Jon Stewart sat down yesterday for a live taping of The Axe Files podcast with David Axelrod, the former chief strategist for President Obama’s election campaigns and Senior Adviser to the President. The podcast, taped at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, offered a wealth of Internet-friendly soundbites on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but it’s an episode of The Axe Files best appreciated in full.
Jon Stewart offered the Donald Trump insults many wanted to hear, but he also provided some deep insight into the election, into the problems with the American political system, and the issues he has with both political parties. In Trump, he maintains, the Republicans finally have a candidate not afraid to deliver the xenophobic rhetoric of the party. He called out Republicans for preventing legislation from getting through Congress and their political strategy of pointing to the government they destroyed and arguing that government doesn’t work for the people. Democrats, he maintained, are feckless, “but at least they’re trying.” He is not a huge fan of the “inauthentic” Hillary Clinton, either, whom he suggested was like Magic Johnson as a talk show host, like someone “wearing an outfit designed for someone else to be someone else.”
He also got into it with Axelrod over the Obama administration’s inability to get anything done over the last six years, suggesting that if the government could summon the power to bail out the banks, it ought to be able to summon the power to fix our crumbling infrastructure.
For anyone burned out on the polarizing, social media-sized nuggets that are being delivered about the election, the entire podcast is a refreshing and insightful examination of our current predicament and the difficulties we face in both elections and in governing.
Stewart also offered a few details about his upcoming HBO project, though he remained cagey about the substance of it. He first reiterated that, “I am not going to be on television anymore,” so for those hoping for a The Daily Show-like take on the general election, put those dreams aside. Stewart is happy away from television.
“When you’re not on television, you’re still alive. You’re still engaged in the world. I feel more engaged with the world in a real way now than I ever did sitting on television and interviewing politicians,” he said.
As for the format of the HBO project, he said, “We are working on technology and animation to try and do interesting little small bits.”
Axelrod suggested that these small, animated videos would go viral, and Stewart dismissed him. “Do what you think is good. If you get 50 likes, great. Your life exists outside of television and likes and Instagram. Engage the world.”
Will these animated shorts arrive before the election? Maybe. “I don’t know. I’d love to have it ready by September, but not necessarily for the election, as though that’s the D-Day.” It’s not like he won’t participate in the election, however. “I’ll still vote,” he joked, but “the October surprise in this election is not a two-minute cartoon that I’m going to release.”
As Stewart suggested in the podcast, we don’t need him for this election, because there’s no shortage of great satire from Seth Meyers, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore, and Trevor Noah. We also don’t need Jon Stewart to help us make a decision about who to elect. Nothing Jon Stewart says will change our minds about voting for Clinton or Trump.
Stewart, however, may not understand fully what it is we miss most about him. We love the hilarious rants, the dissection of the media, and the Trump insults. What we miss most of all, however, is the insight and perspective that he offers. Stewart puts the world in context and makes sense of elections, governing, and the media. Instead of ferreting out soundbites and offering pithy punchlines, he has the ability to bring perspective to politics by not adding to the insanity. He made us understand it from every angle, and while he couldn’t change it — that’s a job too big for even Jon Stewart — he set us at ease by saying, “No, you’re not crazy. It is an insane system. Let me explain to you why.”
We need Jon Stewart more than ever in 2016, even if it’s just on podcasts like The Axe Files. It’s not enough to continue stressing that Hillary Clinton is inauthentic or that Donald Trump is a narcissist and then making jokes at their expense. We need to understand what is happening to the American political culture, why our system has elevated Trump and Clinton to the (almost) presumptive nominees of their respective parties, and how the media — television, internet, social media or otherwise — is driving the polarization. We can’t fix our system until we understand why it’s broken, and at the very least, Jon Stewart can offer an astute diagnosis.
via The Axe Files