Why can’t I stop feeling like the two are related?
Allow me to preface this argument with some transparency: I’m a registered Democrat, and I voted for Hillary Clinton. If those two attributes incense you before we even get going, just skip directly to the comments and have at it.
If you’re still here, you might be marveling at the insane idea that a comedy series could muster the kind of groundswell that could change a national election’s outcome. Screw it, these are crazy times: Had Stewart still been host of The Daily Show, Clinton would’ve had a much better shot at grabbing the requisite 270 Electoral College votes to become commander in chief.
Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 28,000 votes. Is it that far afield to think that Daily Show viewers there, along with the friends they might’ve shared Daily Show videos with, could’ve turned the state for the Democratic candidate?
For starters, Stewart’s Daily Show had a spark and vigor that is just plain missing under Trevor Noah’s command. With Stewart behind the desk, The Daily Show spoke truth — often peppered with f-bombs — to power in a way that resonated. Stewart exuded an Everyman frustration with government and politics that educated as it mocked. Noah has continued on his predecessor’s path, but the new host’s unruffled charm at times lends him a distance Stewart never showed.
That might be why, to the former host’s repeated chagrin, Stewart’s Daily Show served as a news source for at least part of its nightly audience. In a 2014 Pew Research Center report, 12 percent of Americans online said they got their news from the Comedy Central show. Those numbers aren’t knock-you-down amazing, but they’re up there with USA Today and The Huffington Post: aka not smart to ignore. And the people who watched Stewart’s half hour each night — as well as channel-mate Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report — skewed young (in their mid-30s) as opposed to those who regularly viewed nightly network and cable news broadcasts.
Now think about how voter turnout at the polls Tuesday was incredibly low; the United States Elections Project projections show that 43.2 percent of Americans eligible to vote this year chose not to. I very strongly believe that Stewart, whose audience averaged 1.7 million viewers in 2011-2012, might’ve swayed some of the on-the-fencers to get out and make their voices heard, if only to have complaining rights in the years to come.
This isn’t to say that Stewart’s spiritual heirs — most notably Last Week Tonight‘s John Oliver and Full Frontal‘s Samantha Bee — didn’t put impassioned, pointed, funny-as-hell, make-you-think effort into derailing Donald Trump’s candidacy. But being politically educated and aware is a practice akin to brushing your teeth or taking your vitamins: Doing it every once in a while doesn’t cut it.
Ideally, that practice involves getting your news from various sources, weighing what you see against what you know to be true, asking questions and seeking answers. But if you weren’t doing that, at least The Daily Show (and The Colbert Report) offered some point of contact with the political realm. It may not have been perfect, or told the whole story, but it was something — four nights a week.
Maybe this is all an exercise in escapism. Maybe I’m just trying to make sense of how the country I love could choose such an unqualified man to lead it. Maybe I’m despondent over how many people have felt emboldened this week alone to spew hate at those they perceive as different from themselves — and how our president-elect has yet to condemn those actions.
So I end with an appeal to the man who coined the name “F–kface Von Clownstick”: Jon, please return to regular political commentary. Now, more than ever, America could use a Moment of Zen.