Many of my friends are literally despondent about Donald Trump winning the election. I was talking to Jon Stewart (and by talking to him, I mean reading his book The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History) about it. Jon reminded me that sadly we’ve been here before. There were two dark and stormy nights known as November 7, 2000 and November 2, 2004. It was a time before social media and citizen journalism, and that’s why so few people remember them. The human brain is designed for self-preservation, meaning we minimize the crappy things that happen to us in favor of the good times. So when crappy things happen again, they feel like the worst times we’ve ever had. That’s why we need books like Jon’s.
November 7, 2000 was a horrible night. We didn’t know who would be President for several days. There were hanging chads, the insanity that is Florida, and reports of election day tampering. It all came down to a handful of votes, and the candidate who won the popular vote lost the electoral college. We were the laughing-stock of the world because of the goat rodeo that was our election process. It was embarrassing. Jon is still shaking his head about this. Still.
The next four years brought 9/11, war in the Middle East, racial profiling as an acceptable practice, ethnic prejudice (especially against Muslims), economic recession, fake news (from our very own federal government—Weapons of Mass Destruction!), and ridicule against any U.S. citizens who didn’t support the war in Iraq. You were actually labeled a traitor and Un-American if you spoke out against our President and the war effort in 2002. Jon reminded me that The Daily Show got piles of death threats for pointing out the lunacy and hypocrisy of the Bush administration’s actions and words. And The Daily Show was the only media outlet doing this. Comedy was truth. Their viewership soared as a result because the youngest set of voters were fed up with our President and our government. The media was a complete circus; everyone hated journalists and no one trusted them. They trusted Jon Stewart and his team, and seemingly no one else. Crimes rates were climbing. Despair was climbing. The Presidential elections were around the corner and it was time for a change! Jon, and the country, were sure Bush would be long gone soon.
And on November 2, 2004, the majority of the country elected President Bush and the evil puppet master Dick Cheney. Again. Cries of “Not My President” were everywhere. Protests were common. Violence peaked. I remember watching the results in D.C. I was 28. I cried. Many people cried. How? How on Earth could he be re-elected? After everything we’d been though how could our nation do this? We were very much a nation divided and afraid. It was a brutal time. Many people didn’t think we’d survive. Many people felt another 9/11 was imminent.
The Great Recession began to take hold in December 2007, and by the fall of 2008 it seemed like our economy might not survive. By then I had an MBA, $100K+ worth of debt, and was working in New York City in financial services. Most of my friends were unemployed; some of them were deported because their visas were no longer valid without jobs. That was a terrible time. There was palpable fear on the streets. There was no escape. There was nowhere to run. Widespread depression mixed with panic was everywhere. By then, President Bush’s approval rating had fallen from 90% in 2001 to 25%, one of the worst in presidential history. (The only presidents ever rated lower were Richard Nixon and Harry Truman.) Jon was losing his mind over the state of the country. He was outraged. We all were.
And then, when all seemed completely lost, a pair of even-keel, educated, and diplomatic leaders rose in Washington. Barack Obama and Joe Biden were handed a frightening responsibility. They rolled up their sleeves, and got to work. Against all odds, we survived. They did the impossible amidst a storm of criticism, racism, and hatred. They were unsinkable.
Now, Jon and I don’t think you should just roll over for the next 4 years. Not. At. All. We want you to get out there and keep fighting for what’s right. We want you to fact-check the hell out of everyone. We want you to get educated on the issues, and speak with conviction. We want you to take care of people in your community. We want you to use the online megaphones we all now have to connect, share, and support each other.
And we want you to do this with the knowledge that those 8 years of painful politics from 2000-2008 were terrible, and our nation did survive. Yes, we were battered and bruised. No, we have no desire at all to relive any of those years. Yes, we think we are in for at least 4 years of great difficulty and heartache. And we know this—we will survive, together. I have absolutely no faith in the new administration. (I won’t speak for Jon here. I’ll leave that to him to do when he feels ready.) I have faith in you, and I have faith in me, and that’s enough of a reason for me to get up every day and keep trying.
As for Jon, well he’s retired now. He told me (and Charlie Rose) that he misses the people of The Daily Show, but he doesn’t miss the grind. He’s gone back to screaming at the television in his underwear while surrounded by a literal farm of animals. He’s more than happy to have passed the mantel of The Daily Show to Trevor Noah, who I’ll be talking to right after I wrap things up with Jon. (And by talking to Trevor, I mean finishing his excellent book, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.) More on that later.