power structures, Stewart said it’s not an either-or situation. “It can be true that you can value and admire the contribution and sacrifice that it takes to be a law-enforcement officer or an emergency medical worker in this country and yet still feel that there should be standards and accountability,” he stated. “Both can be true. “But I still believe that the root of this problem is the society that we’ve created that contains this schism, and we don’t deal with it, because we’ve outsourced our accountability to the police.”
Later, he expressed caution that this current swell of protests might finally make strides towards a better tomorrow. “Look, every advancement toward equality has come with the spilling of blood. Then, when that’s over, a defensiveness from the group that had been doing the oppressing,” he said, clearly putting the weight of change at the feet of white people. “There’s always this begrudging sense that black people are being granted something, when it’s white people’s lack of being able to live up to the defining words of the birth of the country that is the problem. There’s a lack of recognition of the difference in our system.”
“There’s not a white person out there who would want to be treated like even a successful black person in this country. And if we don’t address the why of that treatment, the how is just window dressing. You know, we’re in a bizarre time of quarantine. White people lasted six weeks and then stormed a state building with rifles, shouting: ‘Give me liberty! This is causing economic distress! I’m not going to wear a mask, because that’s tyranny!’ That’s six weeks versus 400 years of quarantining a race of people. The policing is an issue, but it’s the least of it. We use the police as surrogates to quarantine these racial and economic inequalities so that we don’t have to deal with them.”
Stewart had hard truths to drop on both sides of the political aisle, and of course he spared no quarter for Trump. He said that if there was anything positive to be found in the current POTUS, it is that he “shows that American democratic exceptionalism is not a birthright.” Though unveiling the corrupt underbelly of the “for-profit incentivization of the industrial-political complex,” he’s surprised the administration “has not changed its practices. “You would have thought that somebody would have mentioned to Trump the idea of rising to greatness. Instead it’s: ‘Why don’t I tweet out that Joe Scarborough killed people? Would that be good in a pandemic?'”
Still, Stewart took issue with how the media has covered Trump’s pandemic response. Instead of focusing on how his reaction might impact the election, “What they should be focused on is, here’s what happens when you hollow out the pandemic-response team. You have to go after the case of competence and anti-corruption. The media wants to prosecute the case of offensiveness. That doesn’t matter.”
Stewart had plenty more to say about how our entire political system functions in corruption, how Trumps Twitter tirades have left “no oxygen for the campaign,” and how aspects of America’s politics inspired Irresistible. Read the whole thing at the NYT website.