Jon Stewart has a show on Apple TV called “The Problem with Jon Stewart.” It’s basically just “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” minus the accent and with the addition of some guests. Each week, Stewart sets up a new problem which he’s going to tackle. So far this season he’s looked at COVID restrictions, gun control, climate change, the media and this week’s topic: The Problem with White People.
Stewart opened the show with a 16-minute monologue basically embracing every conceivable progressive trope on the topic of racism up to and including what is now usually called wokeness. One of his guests was one of the founders of Race2Dinner, the small business which allows white women to hire in-home demagogues who, for a substantial fee, will explain to white guests why they are all racists.
But every good bit of TV needs a villain and in that role Stewart cast Andrew Sullivan. As you might expect, things did not go well for Sullivan who agreed to do the show at the last minute when he was told it would not be a show in which he’d be called a racist but would be a discussion between just him and Stewart. At the last minute, the show’s booker revealed there were actually other guests, including the Race2Dinner woman, but Sullivan decided not to back out and leave Stewart in the lurch believing he’d keep things professional.
But that’s not what happened. Here’s a bit of the argument in which Stewart first suggests Sullivan isn’t living on the same planet and then hands it over to the Race2Dinner lady to explain that all white people, whether progressive or members of the KKK, are equally guilty of white supremacy. Stewart responded enthusiastically to the idea of collective guilt saying “if I could finger-snap I would finger-snap.” When Sullivan pointed out that she was essentially calling him a racist, Stewart replied, “You’ve been doing a pretty good job with it yourself there.”
Jon Stewart has gone full Woke and is catering to the “anti-racist” activists that are perpetuating the same racist ideology that they claim to fight against.
He applauds a “White Fragility” rant and suggests Andrew Sullivan is a racist for not agreeing with the Woke narrative. pic.twitter.com/hFl1Y87Q1D
— Mythinformed MKE (@MythinformedMKE) March 29, 2022
Yesterday, Sullivan wrote a lengthy post about his experience on the show, from how he agreed to do it to how it quickly went downhill.
At that point, it became clear that Stewart was not conducting a televised debate, but initiating a struggle session. The point of the session was not to discuss anything, but to further enforce the dogma he had pronounced. So I found myself in the equivalent of one of those workplace indoctrination seminars — in which any disagreement is regarded as a form of “hate” or “ignorance.” But worse: I was in a struggle session with a live mob sitting in, cheering and jeering, which Stewart led and orchestrated. For good measure, Stewart called me a racist and told me I was not “living in the same fucking country as we are,” and went on to angrily call me a “motherfucker.”
I’m a big boy, and smiled through these assaults, but it does strike me as astounding that someone who once insisted that he believed in good-faith debates and not circus-like theater, someone who postured as open-minded, and disdainful of silly political grandstanding, behaved this unprofessionally. Stewart’s show made the old Carlson-Begala Crossfire seem like a model of substantive and elevated debate.
Stewart goes on to say that the entire structure of the show seems built upon a rhetorical structure that is now widespread and growing.
The entire dynamic of the show mirrored, it seems to me, the dynamic of the imposition of critical race theory across our society. You can see the technique everywhere. You start with the obscenity of slavery; you talk constantly of history; you lay out Reconstruction, lynching, Jim Crow, segregation and the other brutalities of the past. So far, so good. That’s vital work — and we should pay tribute and close attention to it. But the point of CRT is not to educate people about how appallingly African-Americans were once treated in this country, to construct an account of the progress since then, to note the Americans of all races who helped make a difference, and then to propose specific policies that might help move us further forward, into a more perfect union.
No, the whole point is to insist that this history is still the reality, that the structure of American society is no different in kind than in 1619, and that its democracy was designed from the beginning to brutalize non-whites forever. This is what we’re debating. No one is trying to minimize the pain of black suffering over the centuries, or debate whether systemic racism existed in America. Of course it did. And it lasted a hell of a long time. What we’re debating is how much those previous systems — repealed in their entirety nearly 60 years ago — explains resilient inequality today.
If you watch how the debate develops (see below), Sullivan argued that “white supremacy” was hyperbole as a description of 2022 America. “For most people that means the KKK. It means no rights for minorities,” Sullivan said. Stewart then asked the Race2Dinner woman to offer her definition. She said our systems had been designed with white people in mind “and only white people in mind.” Stewart then asked if Sullivan was saying the racist systems weren’t purposeful or that they didn’t exist. When Sullivan said they didn’t exist that’s when the tone of the debate turned and Stewart started offering examples like redlining and the GI Bill. Sullivan agreed that was a good example and Stewart seemed to get frustrated. In his piece about the show, Sullivan explained the point he was trying to make.
So when I asked Stewart to delineate “structural racism,” he reflexively listed a bunch of “systems” that no longer exist: post-war redlining, the GI bill, and so on. I fumbled in response, to my shame. That’s what happens when you’re rattled and tired and not prepped for an inquisition. But my core point is that in America in 2022, the only formal legal systems that openly advocate race discrimination are discriminating in favor of African-Americans, not against them. Affirmative action was only supposed to be a temporary diversion from liberal principles. It’s now a permanent system of race discrimination to favor blacks over every other demographic, disproportionately harming Asian-Americans. The federal government now enforces it across every department.
In other words, if we’re going to have a debate about whether America is a white supremacy in 2022, you can’t keep pointing to Jim Crow and redlining which were things that were formally ended around the time both Stewart and Sullivan were born.
By contrast, Stewart’s argument against Sullivan went like this: “You’re taking words out of context and blowing them out of proportion so that you don’t have to deal with having to figure out a way to deconstruct the barriers that were put in place for black people in this country.” And of course what he’s leaving out is that many of those barriers he keeps bringing up have already been deconstructed. Slavery is long gone. Jim Crow is gone. We passed a whole bunch of laws in the 1960s to eliminate barriers like redlining (The Fair Housing Act). The current version of the GI Bill, known as the Montgomery GI Bill has been in place for nearly 40 years and is available to everyone who qualifies. The point is, many barriers have been deconstructed so pointing back at them as if that hadn’t happened isn’t a great argument. On the contrary, it suggests America has been trying to rid itself of white supremacy for quite a while.
Of course it’s fair to argue there are lingering impacts of racist systems from 60 or 160 years ago. You can argue that it’s not enough to remove the barriers you need to also make up for the disadvantages those barriers caused (which is basically the argument for reparations). But that’s not the same as saying every white person alive today is perpetuating a system of white supremacy regardless of whether they’re in the KKK or voted for Bernie Sanders. I don’t think everyone really accepts that or thinks it’s a reasonable approach.
You can’t have a substantive debate about these issues if all you’re offering is applause lines that assume we’re still living in 1952. Progressives want to pretend there aren’t any problems with their arguments around race, or that only a racist would object to their brilliant points. To me it looks like a clear case of cultural cognition. They’re ignoring the problems and stigmatizing those who raise them because doing that is a lot easier (and more fun in front of an audience of like-minded people) than acknowledging their arguments still need some work.
Here’s the panel discussion portion of the show.