It’s a psychic law of the American workplace: By the time you give your notice, you’ve already left. You’ve checked out, and for the days or weeks that remain, a kind of placeholder-you, a you-cipher, will be doing your job. It’s a law that applies equally to dog walkers, accountants, and spoof TV anchormen. Jon Stewart announced that he was quitting The Daily Show in February 2015, but he stuck around until early August, and those last months had a restless, frazzled, long-lingering feel. A smell of ashes was in the air. The host himself suddenly looked quite old: beaky, pique-y, hollow-cheeky. For 16 years he had shaken his bells, jumped and jangled in his little host’s chair, the only man on TV who could caper while sitting behind a desk. Flash back to his first episode as the Daily Show host, succeeding Craig Kilborn: January 11, 1999, Stewart with floppy, luscious black hair, twitching in a new suit (“I feel like this is my bar mitzvah … I have a rash like you wouldn’t believe.”) while he interviews Michael J. Fox.
Was he leaving us now? Really? Deserting us just as the gargantuan shadow of the Trump campaign, that neo-fascist bouncy castle, began to rise wobblingly over the country? Kick out the Mexicans. Ban the Muslims. Mock the disabled. Restore America. He’s saying what everybody thinks, we’re told. Indeed he is: Trump isn’t a demagogue; he’s a one-man mob. Now, right now, was when we needed Stewart, our great perforator of mental tyrannies. Who else could pick out the semitones in the hot comic drone of the Donald’s voice? Who else could puncture the ideological bloat? Who else could parse this phenomenon for us as it traveled from a joke to beyond a joke to … ?