Jon Stewart during the taping of the "Axe Files" in Chicago
The University of Chicago Institute of Politics
Jon Stewart during the taping of the "Axe Files" in Chicago

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Jon Stewart is no longer hosting a daily news satire show, but he weighed in on 2016 during a taping of the "Axe Files" podcast

Stewart had harsh words for the media and for candidates on both sides of the aisle

Editor’s Note: The Axe Files, featuring David Axelrod, is a podcast distributed by CNN and produced at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics. This episode includes strong language that some might find offensive

CNN —  

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And now, from the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, and CNN, the Axe files, with your host, David Axelrod.

DAVID AXELROD: Oh, can I say…

JON STEWART: Now you can say, this is how Jews meet all the time. When people aren’t paying attention, we sneak into churches and just chat.

AXELROD: That theme song, by the way, was actually the original John D. Rockefeller theme music. So…

STEWART: Yet, you got to be a rich (inaudible)..

AXELROD: …(Inaudible)…

STEWART: …to have your own theme music.

AXELROD: Oh yes. So, Jon, I have to ask you? Where you been man?

STEWART: Me?

AXELROD: Yes, there’s a lot going on out here?

STEWART: I’ve been in line. I was out in line, out front.

AXELROD: Do you wake up ever and say to yourself that this was some kind of big celestial joke on you that you announce your retirement from the Daily Show and I see when you did you said it didn’t appear that there was going to be anything wildly different about this election year. You had done four others. How’s that working for you now?

STEWART: Well, I mean, I think we talk about it as though it’s something incredibly different, but in truth, how different is it, really? I mean, media is, as usual, focused on the wrong things and advocating responsibility for the general filtration of toxicity. You have enormous amounts of money flowing into crazy people who are channeling populace of years past. So, I don’t, you know, if you took Sarah Palin’s head and jammed onto Donald Trump’s body, would it make any more sense? Probably not.

AXELROD: Look a little weird though, I think.

STEWART: I don’t know that it would look any weirder.

AXELROD: Um, yeah, on that point, you once said, “I assume there are bad actors in society. Its inherent politicians would be disingenuous. I assume monkeys are going to throw sh–. I get angry with people who don’t go ‘bad monkey’ or…

STEWART: Wait, I said that?

AXELROD: …create a distraction that allows it to be continued unabated.” How responsible is the media for Donald Trump?

STEWART: Oh, I don’t – Look, listen. I don’t necessarily believe that a full court press on his untruthinness would necessarily change it. I mean, he’s not – he was voted for, but I do think he is, generally, the conclusion to years of – he makes sense if you view it through the prism of talk radio. I like to drive, and so I listen to talk radio and it is 24/7 of ‘your country is being taken away from you.’ As far as I can tell, the conservative side on the right side, they feel an ownership over America. They are the stewards of America. They are its forbearers…

AXELROD: Was it (inaudible)?

STEWART: Exactly. Republicans, conservatives, love America. They just hate like 50 percent of the people living in it. So, in general…

AXELROD: Isn’t part of their concern that that 50 percent is becoming, or whatever percent, is becoming a greater – we’re becoming a much more diverse country?

STEWART: Sure. So yeah, no nativism – look, this is – it’s not as though this is inherent only to this country as well. Globalization has created this strange pushback throughout the entire world. You see a lot of countries retreating into nativism…

AXELROD: Mm-hmm.

STEWART: …into that type of really…

Stewart, pre-beard, hosting The Daily Show in 2015
Brad Barket/Getty Images
Stewart, pre-beard, hosting The Daily Show in 2015

AXELROD: Like there are Trump-like characters all over Europe and different country.

STEWART: Yes. Yes. It’s very similar to – I don’t know if you ever saw “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – very similar. But no, in some ways it’s a natural reaction to fear. Now, if you have that fear stoked on a daily basis, at an incredibly high pitch – and this is not – We really need to do something about this country; we’re facing some difficult problems. This is you are run by a tyrant; he is going to take away your rights. We are falling. There are rapists and murders at the border coming to kill you. If that’s what you’ve been fed and that’s what you’re buying into, Donald Trump makes more sense than anybody else out there because he’s going, “Great, let’s build – the Visigoths are out the gate. Let’s build a f—ing wall and not let it…” It makes total sense. What wouldn’t make sense are the general republican leadership going, “There are Visigoths at the wall, they are here to kill you, let’s try and not pass a new budget resolution.” You know that’s…

AXELROD: Yeah.

STEWART: Their rhetoric has never matched their action. Donald Trump is saying, “Oh, that’s your rhetoric? Then yeah…

AXELROD: Although, you know, there is…

STEWART: …let’s build a wall.”

AXELROD: …there’s a weird paradox in both his message and their attacks, which is, on the one hand they say, “Well, the dictator is encroaching and threatening. On the other hand, their critique of the President is that he’s feckless.” And it’s hard to be a feckless dictator unless you’re…

STEWART: Are you suggesting…

AXELROD: …Groucho Marx and Duck Soup.

STEWART: Are you suggesting, sir, that there me be slight cognitive dissonance?

AXELROD: Well…

STEWART: Is that what you’re suggesting? Because…

AXELROD: Well…

STEWART: …will not sit here…

AXELROD: …some…

STEWART: …and be told – Look, I don’t even know that Donald Trump is eligible to be President, and that’s not a birther thing, that’s – I don’t know. Look, I’m not a constitutional scholar, so I can’t necessarily say, but can you – are you eligible to run if you are a man-baby or a baby-man? See, I don’t know what the – look, I don’t know, and again, I’m not here to be politically incorrect. If they’re referred to as man-baby Americans, but he is a man-baby. He has the physical countenance of a man and a baby’s temperament and hands. So, to have that together – I mean, for God sakes, I should sp– so, I do have a history with the man, and so in effort of full disclosure, we made fun of him and I think we were afraid it was a boiled ham and a wig or something. Who knows? And so he tweeted at me because, as you know, great leaders…

AXELROD: Tweet.

STEWART: …tweet…

AXELROD: Yes.

STEWART: …late at night. In fact, I remember, Lincoln’s Gettysburg tweets going after he delivered…

AXELROD: That’s why their dress was so short he had to turn it under for you.

STEWART: Yes. Well, after the Gettysburg Address, he tweeted out, emancipate this motherf—er. So Donald Trump tweeted John Leibowitz. He thought, he’s going to use my birth name…

AXELROD: Was your name.

STEWART: …which is Liebowitz. Yes. Jon Stewart Leibowitz is my – Jonathan Stewart Liebowitz is my full name. he was going to tweet that and then he tweeted out, “Be proud of your heritage. Don’t run away from who you are. By the way, he’s overrated” or something along those lines.

AXELROD: Incisive.

STEWART: It was very incisive. And so we thought, “Well geeze, let’s answer.” So, we tweeted back to him, Donald Trump’s real name, which I don’t know if you even this, is F— Face Von Clownstick. And…

AXELROD: The research you guys must do on that show is unbelievable.

STEWART: Yeah. We have people – Lexus Nexus will tell you that. And so, we wanted to know why he was running away from the Von Clownstick heritage and we got into this huge fight and this…

AXELROD: Did he sue you? He tends to sue for things like that.

STEWART: Yeah, I mean, I’m just – I don’t know that a man-baby can be president. He’s – character is destiny and he is the most thin-skinned individual – and look, you’ve been around politicians, you know they’re thin-skinned. You know President Obama, for all his qualities that you love, gets angry and I’ve borne the…

AXELROD: Irritated, I would say.

STEWART: …brunt of that, at times.

AXELROD: Yes. I’ve heard.

STEWART: Yes. But, I don’t know that he has – and they keep saying, which I think is the most wonderful thing, “Don’t worry, when he becomes president, he’s going to be totally mature.” And…

AXELROD: Well, he says, he said, “Being presidential is easy, and he’ll do it at the appropriate time.”

STEWART: Right, but what does that say about your constituency if what you’re saying to them is, “Look, the only way that I can win this part of the race is by being an unrepentant, narcissistic asshole, because that’s what my voters like. But once I have to appeal everybody, I’ll be cool.”

AXELROD: Yeah. But, the fact is that you look at all these exit polls from primary after primary, and the big number that he commands is he tells it like it is. He says stuff other politicians aren’t willing to say, and, you know, you spoke earlier about people who are frightened, you know, because of these changes in the economy that have left them without the kind of future that they thought they would have, and they’re eating that up.

STEWART: Right, but that, again, and this gets to the point of…

AXELROD: Authenticity is what they say.

STEWART: This gets to the point, though, of the press versus the campaign, and what we see in the press is they’re covering the campaign, but they’re not covering voracity or, you know, so the exit polls say this is what people think, then someone in the press has to come out and go, “Wow, people must be assholes because that’s not OK to think, you know. It’s no OK to have nostalgia for the madmen society and think that that ignorance is virtue.” And they have twisted this around so that his ignorant pronouncements are somehow a sign of great character. It’s like where I grew up, when people go like, ‘Hey look, no disrespect, I’m not saying your mother’s a whore, I’m saying…” and you’re like, “I think that’s what you’re saying.”

AXELROD: The difference is he would just say, “Your mother’s a whore.”

STEWART: Right. But, when he says, you know, “People are so nerv…” – See, here’s what so amazing about this. So, the whole idea of political correctness is everybody’s so sensitive, just get over it. you know, why should African Americans be so sensitive about police shootings? Why do they have to be so sensitive about years of systemic racism creating economic disparity? Come on. I’m not a slave owner. Donald Trump couldn’t handle us making a joke about him. Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter, did a joke about Donald Trump’s hands 25 years ago. He’s still not f—ing over it.

AXELROD: And his hands weren’t any bigger.

STEWART: So Muslims…

AXELROD: Not true, by the way.

STEWART: He actually did a spiel…

AXELROD: Finger extensions.

STEWART: …Trump International, and if you see them now, they say, “Trump,” in gold letters. (Inaudible). But the idea being that Muslims, hey man, all he’s saying is they’re evil and shouldn’t be allowed in this country. He’s just telling it like it is, but God forbid you say, “Happy Holidays” in December. It’s f—ing war. So who is it who’s exactly sensitive here? We’re only talking about what are the trigger points and the trigger points, to me, seem to be, on one side, grounded in a certain reality of life that only those with no experience or empathy towards what those individuals are going through are having and the other seems to be a clinging to a societal paradigm that just doesn’t exist anymore and probably never did. When was America great? What is this time that he speaks of, ‘81 to ‘82? Like what are we talking about, and who took your country away from you?

AXELROD: Yeah.

STEWART: Whose country, you know, whose is it?

AXELROD: Yeah.

STEWART: Take up…

AXELROD: Well those…

STEWARET: …take up the argument with the founders, take it up with the age of reason. That’s the, you know, “All men are created equal,” that’s f—ed the whole thing up.

AXELROD: Yeah. The, you know the thing that they – I think the people who are rallying to him would say – I mean, some of it is just, I think, grounded in pure racism, and nativism, and all of that, but there also is the fact that the economy; you mentioned globalism, technology…

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

AXELROD: …has made a lot of jobs obsolete that…

STEWART: Right.

AXELROD: …you didn’t need a college education. These kids are going to do great.

STEWART: No. I don’t – I don’t know about that.

AXELROD: Well, there are – there are…

STEWART: I’m not that impressed with you guys.

AXELROD: …three or four who aren’t going to do great and you know who you are.

STEWART: They might do great or they might not.

AXELROD: But, I mean, my point is this, we haven’t paid enough attention, as a country, to how we shepherd this change and make opportunity more broadly avail– I think education is a piece of it. he’s not speaking to that, but that’s really the debate we should be having in this country, is what are we going to do with this big revolutionary change that has left a lot of people behind?

STEWART: Right. But, you have a situation in government that makes that very difficult, if government is. The fallacy of this whole thing, and maybe it’s a leftover for the Marshall Plan and everything else, and the nostalgia for the World War II era, is that America can actually control things in a matter that is tidy. This idea, somehow, that we can control – we live in a post-colonial world. We no longer have a western frontier. Like, that’s just reality. And, globalization is not a question of – American policy cannot – that box has been opened and the problem with globalization is not that America hasn’t handle it, it’s that corporate America would prefer – money travels, people don’t. so, if they can send money to places where they can hire 100 people that’ll work twelve hours a day for two dollars, versus ten people that only work eight hours a day for $15 an hour, what are they going to do? So, this has nothing to do with…

AXELROD: That’s kind of the argument Trump’s been making.

STEWART: Here – but here’s the real political incorrectness. If they really want to be truthful, the problems in this country are not because of Mexicans and Muslims, and if they want to, in any way, confront what’s really going on, the problems in this country is you have one party in America whose sole purpose is to freeze the government and to not fix any of the problems that are associated with it. They have a great game going, which is: government sucks and can’t get the job done, and then they can sit as an impediment to that government and point to their destruction as evidence of their thesis. It’s a great tautology and it’s – for what everyone is saying about the democrats, maybe they’re feckless, maybe they focus too much on identify politics, or they’re not fiscally responsible. At least they’re f—ing trying.

AXELROD: Yeah, well, I’m not going to debate you on that.

STEWART: You know what? You’re not the same without the mustache.

AXELROD: I know, but thank God you took up the facial hair so we can still carry the torch out there.

STEWART: I appreciate that.

AXELROD: Well, talk – I want to talk a little bit about Hillary Clinton, but…

STEWART: Who?

AXELROD: …before we do – before we do, you’re obviously – you haven’t lost your edge, you haven’t lost your passion. Have you been restless watching this whole thing, not having the platform that you had? Obviously, you can create a new one, and I want to ask you about whether you’re about to create a new one.

STEWART: No, I’m not – you know, I’m not restless because what I gained from leaving the show, in perspective, of when you are in that soup, it is very hard not to begin to think that the world functions on that currency. There’s only two cities that I know of that are that arrogant and that’s D.C. and Los Angeles, where they truly believe – and we saw it again with Larry Wilmore.

AXELROD: At the White House Correspondents’…

STEWART: At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

AXELROD: I want to ask you about your reaction.

STEWART: Larry Wilmore did the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and everybody went nuts, “My God, he’s done.” With what? “He’s finished.” He’s not running for anything. He’s not finished. “He’ll never get asked back.” I don’t think he gives a sh–.

AXELROD: Right.

STEWART: You know, and when you watch the post-show analysis, it was all based on whether or not he had helped himself; how some of the room had read it, and not, in any way…

AXELROD: A little narcissistic there.

STEWART: But not only narcissistic, but in no way an examination of the foundation of what he was saying, which is: You are an incredibly corrupt and blinded, symbiotic terrarium.

AXELROD: Yeah, I don’t understand why that message wasn’t well received.

STEWART: Here’s the thing, not well received, not received.

AXELROD: Yes.

STEWART: Not noticed.

AXELROD: Now that’s – yes.

STEWART: They did not notice it.

AXELROD: Yeah.

STEWART: What they noticed was, “He didn’t get that many laughs. He really bombed.”

AXELROD: Yeah. Well that’s the weird thing about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner…

STEWART: Yeah.

AXELROD: …because there is this, sort of, strange symbiosis between Hollywood and Washington and they’re similar communities…

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

AXELROD: …and so the actors come to Washington and love to mix with the politicians; the politicians love to mix with the actors, and you know there is a narcissism about those two communities that is very much the same. You did the dinner once, right…

STEWART: Yeah.

AXELROD: …in ‘97?

STEWART: Mm-hmm. I did it right after Imus, and Imus famously made a joke, I guess, about Clinton’s proclivities, and again they said…

AXELROD: For diplomacy, for…?

STEWART: Yes. For reading mostly. I have to watch, obviously we’re in a church, there’s only so far I can go. Or, actually, you know what? I’m out of his jurisdiction, so I can pretty much say whatever I want. He’d be ready to strike me down with lightening, and be like, “Eh, it’s not his house anyway.” I think that the problem is the system is incentivized in all the wrong directions. And, right now, the system is incentivized in the way that a crack dealer is incentivized, which is it can do tremendous damage, but as long as people are buying crack, everything’s good on his block, and I really, I truly believe it’s that corrosive and corrupt. When you have the presidents of networks saying, “Trump is good for business.” When you have the lead anchor of FOX News having to go to Trump’s hotel to make him stop being mean to her, and now he says she’s terrific because they’ve had a dayton (ph), that’s f—ed.

AXELROD: Yeah.

STEWART: You know, I don’t know how you describe – you know, there are heads of networks who have said, “Donald Trump is great for business.” Well, why would you kill the thing that’s great for business?

AXELROD: Well, I asked you that at the beginning and you…

STEWART: Why would you even say what it was?

AXELROD: I asked you at the beginning and you were sort of dismissive about what the role of the media has been. But, what you’re suggesting is that there is an – they have a pecuniary interest the Trump story.

STEWART: Correct. Right? I think what I was responding to, about the role of the media is, can they solve it on their own?

AXELROD: Mm-hmm.

STEWART: But look, television journalism was ahead of the game at the Nixon-Kennedy debate, you know. That’s when the television medium…

AXELROD: That was a while ago.

STEWART: …came into – Right. I was there, you were there.

AXELROD: Yeah. We were pages.

STEWART: …came into effect. Basically, Kennedy understood it a little bit, rudimentary he thought, I should probably wear makeup and Nixon was like, “I look right.” You know, so he went out there and, you know, everybody thought he had hepatitis and that was the end of his career. Since then, an entire industry has risen up as to how to manipulate and skew that medium to the advantage of the politicians and the powerful, and the industry, rather than, in some ways, creating a counterweight to that, have been subsumed by it, and so now it’s a symbiosis. The media is no longer predator and prey, which I think should be the relationship, but a Remora that’s just attached underneath, hoping for crumbs that fall off the shark.

AXELROD: Thought they do – I mean, I watched Trump with George Stephanopoulos yesterday…

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

AXELROD: …who tried to probe – I don’t know if you saw this show, but he was probing him on his various proposals and Trump said, you know he said, “You know your tax plan would be a windfall for the wealthy” and Trump said, “Well, it is now, but once we negotiate, it won’t be anymore.”

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

AXELROD: And just basically shedding all of his…

STEWART: Right.

AXELROD: …positions, so. But he’s being challenged. He’s just – he’s just.

STEWART: No. But it’s – you’re talking about singular, anecdotal moments. You’re talking about floating logs in a torrent. You know, the relentless of the cycle requires an equal counterweight. It can’t – a counterweight does not mean that occasionally, you know, you push back to a small extent as the waters rush by you everywhere else. That’s, I think, where FOX has an advantage, is that they understood that, to take over the cycles, you need to be relentless; you need to be perpetuating your point of view and your propaganda in the same way that people consume it, which is constantly, and self-reinforcingly, and over and over and over again.

AXELROD: Which seems to be (inaudible).