Saturday, March 4, 2017

Jon Stewart Blasts Major Media's Reporting on Donald Trump

Are you like me? Do you miss Jon Stewart and his biting political commentary? That is especially now, at a time when we need it like never before! After all, these are still the early days of the Trump presidency, and we still seem to be reeling from the news headlines that are just pouring out of the White House on a daily basis.

Sometimes, it feels difficult just to catch your breath. Some of this stuff just seems surreal.

Of course, Trump's election itself came as a shock to many. On some level, that is true of me, as well, although his victory surprised me a lot less than some, because you could just tell that Hillary Clinton was not able to put the thing away, since she herself had her weaknesses, and was very much hated.

Also, let's face it, the way the political scene in the United States has been going, you could kind of sense that we were heading towards someone like Trump being elected president sooner or later, and it just finally happened.

Honestly, it was not that much of a shock. Depressing, to be sure. But a shock, or even much of a surprise? No.

Think about it. We had some very decent leaders - actual leaders - in the White House for many, many years. These were men who could inspire a nation, and who were able to buck the worst trends in other countries to produce better opportunities, and an overall better lifestyle here.

This seemed to culminate in the 1950's and 1960's, when Eisenhower was replaced by John F. Kennedy. The United States enjoyed the highest standard of living of any country at that point, and Eisenhower had been a respected World War II general, and a true statesman in the White House. Kennedy was a World War II hero, and his blend of youthful good looks, and an image that conveyed energy and idealism, inspired a nation.

But Kennedy was shot, and Lyndon B. Johnson took over. He did some decent things domestically, but one cannot overlook the lies and the mess with the Vietnam War. That, mixed with the inner divisions existing in the country at the time, showed a clear decline.

We went from that to Richard Nixon, and the bar was lowered still more. He promised to bring an end to the war in Vietnam with honor, and instead escalated it, before finally winding it down. He conducted himself in a criminal manner, particularly with the Watergate cover-up. In time, he was essentially forced to resign.

Then, we had a brief reprieve with Gerald Ford, a decent conservative president, and Jimmy Carter, who is probably the most underrated president in history. He was perhaps the most honest president in history, and had strong integrity. Plus, he worked for a better future for the country beyond just the 1980 election. Someday, I think that Carter will get this due for all of the positive things that he achieved, both while in the White House, and the years before and especially since.

After that, however, we started to go downhill. We went from likely the most underrated president to the most overrated one in Reagan, who commenced the corporate takeover of our government. The sad truth is that Reagan was hugely popular, and used this to make certain concepts much more popular, although these in fact hurt the average American. Still, the intellectual arguments for catch phrases such as "deregulation" and pounding the idea home time and time again that government is an evil went a long way towards creating the world that we inhabit now, where governments not only do not stand up to corporate America, but are in their pay and serve in their best interests, at the expense of the American people that governments are supposed to represent. It is all the opposite of how it should be, and this all started with the union busting and climate change denying President Reagan.

We got an even more conservative man in the White House after that with George H. W. Bush, and then we got a Democrat who resembled more closely what Republicans had formerly been, as "Republican lite" Bill Clinton took over after winning the 1992 election. From there, things had gone so far in not so much a real conservative way, but rather, a pro-corporate direction, as George W> Bush won the White House after a highly controversial election.

In 2008, it seemed that the election of Barack Obama meant serious change to many people, but Obama seemed to retain an alarmingly high number of his predecessor's pro-corporate and climate change denying policies. It started to improve for a while maybe during his second term, and he did bring the Affordable Care Act to Americans. However, his presidency, like Clinton's before it, was hardly in the spirit of the Democrats who came before him, other than Clinton.

Then, of course, we have Trump. Elected precisely because he was the political outsider, and acted like it. He obviously was well-known for his business dealings, and had absolutely no qualifications to show that he could serve as the political leader of the country. Yet, many people loved him, and could not get enough of him.

Somehow, this con artist kept gaining more and more support, despite ridiculous, almost laughable conduct and absurd statements and actions. Time and time again, he seemed to do things that would end more mainstream political careers, and he has gotten away with so much! But he and his supporters kept marching on, right to the White House.

The bar was lowered still more. This time, it took a huge dip, and we are now living with the consequences of the bar consistently lowering for decades now.

I still believe that the only thing that his supporters managed to do was inflate his already grotesquely oversized ego. Only now, it's not just those directly or indirectly involved with his business dealings who are suffering. Now, the whole country and, to some extent, the whole world, is paying a big, big price!

Perhaps the one silver lining in all of this is that the opposition to all of this finally seem to have some semblance of persistence and determination in their efforts to resist. The focus is not great just yet, but it is finally getting there.

However, there has been one aspect of resistance that has been very effective. Comedians have been greatly effective in not only producing laughs through all of this, but in directing pointed and hugely effective criticisms towards the powers that be, making people laugh at all of this absurd hypocrisy and, frankly, stupidity.

And perhaps no one has been more effective at all of this than Jon Stewart.

Yes, for years, he was criticizing political absurdities on a nightly basis with his Comedy Central news show, to the point where many started to suggest that his fake news program actually informed people and made them think far better than the supposedly serious news from the mainstream media sources!

What an age of absurdity we live in!

Indeed, though, there reached a point where more people seemed to trust the news from Comedy Central, particularly from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, than from trusted the major news sources of the day. While Stewart and Colbert laughed this notion off and dismissed it, most of us could understand why this was so. After all, those two were able to highlight and underscore the hypocrisy that not only politicians, but the mainstream media, presented to us on a daily basis. They fed us, in a humorous way, the myriad ways in which we as a country, and as individuals, were getting screwed over like this. They were able to reveal the unattractive underbelly of crooked politicians and the irresponsible handling of the major news media outlets that are at least in theory supposed to keep us informed of what is really going on in the world.

And while there main duty was to produce laughter, which they generally did with ease, much of the laughter stemmed from the fact that it was all true. That, in fact, the lines and outright lies that we were regularly being fed by so-called leaders and the major media players, who were all owned by corporations with vested interests in presenting the news in such a way as to be favorable to their bottom line of producing more profits for themselves, were the problem themselves.

Americans increasingly have a reputation around the world of being both dumb and uniquely stubborn. We go against the grain of accepted thinking in the rest of the world.

No, really, we do.

Do you have trouble believing it? Well, consider that what I believe to be America's biggest problem is something that most of the rest of the world does not necessarily believe, but which Americans by and large have come to believe to the point that they no longer even question it, and have largely come to accept it as some kind of a fact. I am speaking of what many call "American exceptionalism" and which can also be viewed as a superiority complex. I have mentioned this before, but think about how often Americans are told, in some form or another, that they are unique and special in ways that other countries, and people of other nationalities, are not. While some of these things have some truth to them, when you add them all up, then there are several conclusions that you can come to, and Americans in general have come to believe that all of these things truly add up to our being not only unique and special, but generally superior to everyone else.

Let us take a look at what this superiority complex, or this notion of American exceptionalism, stems from. We are taught that we were a small bunch of colonies of mostly farmers who rose up and fought against the greatest empire at the time, and won that fight, however improbable. Some of the greatest thinkers of that age helped shape not only what the country was to embody at that time, but their thinking has remained relevant right to the present day, and the words and lofty concepts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution continue to stir patriotic sentiments among Americans of all political persuasions. We kept growing in size and strength, fulfilling our "Manifest Destiny" through a variety of means, even landing the biggest peaceful transfer of territory in world history with the Louisiana Purchase. We fought a Civil War which saw black slaves freed by an eloquent decree from an inspirational president. We have the Statue of Liberty, a gift from a foreign country, beckoning struggling foreigners from new lands, and welcoming them to these supposedly new shores, to shape their own destiny, and we have this notion of our country as a unique "melting pot" where people from all sorts of backgrounds are accepted as Americans. We continued to grow stronger, and we got involved in two world wars, both times coming to largely help Europe be liberated from the threat of German dominance, although an argument could certainly be made, and not easily refuted, that the Soviets were well on their way to crushing the Germans well before D-Day towards the end of World War II. In between, the United States endured the hardships of the Great Depression, and emerged from that second conflict not only having the image of liberators throughout Europe and Asia, but also came to be the strongest power in the world. Then, we helped Europe rebuild with the Marshall Plan, and we stood up to the big, bad Soviets during the Cold War. Since the end of the Cold War, we were attacked and have fought the so-called "Global War on Terror" with similar, single-minded focus.

All of that is something that most Americans feel is a legitimate, broad outline of how American history went down. That, of course, leaves out a lot, and we can find the refutations of each of these concepts, such as that all of that expansion of power and territory came by essentially kicking Native Americans out of what had been their land prior to our arrival and takeover. However, when you view it only through the lens of what I describe above, then we indeed look better than most other countries out there. I remember an Afrikaner, during the days of apartheid in South Africa, mentioning how his country did not have anything like the Declaration of Independence to fall back on. Instead, Afrikaners believed that they had a literal covenant with God to rule over that land, and they believed that this entitled them to rule as they saw fit, and to view outsiders, particularly the "bantus" (blacks) who lived there almost like children who needed guidance from the superior European descendants. You could make a similar argument with Israelis today, many of whom believe that their coming to rule over that land was the result of God's will.

Yet, we Americans have also been told that our ruling over this land was evidence of God's will. Perhaps the first time that Americans heard this rather lofty notion was from Governor John Winthrop, well before he governed over Massachussetts, when he told his people that what they were going to build in the new land was something extraordinary. He said:

"We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us."

This was likely the first quote suggesting that what the future United States was building was something more like a dream, something truly unique and extraordinary, and it was from this that much of our future sense of uniqueness and exceptionalism stemmed, and it was echoed almost directly by President Reagan, who uttered almost these very words more than two hundred years later, when he famously described the country as a "shining city on a hill." This same viewpoint was in evidence during the American revolution, when many of the Founding Fathers believed that America was a unique opportunity to experiment with democracy, which was truly different from the forms of government that existed around the world at that time. We get that same sense from Lincoln, when he told Americans that the soldiers slain during grotesque battles during the Civil War were fighting and dying for a higher purpose, so that a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the Earth." American children are reminded of this uniqueness, and of this unofficial covenant with God, on a daily basis first thing during each school day, when they take the pledge of allegiance that reminds them that this is "one nation under God with liberty and justice for all." When they grow up, they have heard over the course of many decades now their leaders continually talking about America as "God's country" and hear presidents conclude their speeches with "God bless America." Americans have gotten used to considering and calling themselves "the leader of the free world" and they often seem to view themselves as the last, best hope for mankind. Many times, you will hear prominent politicians, including all the most recent presidents dating back to at least Reagan, suggesting that the United States was and is the "greatest country in the world." Add to that the constant reminders of symbols that reinforce this uniqueness, this greatness, with American flags everywhere and people of all persuasions unified behind only this sense of great distinction because of this notion that being an American is something truly unique and special, and pretty soon, you have a population that can be manipulated. All it takes, really, is one so-called leader dressing himself or herself in the flag and promoting a very loud version of patriotism, and denouncing any and all opposition as somehow not only not patriotic, but as downright un-American.

Sound familiar?

Well, now, we have the infamous "Make America Great Again" movement that brought, of all people, Donald Trump into the White House. This man, who symbolizes all of the very worst excesses of the country, is not the face and voice of the country for all the world to see for the next four years, and possibly longer, barring impeachment or some other scenario. Throughout his campaign, he appealed to the lowest common denominator, uniting many people despite how confused his political message and leanings tended to be (and largely still are). The one constant was his overt patriotism, as he wore this on his sleeve, and unashamedly appealed to the baser instincts of Americans, constantly suggesting that they were unique and special, or at least had been, and that he, and he alone, could bring them back to their former greatness. Thus, it should really be no surprise that this very traditional, American way of viewing themselves as  special and superior got appeased once again. During his inaugural address, now President Trump took this sense of American greatness to an extreme not seen before, as he declared:

“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first.”

Many expressed surprise, and some viewed this message as rather shallow and divisive.

But why should it have been surprising? Sentiments of American greatness and, yes, superiority, have been growing more extreme now for decades. My father remembered seeing a Holocaust survivor on the news during the early days of Ronald Reagan's presidency, saying that the last time that she had seen such a wave of nationalism had been during the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. That is not to say that Reagan or even Trump were the new Hitler, although you have to admit that the comparisons to Trump and Hitler are occurring to frequently to simply dismiss as completely irrelevant. After all, they are both appealing to the same nationalistic urges and desires, even if they did so at different times, and with different countries.

We have just seen what many Americans feel is pure patriotism, but which more correctly can be viewed as outright nationalism, go to more of an extreme than ever before. But it has been growing and growing more extreme now for decades since, again, at least Reagan. That is why the election win by Trump really was not a complete shocker for me, although it still hit me as a punch in the gut. After all, this man represents the very worst excesses that the rest of the world sees in Trump.

I have used this quote before, but it is so telling about what tens of millions of Americans don't see about their own hypocrisy, which the rest of the world sees through all too well. This is from Paul Thomas of the New Zealand Herald, back in 2015, when Trump was already starting to look strong in the Republican race for the White House:

"Trump personifies everything the rest of the world despises about America: casual racism, crass materialism, relentless self-aggrandisement, vulgarity on an epic scale. He is the Ugly American in excelsis."

Indeed he does. Trump went so far with things, that even many in his own party felt that he was too far and plunging overboard. After all, this was a man who warranted serious criticism from many Republicans, including Mitt Romney, who dismissed Trump as a "scam artist." Bloomberg suggested the same, saying that Trump was a phony. Jeb Bush took a serious swipe at Trump just before Election Day:

“As the grandfather of two precious girls, I find that no apology can excuse away Donald Trump's reprehensible comments degrading women.” 

Mind you, that was just a few weeks before election day, and this criticism was from a fellow Republican!

Still, Trump became president, which really reinforces how brainwashed tens of millions of my fellow Americans have sadly become. But again, it is not really that much of a surprise, because this decline has been coming in steps. Who knows when the first step downwards was taken? Maybe it was when President Kennedy was struck down in Dallas. Maybe it was the Vietnam War. Maybe it was when Dixiecrats left the Democratic Party en masse and the Solid South that had gone for Democrats suddenly was a solid block for Republicans. Maybe it was with Nixon, and the Watergate scandal. Or maybe, indeed, it was Reagan, with what seemed like a colorful, and certainly an attractive, new wave of flag-waving patriotism, which Americans have never let go of since.

One way or another, though, we have reached a point where a definite ugly American nationalism has taken over. This plays on the worst fears and instincts that obviously tens of millions of Americans have, and indeed, this is a uniquely American movement. It is indeed hypocritical and blind, or at least indifferent, to how the rest of the world views us. It stems from the same mentality that allowed our worst fears to prevent us from obtaining what so much of the rest of the industrialized world has had now for decades, to the point that they take it for granted. Things like a superior education system, while ours has been sinking and crumbling for decades now. And a universal, affordable, single-payer healthcare system. Better benefits, more vacation time, and more solid wages. Better infrastructure, particularly in terms of public transportation in urban areas. A more serious and humble approach to efforts to contain climate change.

Instead, we have a swaggering president who, rather typically, actually, tries to take out minds off what still feels like a precipitous decline, by dividing people. By focusing on building a wall between this country and Mexico. By demonizing illegal immigrants, the vast majority of whom are simply trying to find a better life and a better future for themselves here. By talking about our allies in almost angry terms, suggesting that they need to step up paying for their defense, even while he himself has declared that the already grossly inflated military budget will be increased by a further 9 percent. And fittingly, in keeping with all of this division, he is already mentioning how America needs to win wars, which seems to suggest that he will be looking to fight them in the near future.

It has been hypocrisy at it's finest, and the only "American exceptionalism" that I see on a regular basis is this same hypocrisy, this same sense of entitlement that has these tens of millions of Americans believing that the rest of the world should look up to Americans, even as Americans themselves seem to be at their collective worst politically, expressing some serious hatred and division, which goes hand in hand with this same sense of exclusivity and arrogance which has come to define our politics at this moment.

The media has been complicit throughout all of this, and Jon Stewart is right to point this out, and blast their own hypocrisy. After all, Trump won despite not having the funds of some other prominent politicians, and he did so largely because of all of the press that he got for all of the ridiculous things that he said and did throughout. He was covered far more than any other candidate, and his obvious belief that any press, even bad press, was far better than no press at all obviously proved to be true in his case. He had, by far, the biggest profile of any Republican in the field, and it was the cult of personality that carried him past Clinton, as well.

Since Trump's election, the media has acted shocked - Shocked! - by Trump's win. But they themselves were part of the problem, because the American people - and not just Trump supporters - believe that they are being lied to. That the major news sources are not telling the full truth, and that indeed, they are essentially serving their bosses, rather than the American people. In other words, that they are just as corrupt as Washington politicians are. That is why Hillary Clinton became so hated, so reviled. Because when the media became the bad guys, than their darling was, by extension, the bad guy. And when Trump said and did all of those stupid things, and the media seemed to cover him relentlessly, they allowed Clinton to escape criticism, even though she herself was so full of hypocrisy and arrogance, that it literally pained many of her detractors, both on the left and on the right.

All of this is why a growing percentage of Americans - and if it is not a majority yet, it surely soon will be - grew tired of the establishment during the 2016 election. This frustration has been growing for decades now, because indeed, what passes for the "news" these days is often just fluff. It is more similar to our reality television star president, in that it increasingly seems to be about the cult of personality. So long as the news anchor has perfect hair and a perfect smile while telling us all of those pretty little lies, we collectively remain sedated enough for the powers that be to continue their takeover unabated, and to entrench their own privileges and superiority over the rest of us. That is why they give us the pacifier of false patriotism, so that at least we can feel better about ourselves. If we believe that we are unique and special, and that the rest of the world is envious of us, than it makes us feel better about a failed healthcare system, or a failing school system. Why take science seriously, when it seems somehow unpatriotic to believe in things like evolution or climate change? After all, the conventional thinking is that belief in these take away from some of the grandeur of traditional belief in God and in America, both of which are pillars to this sense of American superiority and exclusivity.

All of that, and more, is why we need people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and now, perhaps, Trevor Noah, to reveal so many of these hypocrisies that we have come to accept, or at least to live with. We need quips by Stewart and now Noah after playing clips highlighting hypocrisy by both prominent politicians and prominent sources of what passes for news in this country. And we need a Colbert going over the top with flag waving patriotism to throw in our face this constant and, frankly, puzzling need of Americans to feel themselves somehow superior to the rest of the world.

Without that core belief, this country might be a very different place. Without that belief, President Donald Trump not only is not possible, but downright laughable. Without that belief, the nonsense that we have grown so used to during the decline in these last few decades simply is not allowed to happen, when we see so much of the rest of the world figuring out far better solutions to problems than what we here in the United States presently have managed. Without this belief, perhaps we are not so arrogant as to not only dismiss science, but to be comfortable dismissing it with the preamble qualification that we ourselves are not scientists. Without this core belief, and the sense of entitlement that is bestows on tens of millions of Americans that we of right ought to be fighting and winning wars overseas and taking over anywhere that we see fit, all the while proudly waving the flag and never taking a moment to consider if it is right or wrong, or the least bit hypocritical.

Indeed, without this core belief, this would be a vastly different country. Frankly, a growing number of people, myself included, are starting to see that without this automatic, knee jerk instinct to view ourselves as superior, we actually might be a better country.

Here is the latest clip of Jon Stewart, essentially blasting the media for their failed response to Trump, and urging them to make sure to hold Trump and his team accountable through all of this ridiculous nonsense.

Jon Stewart Dresses Down the Media: ‘Stop Your Whining’ and Hold Trump Accountable by Matt Wilstein, 02.28.17:

The quotes used in the above blog entry were taken from the following articles:

The greatest threat to America? Republicans by Paul Thomas, Jul 17, 2015:

Jeb Bush: 'No apology can excuse away Donald Trump's reprehensible comments' By YOUSEF SABA 10/07/16:

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