How do you stay positive during a Trump presidency? In the words of Jon Stewart, “F**king buckle your seatbelt and get ready.”
The former “Daily Show” host shared these thoughts and more at a TimesTalks conversation that featured Stewart and journalist Chris Smith, author of the new book, The Daily Show: An Oral History.
“It is odd to be in a position of knowing that the leader of the free world tweeted that you were a pussy at 1:30 in the morning,” Stewart said while discussing the president-elect.
Stewart echoed thoughts he shared on a recent episode of “CBS This Morning,” that the divisions in the U.S. go beyond party lines.
“Not everybody that voted for Trump is a racist,” he said at one point. “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.”
He brought up a conversation with another person who argued that “by saying that [Trump supporters] are not all racists, they are giving tacit support to a man of racist language.” Stewart then pointed out that many of Americans are complicit in exploitative and damaging systems, asking the person to pull out his iPhone.
“I was like, ‘Guess how those are made, guess who makes them?’” Stewart said. “’Oh yeah, but that’s ... ‘ What, what is it? It’s not different, we all do that. All of our shit stinks and getting beyond that takes incredible work.”
He didn’t let Trump off easy either, remarking that, as portrayed by Trump’s campaign, Hillary Clinton “was an unqualified Secretary of State because the way she handled classified material. His selection for Secretary of State will be David Petraeus, who pled guilty to mishandling classified material. 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.”
“Let’s look out for the losers,” Stewart said. “Having somebody you agree with have greater control over the levers of power might be a comfort, but it’s not a solution. Unfortunately, I think our expectation now is, ‘Oh, great, one of our team is in charge. I don’t have to think about this anymore.’ And I think it’s never actually been the case.”
During the talk, Stewart had much more to say about the election, Donald Trump, Barack Obama and the media. For posterity, HuffPost transcribed a few of his best remarks.
The quotes have been occasionally condensed for clarity. It should also be noted that Stewart often characteristically undercut his points with jokes about masturbation and dildos to lessen the self-seriousness.
In a long, poignant response, Stewart explained he believes the length of the presidential campaign is largely to blame for our divided country.
How long is the campaign? A year and a half? I assume [television media is] talking right now about who’s running in 2020. 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.
Because if a campaign is too long, the fault lines between different tribes in our societies solidify. 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.
And those lines harden to the point where you can’t get past that ... Because what you become is just teams. And the campaigns are just too long. Have you ever been in a parking lot after, like, a Giants game and it’s between a guy in a Giants jersey and a guy in, like, a Cowboys jersey? They will fight. They will punch each other. What is that fight? Like, “Hey! Your shirt, it’s got a star on it. It’s supposed to have an NY. I’m going to have to punch you in the face.” There’s no reason for that, other than basic human primitive nature, and if we turn our discourse into that, then that’s what it will become.
Stewart wanted to stress that satire doesn’t change government — political activism will.
We [at “The Daily Show,” speaking facetiously] were the destroyers of men. And creators of empires. I think that generally is satire’s role and has always been. The rise and fall of civilization at our whim.
[If Stewart still had his show] I would have probably allowed Hillary to come a little closer in the Rust Belt, but I still think I would have given Michigan to Trump. I had a little something going on where i was going to give Gore Florida. There was a bit we had planned that was going to hand Florida to Gore.
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. 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, 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.
He expanded on his thoughts about one side’s demonization of the other.
You’ll read about it in the book, I had a really hard time getting over my defensiveness and blind spots about sexism and racism and diversity and all those things. Not because I think I’m an ignorant, racist, sexist person ― I just think I’m a person. And I’m a fucking idiot sometimes.
This has to stop. 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.
Let’s fucking fight, but let’s fight with precision and integrity, and not with just demonization.
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.
He pointed out that Obama wasn’t a perfect president.
There are more people in this country that voted for the thing that you like than the thing that you’re afraid of, but the thing that you’re afraid of is not a monolith anymore than the thing that you like is a miracle cure. It’s not a panacea. And 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. 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. 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.
Here’s his response after a member of the audience asked how Stewart would remain optimistic during Trump’s term.
Let me ask you this ― so eight years ago all branches of government were controlled by the Democrats ― were you [optimistic] then? [Audience member says yes.] Was it perfect? [Audience member says, “Nothing is ever perfect.”] So, on the flip side of that is anything ever ― what you need to do in this situation is rally the troops for those most vulnerable.
In this time that’s difficult, the way you get [optimistic] is, I think, sort of in the way when I was in the show and I was not feeling it. You’ve worked any place for 16 years, some days you come in and you just don’t have it and you suck. And you hope that other people will pick you up. I was very fortunate, at the show, that we had really great people and when I didn’t have it, they did.
But there will be real ramification to this election. [Find] who are 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. 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. 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.
Maybe I’m naive or idiotic, but I feel like ― when has this been easy?
Fucking buckle your seat belt and get ready.
[Responding to another audience member with a similar response]
I’m optimistic because, I cant believe how much better this country is than it was when it started. It’s always up and back.
And you [the audience member] said something interesting, you said we’re all going to go back to our liberal bubble. I’m like, yeah, that’s a shame.
Because it does create this idea that, in the same way that I hated ― Sarah Palin used to do this all the time ― “Out here in real America.” There’s no real America. It’s just, it is what it is. Generally people are just trying to get to work.
And I think the key for us is to be like, who needs a ride?