I have some great news. Jon Stewart has announced a return to basic cable. I have better news: his sworn enemy, Tucker Carlson, the anti-Stewart himself, has not!
Even so, the long-time standup turned comic sage will return to an even more dangerous environment than the one he left in 2015. The Tucker that Stewart faced off against on CNN’s Crossfire in 2004 was a baby-faced dweeb, a George Will/William Buckley wannabe, an angry adolescent Mickey Mouse, complete with bow tie. Today, Tucker is scarred for life and has never forgiven Stewart; he has become a perpetually aggrieved testicle-tanning, hate-spewing, white nationalist.
Stewart’s return is only temporary and partial. He will be an executive producer and hosting on Monday nights and only through the November election “Executive Producer” can mean anything but it sounds as if he’ll be involved with the overall creative direction of the show and, I hope. part of the writing process full-time.
Yet, the news is being treated as at least moderately titanic. Some in the media seem to think he can singlehandedly help swing the election while others take a more sensible wait-and-see approach. They focus on potential pitfalls and the many cultural changes we’ve had in nine years.
It’s important to note that Jon Stewart and Donald Trump have a history together. Years prior to Trump’s habit of publicly bestowing nicknames on competitors and foes by the score, Jon Stewart gave the Donald one of most memorable sobriquets. Before Hair Fuhrer, il Douchey, Twitler, Mango Mussolini, Tangerine Idi Amin, and the Orange Shitgibbon, Trump decided to start taunting Stewart on Twitter about his more Jewish-sounding birth name of Leibowitz. Provoked, Stewart bestowed Fuckface von Clownstick upon Trump. Stewart responded to ensuing angry tweets by noting he’d hit a “Fuckface von Nervestick.”
Make no mistake, returning just in time for the US history’s most decisive election since 1860 takes some chutzpah on Stewart’s part. There’s little doubt that, sooner or later, FPOTUS will be telling his followers that Stewart is both not funny and an enemy of the people after being stung by jokes that hit a Fuckface von Nervestick. This is more serious than it sounds because Trump is incapable of letting a single word by his detractors slide. His worshippers listen; a fair number have guns and not much will to live.
Fortunately, Jon Stewart has long made a point that freedom is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. When TDS returned to television nine days after the 9/11 attack, Stewart met the moment with an emotional, widely acclaimed, and, in retrospect, prescient monologue. Before praising first responders, he made this point about why, despite the trauma, he felt privileged to be back at work on the show.
“This is a country that allows for open satire, and I know that sounds basic and it sounds as though it goes without saying – but that’s really what this whole situation is about. It’s the difference between closed and open. It’s the difference between free and…”
Stewart didn’t complete that thought; it’s possible he didn’t want to say the word “fascism.” Today, living in a country that allows open satire is far from a given and some form of authoritarian or even totalitarian government is not only possible but damn near inevitable if the wrong guy wins the next election.
Stewart knows that freedom is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. He proved it after 9/11 when he helped break the taboo against criticizing the Iraq war and identified Fox as a right-wing font of lies, aka Bullshit Mountain. At the very least, he is setting a good example.