Thursday is a big night for Fox News. They have whittled down, the still ridiculously large, pool of Republican presidential candidates and John Stewart has signed off forever. The Republican debate is fascinating spectacle. Even though I find most of the participants to be creeps, I was touched a bit by the palpable desperation of the would be presidents. Most potential candidates completely blow off questions in order to distinguish himself from the crowd. Pew Research reveals that the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as “religiously unaffiliated” is about the same as those who report that they attend church weekly. While I don't think religiosity has decreased to the same extent in the U.S. as it has in Western Europe, there is a definite trend and church membership is steadily declining. Even though I expected it, I wonder if all of the Christian rhetoric and literalism is really going fly with religiously indifferent conservative voters.
As much as I deplore Fox News I admit that Megyn Kelly asks a number of provocative questions. An example however of the power that behemoth corporate media wields, is that the choice of the main ten debaters and therefore, ultimately the candidate, completely rests on Fox News calling the shots. The small comfort I guess is that Fox has effectively quashed the candidacies of Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, and Ricks Perry and Santorum. Only ten assholes left to go. Maybe nine as John Kasich demonstrated reason and compassion and therefore of course has no chance of being chosen.
I am not particularly surprised at Donald Trump's popularity. Some might use this as evidence that our country is growing stupider but the star of Bedtime for Bonzo spent two terms in the White House. However to me, showman Trump bears more similarity to P.T. Barnham than Ronald Reagan. I think calling liberal lesbian Rosie O'Donnell a fat pig or claiming “Our leaders are stupid. Our politicians are stupid,” is fine by a number of Americans. The accusation that the Mexican government is smuggling rapists and murderers across the border and we need a big old wall probably satisfies those who bristle at Spanish signage and bilingual ballots. Trump presents himself as a self-made man although he was born into wealth. The majority of Americans, when asked about achieving the American dream dismissed luck or family connections. Trump presents himself as having become powerful and wealthy due only to hard work and wile. Americans just can't let go of this grit and determination narrative, despite tons of empirical evidence to the contrary. Instead of quoting bible verses Trump, who has traveled extensively in liberal circles, attributes his change of heart on the issue of abortion to having known a woman who was considering an abortion but then went ahead and gave birth what turned out to be a “superstar.” No professional politician would dare utter such a thing but it does make the issue more relatable than bible verses for much of the populace.
My suspicion is that Trump will fade away or go Ross Perot. I note that Bill and Hillary, even when asked about his incendiary comments about Mexicans, are very careful not to disparage Trump--a big donor to their foundation. Given how cowed by Trump the Clintons are, a Hillary vs. Donald race would be fun but I predict it won't happen. Following the money trail, it looks likely that it will come down to Dynasty vs. Dynasty. Jeb, unfortunately, is the bottom of the Bush barrel. His stiff, uncomfortable mien evokes a middle school student caught cheating on a math test.
My gut feeling is that the candidates will be Bush and Clinton and that Bernie Sanders is going to break my heart. Still, I am looking forward to are the six Clinton vs. Sanders debate. Sanders, I think, has the same populist appeal that Trump is riding the wave of, but he's the real deal. I will vote for Hillary against any Republican because I think she's right minded on a lot of issues but the advantage she's taken of Citizen's United renders her impotent and beholden. I look forward to Sanders voice reaching beyond the usual suspects and perhaps informing to an extent the Clinton presidency.
I confess that I miss Colbert more than I will likely miss Stewart. Himself despised The Daily Show. Not for the message but for the messenger. Often Stewart's manic shrillness gets on my nerves but at its zenith the show was brilliantly written and unburied a shitload of dirt that the audience likely wouldn't have known about otherwise. While Fox News was the most frequent target, the show often broke ranks and lambasted the liberal side of the aisle, including the disastrous roll out of Obamacare. And without The Daily Show's drawing attention to the matter, chances are the measure insuring heath care for 9/11 first responders would not have become law. Whiny and neurotic, nevertheless, Jon Stewart is very good for the Jews. And I bet his mom's proud.
The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore is uneven and I hope it finds more solid footing. If you can find it on You.Tube there is a Susie Essman monologue about female Viagra which is absolutely brilliant. Wilmore, who created the wonderful Bernie Mac show still seems a bit uncomfortable in front of the camera. Perhaps some of the better Daily Show writers and researchers will end up with Wilmore and he'll find his groove.
The other alternative until the new host of The Daily Show arrives, is John Oliver's HBO series “Last Week Tonight.” The show is much in the vein of The Daily Show, which Oliver hosted while Jon Stewart was off shooting a film. Because its weekly, and not daily, the format is different, segments averaging in the fifteen minute range. The spirit of news comedy lives but despite the spoonful of sugar the show packs a wallop and is probably good enough in itself to merit a subscription to HBO.