No, Really: Why Jon Stewart Should (Seriously) Host the Presidential Debate

As I've mentioned, there is a petition circulating the Web calling for Jon Stewart to host an upcoming presidential debate. It heated up a couple weeks ago, gathering over 300,000 signatures, then as all Internet petitions do, faded from the fore.

But let's not let this one go just yet. Jon Stewart is the perfect guy for the job now, and here's why.

The real "Zen Moment" sustained at the center of The Daily Show shares the central existential dichotomy required to navigate the 2016 election season.

That is, Stewart's "fake news" brand of candor and vulnerability resonated like truth to the lie of "real news." The latter's glacial cockiness inured viewers into numbly consuming their networks' (or in this case, candidates) viewpoint as merely facts to be known, presumably to up one's own social stock at the water cooler, as opposed to feeling or reflecting on how all this spectacle comes to bear directly on peoples' lives.

Not to say that we need Stewart to "host" the presidential debates. That very peformative move would fly in the face of the ontological transparency that was the cornerstone of his temple at The Daily Show.

As was his style during his 16-year television tenure, we just need him there with us, laid bare to the unconscionable and baffling without the shield of a fourth wall to hide his and our "fuck me" moments.

This is how he earned our trust and shook, (often with laughter, but sometimes with simple wakefulness and outrage) the nihilistic shrugging out of our shoulders.

That's precisely what's needed in the presidential debates, now more reality show, thanks to the revolving cast of disruptors.

We need a moderator who both instinctively navigates the theater that has increasingly become not only the political stage in the Twitter Age but, as was deplorably exemplified in the filmed execution of the journalists last Wednesday -- the new cultural normal of life (and now death) as exhibition, where even the most abhorrent action or insult is baptized with public display.

In this way, we do need a "host" who can sustain the contradiction of how all this drama plays out in the most critical and material terms of people's lives.

In many ways, his ultimate project, like that of most paradigm-shifting luminaries from Einstein to Martin Luther King, was really to integrate more than anything.

Not to say Stewart embodies some facile new age "oneness" - not at all. He didn't pretend not to have passionate political opinions. (And to that end, his team made miracles with search engine technology, abstracting ethical meaning from culled clips of political vanities.)

When I say "integrate" I don't mean to imply a vapid kumbaya between the parties, or between Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson, or between police and protesters, or immigrants and citizens, or between the suburban white child in Newtown, Connecticut and the inner-city Black child on the South Side of Chicago and the gun lobby that slayed them all.. .More meta than that.

In a sense, Stewart has fought for a realer reality. On television, oddly, which is where we need him to slap the election season out of its vaudevillian soap opera.

Stewart is capable of this because his candor matches the fever pitch of his targets' duplicities.

He ignores the lines that colonize our Age-of-Me minds into artificially drawn selfie borders that so often leave us feeling cut off and unsatisfied and ultimately in need of more -- more distraction and circus, more likes and more money and more ass and shoes and ice cream... Higher resolution in the real life bloodbaths. These are the lines that separate the mind from the heart... or "fake" news from "real" news, theater from life, art from truth, politics from people, comedy from tragedy, poetry from wonkery, the public good from the private good, individual from the collective, the Ego from The Stranger. Or as George W. Bush, (the original dualist butt of Stewart's eternal transcendent joke) would have it, the "with us" and "against us." America from the rest of the world.

This is why we turned to Stewart when democracy was losing the plot. We charged him with the numinous task of separating the real from the unreal, the empty rhetoric from the suffering it caused.

I know I did. I turned to him when the chads were hanging and my blossoming faith in the democratic process was being nipped in its post-pubescent bud, or during the casual abandonment of poor, black and old Americans left to drown in Katrina while our money fought a classified war based on lies. Or when I needed to cry my eyeballs out after 9/11 and my student loans left me too cash-poor to go shopping for America and express my bling patriotism, W-style. And for that matter, for the entire baffling duration of the Bush/Cheney administration. And after my heart broke from Newtown, and again in Ferguson, and Baltimore and when I could barely move after Charleston.

But not this time.

This time I mused about what Stewart would say about the nationalist puffery being presented as legitimate immigration policy. Maybe something to the tune of how charitable it is of Trump to suggest we send the newborn Mexican future-rapist babies of undocumented immigrants back so that the altruistic negotiator can keep the whole criminal druggy "family together" in happy abject destitution, but funnier because in addition to his Buddhalogical rabbi chops, Jon Stewart was really freakin' funny.

Whatever the joke would be, it would remind us how wrongheaded and absurd it is to make one baby's well-being more important than another baby's well-being. That the very act of separating the "us" from "them" is a perceptual error so base that its value is more grounds for laughter than political consideration. After all, selfishness and amorality are the largely agreed upon character traits that made the Seinfeld roles so timelessly funny -- their germaphobic repulsion of mingling their lives with others' lives.

But just like any decent prophet would, Jon Stewart may have ascended with his fam to the celestial tomato gardens of Jerz, but he did not abandon us. He has left us the brilliant trinity of Larry Wilmore, Trevor Noah and of course Stephen Colbert.

And maybe there will be a Second Coming (because the chair-throwing WWE moment doesn't count and disrupts my metaphor) to the airwaves -- to moderate one of the upcoming presidential debates.

Now, if that wouldn't perform the ultimate duality-dissolving miracle between real and fake news to convert a new generation, then I guess we'll have to suffer through more "real" (fake) debates.

But at least then we'll be able tune in to The Late Show, which starts its new run next month, and watch Stephen Colbert remove his mask and go cinéma vérité rogue in the Ed Sullivan Theater, which, the eager "dry-Trumping" host recently told a panel at the Television Critics Association, is being remodeled to resemble its original 1927 Broadway splendor, because that way, he says, "we acknowledge that we're in a theater together."

And there we have it. Real news, on Broadway.

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