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This Is All Jon Stewart’s Fault

June 22, 2016

Over the past month our political discourse has hit a new low. The two presumptive nominees have taken to twitter like a pair of teenage rivals vying for class president. Political campaigns are unashamed protracted advertising campaigns, where influence takes precedent over content and persuasion more important ideals. We are about to descend into an arduous battle of mudslinging and personal attacks. Rational evaluation of qualifications and capabilities will disappear in the deluge of ad hominem assaults. Plans will be ignored as faults are parsed and any meaningful discussion of the complex issues that affect us all will be replaced by one-liners and zingers. We are living in a country where the candidate who is best at assigning blame is the best to lead our country.

I blame Jon Stewart.

For starters, he probably spent a decade begging Donald Trump to run for president. As a comedian, his desire for easy laughs trumped any foresight or insight into the soul of our nation. Wherever Jon Stewart is now, deep in an upper middle-class cable package, I hope he realizes it’s not so funny now.

Jon Stewart spent years cultivating a snarky off-color persona who sneered at the self-absorbed and disdained the disingenuous. Stewart is often lauded for raising the level of comedy by incorporating news and politics with jokes and sketches. Most of the time the joke was simply Stewart pulling faces or manipulating the context of statements made by public officials or politicians. With the help of many people who achieved their own level of fame over the years, Jon Stewart was able to build a ratings juggernaut and more importantly a can’t miss stop for anyone hoping to get elected, sell a book, or hawk movie tickets. Stewart and his team dismissed the importance of “The Daily Show” to the national dialogue, claiming, “We’re just a comedy show,” while at the same time leveraging that prominence to organize rallies and campaign for pet causes.

Over time, “The Daily Show” became an institution spawning spin-offs and copycats to fill the yawning cable content chasm. Politicians of every stripe realized the importance of “satirical news” programs in reaching the coveted and increasingly important youth vote. In order to be part of the joke, politicians and office seekers began to adopt the tactics of persuasion once reserved for comedians and satirists. The appeal to voters has become more important than anything. It seems to escape most candidates notice that actually doing their job to solve problems appeals to more voters than anything else. Under the outsized influence of Stewart and his cronies, our political dialogue has become a race to the ridiculous and no one, including the sitting President of the United States, has escaped. Barack Obama has spent more time creating jokes and internet memes over the last eight years than I have and I am a millennial with a retail job.

If politicians are forced to become entertainers in order to compete in the political realm, it leads us to a very dark place. A place where a blowhard entertainer has become the nominee of one of the major parties. A place where a lady in her late sixties who can’t even use a computer is generating memes in the hopes of attaining the presidency. A place where satire and humor has been co-opted by the establishment, handed to them on a silver screen by Jon Stewart.

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