What Jon Stewart Gets Wrong About Trump Voters


Unemployed drifter Jon Stewart surfaced on CBS This Morning for an interview with Charlie Rose, who asked the bearded oracle for his thoughts on the State of the Union following last Tuesday’s national upheaval. Stewartites, adrift as they’ve been since their Lord and Savior departed the Daily Show last year, pressed their faces into their screens, searching the lines of his wise, handsome face like a soothsayer consults tea leaves. They were probably disappointed.

One surprising aspect of the election has been the broad range of takeaways by what were previously considered some of our most cherished, adroit thinkers. Stewart, who for over sixteen years shepherded the nation’s liberal opinions with little resistance, offered almost nothing by way of poignant insight during his sit-down with Rose.

He begins by making the very astute point that no one bothered to ask Trump what, in his cloudy assessment, makes America great…in the first place. It became apparent somewhere during minute two of the first debate that Trump had no interest in answering any questions directly, so it seems unlikely that the response would have yielded any satisfaction.

Then Stewart cautions us against the blind antagonism with which many of us have reacted to the unimpeachable fact of an America positively surfeit with Trump voters.

“I thought Donald Trump disqualified himself at numerous points,” Stewart said. “But there is now this idea that anyone who voted for him has to be defined by the worst of his rhetoric.”

Indeed, last week’s rage has given way to a sort of defeated curiosity: Who are these deplorables, the ones who somehow looked past the stratospheric trash mountain of Trump’s racism and misogyny to what they perceive as their salvation?

“There are guys that I love, that I respect…who are not afraid of Mexicans, not afraid of Muslims, and not afraid of blacks — they’re afraid of their insurance premiums,” Stewart says.

He’s right, certainly, but that’s beside the point. Insurance premiums, as it happens, are not a partisan issue. Nothing on this fragile Earth gnaws at the edge of my consciousness more at night than the terror over my insurance premiums. Illness and death come for both sides of the aisle, and the system is woefully, desperately inept.

Still, it remains unfathomable that anyone could listen even passingly to Trump’s garbled rhetoric and take faith that this is the man who will rescue us from bloated health care costs.

“It’ll be better health care, much better, for less money,” Trump said during 60 Minutes last week. “Not a bad combination.”

But the details of this mythical panacea are thinner than his stupid $60,000 weave. He’ll immediately revoke the Affordable Care Act, maybe, potentially supplanting it with aspects of a plan proffered in the past by Congressional Republicans. Mostly it has to do with increased competition among insurance companies and some refinements to the tax code. It is not groundbreaking. (The New Yorker offers a lucid explainer.) More puzzling still is that Paul Ryan, who when the fog clears will be revealed as the man ultimately pulling the strings, is just thirsting to phase out Medicare, a system that benefits a sizable population of Trump voters.

Stewart urges us not to look at Trump voters as a monolith, articulating the prevailing Week Two Analysis: Those who voted for Trump, at least some of them, did so not because of their overt hatred of women or Muslims. They did it because they are desperate — for change, for health care, for fixes to dire issues occupying the everyday space of their own lives. Trump said that he would fix these things — he declined to go into specifics — and they, against all logic, believed him.

Is understanding the mind of the Trump Voter necessary? For anyone pursuing public office, absolutely. But for the rest of us? Does knowing thy enemy necessarily beget greater empathy? Or does it reveal the desperate misplacement of priorities, and the realization that perhaps there’s a greater chasm between us all than we’d previously thought?

Undoubtedly I am being closed minded, but when I look at Trump, my brain fails to comprehend anything other than a lobotomized orangutan whose very patient trainer has taught him to speak, kind of. Others saw something different. Maybe they saw a man who would purge the country of those dread Muslims and Mexicans. Maybe they saw a lesser of two evils. Maybe they’re concerned about their own economic futures, and didn’t so much mind throwing everyone else under the bus in pursuit of relief. Maybe they thought a woman, in a fit of PMS-induced pique, would smash her hormone-crazed fingers on the nuclear codes and blow us all to kingdom come. Maybe they’re enticed by Trump’s promises of job creation, ignoring the fact that he’s a conman who often failed to pay his own workers.

See? There are plenty of reasons a person might have voted for Trump. And not one of them exonerates any of these voters from what they have done.