I think Stewart's rally is an admirable effort, and I appreciate what he's trying to do. I think his closing speech in the video above is well-wrought piece of demonstrative oratory designed to define the Aristotelian mean--that sane midpoint between the crazy extremes that we all recognize as the place where human decency and sanity live. And so he's right to affirm the basic decency of the majority of Americans and to point out how that decency is not reflected in most of the media narratives we see and hear week in and week out. But then there's really no need to restore sanity; this has been more about reminding us about what has always been true about most Americans.
That beings said, it must also be pointed out that such an affirmation doesn't move us forward because it misidentifies the problem. Lack of civility in our political discourse isn't the real issue, and to make it the focus is likely not to disturb even a little the media and power elites who are the cause of the real problems we face.
Yes, being civil is necessary for ordinary Americans to get through a week at work or on the commute home. But the whole idea that a return to civility would actually help us to get more done in Washington is just silly. The power elite in the country could care less about the attitudes and preferences of decent Americans. Con men look for decency in people because their decency makes them easy marks. Decent people assume most other people, even bad people, are like they are until irrefutable evidence proves otherwise. They stretch themselves to give people who persistently behave badly the benefit of the doubt, and predators know and take advantage of that. Well the predators are running things now. They're not necessarily our elected officials, but our elected officials are on their payroll.
Lack of civility, therefore, has almost nothing to do with our problems; the underlying architecture of wealth and power has almost everything to do with them. The conflict-oriented media narratives that continuously confront us are not meant to reflect reality, but to distract us from it. They are intentional choreography; the pundit dancers may not be aware of it, but the people who hire them are. These narratives are designed to provide faux stimulation that keeps the public focused on everything and anything except what really matters when it comes to the way power and money work in this society.
Do Stewart and most of the people at his rally understand that? Maybe, and it's ok if they just don't see these deeper issues as within their scope. I understand that, and in the meanwhile it's fine to reaffirm that most Americans are sane and decent. But it doesn't change anything; it doesn't channel the energy and decency in that crowd to get the decent things done that need to be done. The sanity agenda is toothless, and it's something that power and money elites see as just another distraction that keeps the focus away from them and their predations. They have no reason to fear decent people; but they would fear clear-thinking, motivated people who are getting organized to restructure the system that has given these elites a disproportionate share of the nation's power and wealth.
It's not Stewart's role to lead such a movement, so I'm not knocking him, but it would be nice if someone would emerge who had the credibility and political savvy to play such a role.