Mr. Good Faith Discovers Bad Faith, Then Doesn't

Mr. Good Faith Discovers Bad Faith, Then Doesn't

Jon Stewart, as America's rising tide of fascism became highly visible during the 2010 midterm election cycle, appealed for logic and compromise. He urged a detached approach to combatting the right's firehose of bad-faith politics. He wondered why we couldn't all just think straight and get along.

Along with Stephen Colbert, Stewart held the politically toothless and unintentionally depressing Rally To Restore Sanity as a new breed of Republicans – radicalized by Barack Obama's dominant 2008 victory and a Democratic sweep of Congress – were primed to sweep into control on the federal and state levels unlike anything the US had seen in generations. State legislatures that had had Democratic majorities for a century suddenly had lopsided Republican majorities that quickly solidified power with gerrymandered maps and unconstitutional restrictions of voting. Republicans were no longer playing games.

Meanwhile, Rally to Restore Sanity attendees held signs that read "I'm Moderately Excited For This" and "Citation Needed." It was a horrifying display by college educated white kids who had no stomach for the fight. They had no intention of getting in the mud with the far right because they were above that. They were too good for it, and they believed in Obama's vision of a post-racial, post-class, post-gender, post-politics politics. I was among these naive, well meaning but completely idiotic little shits. Our good faith was so intense it made the right's bad faith invisible. We did not – or could not – identify the main issue, the weapon that would usher in an era of radical far-right politics. We did not comprehend bad faith.

In the face of a frothing, determined right wing that had taken over the Republican Party after John McCain's humiliating 2008 defeat, Stewart and Colbert urged Americans to "take it down a notch" and reasoned that if 80 percent of U.S. voters held non-extreme views, they could easily defeat the vociferous 20 percent who – it turns out – wanted to unravel democracy and install an authoritarian regime that would not recognize any restraints on its power. Stewart, the funny man, appealed to everyone with a heaping of false equivalence, citing right-wing gun nuts and racists alongside "Marxists actively subverting our Constitution" as the source of America's seemingly intransigent problems.

Days after the Rally to Restore Sanity, Republicans annihilated Democrats, securing a congressional majority that would last nearly a decade and taking a death grip on state-level power. 2010's so-called red wave was powered exclusively by bad-faith politics surrounding abortion rights, nonexistent voter fraud, national debt, and a slight improvement of America's wretched healthcare system in the form of the Affordable Care Act. The Tea Party was an early manifestation of today's bad-faith Republican politics. They didn't care about taxes or the debt (no one cares about the debt). They cared about ending our multicultural democracy and the nation's expansion of rights to groups they loathed. They couldn't say that though.

Recalling Obama-era Stewart's faith in pragmatism and his unwavering commitment to a non-political approach to countering a hyper-political right-wing movement, it was refreshing to see the now grizzled, silver-haired comedian scream this week about a far-right activist's bad faith.

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Stewart was in D.C. advocating for military veterans (his pet cause as of late) who stood to gain health benefits from legislation circulating in the U.S. Senate. You may have seen Stewart ranting and raving in front of cable news cameras when two dozen Senate Republicans withdrew their support for the seemingly politically innocuous bill. Stewart called it a political stunt and rightfully pointed out that the actions of congressional Republicans show they don't give a single shit about the veterans they claim to venerate. Stewart was big mad, as were veterans group who had been told the legislation would pass with no issues. Senate Republicans claimed military veterans still loved them, which may or may not be true. Who cares.

Fascist provocateur Jack Posobiec for some reason showed up in D.C. to debate Stewart (or something, who knows) about the veterans healthcare legislation. It's unclear what was said before a tense exchange between Posobiec and Stewart was filmed. Stewart, screaming and pouring sweat and jabbing his finger at Posobiec, called him out for his bad faith approach to the military legislation. It was nothing short of stunning to watch Stewart, the nation's top advocate for nonthreatening, ineffectual good-faith politics, finally see the right's bad faith. The man who thought we could return to the relative calm of 90s politics if everyone just calmed the fuck down for five minutes had lost his shit and identified our simple by inexorable problem: The power of bad faith politics.

Three weeks after yelling at a little old lady about her bad-faith politics, I can relate. Bad faith can create a directionless anger. You can identify it, call it out, and it doesn't matter. You can't critique a stance that is not a person's actual stance. In that way, bad faith politics are invincible. Vile, dishonest, and often used for the most evil political goals, sure. But also undefeated. You can scream yourself hoarse and the bad faith will stand, unbothered by your impotent rage.

Stewart's recognition of Posobiec's trolling bad faith didn't last long. In a subsequent video posted to Twitter, Stewart apologizes for losing his cool and says he's come to an agreement with Posobiec, who has worked closely with neo-nazi filmmakers and believes Democratic Party elites eat children in a dungeon beneath a D.C. pizza shop. That a far-right online personality and a comic agreed on supporting a piece of congressional legislation doesn't matter in any way. Honestly, who gives a shit? It was a weird and utterly inconsequential spectacle.

Stewart shook hands with his counterpart, who has made a career supporting openly fascist politicians both domestically and internationally and pretends Donald Trump is the titular head of an American workers movement. Stewart saw right-wing bad faith in all its horror and looked away. Perhaps he couldn't process it. Maybe he's still waiting for sanity to be restored while anti-democratic candidates position themselves to end free and fair elections in the United States. It's a bold strategy, Cotton.

Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.