Remember when Jon Stewart went on Crossfire and, instead of putting on his usual jovial Daily Show clown persona, dropped the mask and attacked the hosts?
What a wonderful Emperor-has-no-clothes moment. Stewart spat out the pretense the show’s other guests swallowed — that he was talking with journalists who were hosting a bona fide debate — and confronted them with how phony and pathological it all was: “I would love to see a debate show… To do a debate would be great. But that’s like saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition.”
But the Jon Stewart jester mode of political commentary may be proving itself to be a cure worse than the disease.
As an illustration: the other day some of my progressively-minded friends posted or forwarded sarcastically-annotated versions of the same “news” clip in which Heather Nauert, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, blah-blahed some banal spokesperson pabulum about U.S./German relations:
This was seized upon as a Gaffe (that is: How could the D-Day invasion of Germany be an example of our strong relationship with the German government! Ha ha!), and #Resist-ers across America began to fling it hither and yon.
“D-Day is not really the thing you want to cite when you’re talking about the strength of the relationship between the U.S. and Germany.” pic.twitter.com/UOCoGY5bSH— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) 7 June 2018
First off, this is stupid. It’s no more of a gaffe to say that D-Day is an important milestone in American relations with the current German government than to say that Lafayette is an important figure in the history of French relations with the current American government. (Quick history lesson for those of you who came out of the U.S. public school system: The current German government is a direct descendant of the Federal Republic of Germany that was constructed after the Nazis were overthrown in the Allied invasion of which D-Day was a part. The U.S. was an important part of that operation. Konrad Adenauer, who would become the first leader of this new German government, got his start in post-war German politics when U.S. forces installed him as mayor of Cologne.)
That is to say, there isn’t even a gaffe here, really, unless you’re really stretching the term to mean “saying something that might be willfully misinterpreted by people who are already hostile to you.”
But secondly, and more importantly, this constant hair-trigger alertness for Gaffes and Gotchas — this reflex to play Daily Show: The Home Game — is a narcotic that acts as a substitute for effective action. Sharing a Gaffe is delightful comedy to those who are already inclined to laugh and who aren’t sick of the joke already, but it’s nothing but a pathetic blank cartridge in any actual battle against those in power.
If you are addicted to this narcotic, I have to ask: How many more times do you think it will it thrill you to post a clip showing that a Fox News anchor has biased double-standards, a politician is unprincipled, a #MAGA-zombie is ignorant, Trump lies, and so forth? I hope the answer is “many more times” because Fox News and the politicians and the #MAGA-zombies and the Donald are going to keep being two-faced ignorant hypocritical liars while they keep enacting their agenda while folks like you keep “destroying” them on Twitter. You’ll love it.
But when you act as though you’ve discovered a damning and damaging smoking gun every time you see Sean Hannity making an idiot of himself or catch Trump popping off falsehoods, you’re mistaking professional wrestling for athletic competition in a context that makes Crossfire look like the Socratic Dialogues.
Catching Trump lying and making a big deal about it implies that you are shocked. That you expected the president to be honest and he disappointed you. It means you’re either pretending to be a rube for comedic effect or, well, that you are a rube. And that joke’s been told, so it’s not a good look.
Pretend for a moment that you’ve won. You found The Final Gaffe that proves without a doubt that Fox News is a propaganda machine; that politicians blather in whatever way they think will make them look good and don’t give a damn for the good of the country; that Trump is a pathological liar and sociopath with repulsive ideas and dangerous, cruel policies; that the #MAGA-zombies are an authoritarian cult of incurious dopes with lynch-mob desires. It’s incontrovertible. You’ve proven your point. You win.
Tell me: What’s the next thing you’ll do?