Stewart and Ocasio

Alan Zendell, June 29, 2018

For nearly a decade, Stephen Colbert played a whacked-out, ultra-conservative TV host, but when he took over The Late Show from David Letterman in September of 2015, shortly after Donald Trump announced that he was running for president, he revealed his true self. Colbert was the first television personality to address the dark side of Trump’s campaign rhetoric to a network audience on a daily basis.

Taking on the role of Gadfly-in-Chief was a huge risk as his initial ratings left his future in jeopardy. But as Trump’s personality emerged, Colbert relentlessly held the worst aspects of it up to public scrutiny. Make no mistake – Trump won the election, but he has never owned the hearts of the majority. Only two out of every five Americans approve of him, and Colbert has the ears of much of the other sixty percent who are repulsed by his behavior.

But fighting off Trump’s hateful rhetoric is exhausting, and every so often the Gadfly-in-Chief Emeritus shows up to assist. Yesterday was one such time when Jon Stewart stepped in to lend a hand. Though Stewart is a comedian by nature, when he speaks seriously, he’s more than capable of bringing tears to my eyes.

He began by stating the case perfectly. It’s not so much that we hate Trump for his policies, though many of them, like his decision to separate families at the border are undeniably despicable. What raises the hackles of the majority, in Stewart’s words, is that no matter what Trump does, “it always comes with an extra layer of gleeful cruelty and dickishness.” Could anyone have said it better?

The part of Stewart’s presentation that hit home was his quote from the Cooper Union address delivered in New York City on February 27, 1860, that propelled Abraham Lincoln from a relative unknown to the 1860 Republican Nomination for President. Since I can’t possibly improve on Stewart’s words, I’ll just repeat them.

 “What Lincoln said in his Cooper Union speech was to point out the one thing Southern slaveholders really wanted from the free states. ‘This and only this: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right.’ It was on this point that Lincoln said the Union could not bend, and what Donald Trump wants is for us to stop calling his cruelty and fear and divisiveness wrong, but to join him in calling it right — and this we cannot do. And I say, by not yielding, we will prevail.”

That’s when the tears flowed. Sometimes, when things seem relatively hopeless, the best we can do utter inspiring words, like when FDR said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” after Pearl Harbor. What Jon Stewart said staring earnestly into the camera after five minutes of clowning and aping went viral instantly. He was masterful. It won’t be easy, but we have a chance to at least throw a roadblock in the path of the Trump juggernaut of hate when we go to the polls in November.

Despite the gerrymanding that has made a mockery of the electoral system our founders devised, and despite Trump’s bullying of anyone who opposes him, it’s we the voters who get to decide the course of the remainder of his presidency, and if we don’t we have only ourselves to blame. We must change the face of Congress to one that is willing to defend the principles and values that Trump refuses to.

We don’t need marches and protests. We don’t have to mimic Trump’s calls to violence against the dissent that is a right guaranteed to us by our Constitution. We need to counteract the apathy and ennui that caused millions of people to stay home in 2016. That’s what got Trump elected, and only reversing that error can stop him from destroying all that is good about America.

Of course, we also need to have candidates worth voting for. We need people who can inspire the opposite of what Trump arouses in his base. In what was perhaps the perfect epilogue to Jon Stewart, he was followed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was fresh from staging the electoral upset of the year, when she defeated the fourth ranking Democrat in the House in Tuesday’s primary.

Young, bright, forward-looking, and energetic, when she was asked if she could stand up to Donald Trump, she responded with a brilliant smile: “Well you know, the president is from Queens, and … half of my district is from Queens. I don’t think he knows how to deal with a girl from the Bronx.” I don’t think he does either. My wife is from the Bronx, and I’d love to see Trump try to talk to her the way he does to most women.

We used to live in Ocasio’s district. I wish we still did so I could cast my vote for her in November.

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