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Mark Ames on the rally to restore sanity

Written By: - Date published: 7:03 pm, October 31st, 2010 - 28 comments
Categories: class war - Tags: ,

Mark Ames has a very good analysis of the “Rally to Restore Sanity” over at the exiled in which he points out exactly how liberal individualism has decimated itself (and I recommend you read the whole damn thing):

It’s the final humiliating undoing of Enlightenment Idealism that made Liberalism possible–imagine if Jefferson, Diderot, Montesquieu, Madison et al reduced the entire Enlightenment’s struggle against the old feudal order to “I’m against the monarchy because the monarchy’s stupid…but then again, Rousseau makes a fool of himself with his Romanticism, and Tom Paine is so serious with his ‘Rights of Man’, the Revolutionaries are just as crazy as the Monarchists, so rather than join either side and risk opening myself to mockery, I’m just going to stand back and laugh at them all and say, ‘Really? Independence? Everyone is created equal and has the right to pursue happiness? Really, TJ? You sure you want to say that about Bluebeard? Really?” [LAUGH TRACK]…

And he’s got a point. One of the phenomenons of the Hobbit fiasco was the number of liberal commentators who lined up to take pot-shots at the union. Not because of what they stood for but because they just weren’t doing it very well. As Ames makes clear there’s nothing the modern liberal fears more than getting caught standing for something:

Liberals are sure that this somehow makes them smarter and less lame–and indeed, they are less lame, because they are not taking themselves too seriously, which is something they’re very, very proud of. All great political struggles and ideological advances, all great human rights achievements were won by clown-led crowds of people who don’t take themselves too seriously, duh! That’s why they’re following a clown like Stewart, whose entire political program comes down to this: not being stupid, the way the other guys are stupid–or when being stupid, only stupid in a self-consciously stupid way, which is to say, not stupid.

It reminds me of a comment about the Hobbit by sanctuary over at the dimpost the other day:

This is what sticks in my craw about this whole fiasco – New Zealand business can fuck royally to the tune of billions of dollars time after time after time after time after time… And it might rate a mention or two from Russell Brown or Danyl. One small, under-resourced union fighting the good fight for its members makes some mistakes? WHOA! HOLD THE FRONT PAGE FOR A WEEK! No piece of scathing satire is bad enough for the union – they must be crushed beneath the torrent of judgemental scorn of clever middle class wordsmiths.

But back to Ames:

You see, this is why so many cool Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers were so jazzed up about going to the Stewart rally–by definition, they were guaranteed not to look stupid by going to it, because it’s not really a rally. They’re not putting anything on the line. They’re just going to chant the equivalent of that annoying Saturday Night Live Update skit “Really?” No generation ever looked so cool so late in their lives as my generation. We did it! We achieved our dream! We don’t look as stupid as the hippies did when they were in their 40s! Woo-hoo! We still mock ourselves and we’re still self-aware, but best of all, we don’t look stupid by devoting ourselves to ideas or movements that other people might one day laugh at. We won! We won the least-stupid-looking-generation competition! Let’s gather together in an ironic, self-aware way, and celebrate how we’re not really rallying or laying anything on the line–not even now, not even when the whole fucking country is collapsing. What’s our prize, Don?

Meanwhile, behind Door Number 1, the country is in two losing wars and the worst economic crisis in 80 years, behind Door Number 2, over 40 million Americans are on fucking food stamps, behind Door Number 3, millions are being land-transfered out of their property like landless peasants in a banana republic–yeah, it’s bad, whatever dude, it’s always been bad, nothing ever changes much, don’t have a cow, deal with it…

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say a few things that might sound stupid, but bear with me:

1. Collective action is the only possible way to change shit. Large numbers of collectivized nobodies rallying to demand what they want–a better cut of the pie, and a better world to live in. It’s the only thing that power-elites fear and the only way to get them to negotiate. There must be thousands of billionaires’ unions—whether the Chamber of Commerce or the gazillions of libertarian networks—and the only thing they hope and dream about and invest their effort into is planting a seed into your vain Gen-X brain that makes you think it’s lame to collectivize.

Head over to the exiled for Ames’ other words of wisdom.

28 comments on “Mark Ames on the rally to restore sanity ”

  1. Colonial Viper 1

    The Right has never had any problem with stepping forwards and being brutal (and brutish) with their agendas.

    The Left on the other hand, seem to prefer to sing kumbaya around campfires (thanks Michael Moore) and spend far too much time to arguing minutaie on various interminable treatises not worth a damn.

    I admit I did lay into AE for tactically mismanaging and miscalculating their moves. However it is the values and principles which we need to stand strong on and communicate and there, AE was 100% spot on. The operational execution we can improve over time.

    Glad that Helen Kelly and the CTU stood right by AE but yep, many more should have been on the line right there with them.

    Collective action is the only possible way to change shit. Large numbers of collectivized nobodies rallying to demand what they want–a better cut of the pie, and a better world to live in.

    Plus you need the people on the workers side who have the nous and knowledge to organise, lead and negotiate to success.

  2. Vicky32 2

    “and the only thing they hope and dream about and invest their effort into is planting a seed into your vain Gen-X brain that makes you think it’s lame to collectivize.”
    That’s probably the first time I have been glad to be a “baby-boomer!” However it makes me very sad to see how right he is about the Gen-X, Y and Z people… 🙁
    Deb

  3. ianmac 3

    Petrol Companies change their prices constantly so that there is no chance for protest to take aim.
    This Government changes the focus in bits so there is no chance for protest to take aim.
    Mining, Canterbury water, Earthquake Act, Super City, Public Transport, Subsidising Warners, Credit cards, Labour Laws, Privatisation, democracy, unemployment.
    Which one is big enough to settle in our sights and bring a concert of effort? That one? Damn. There is another one now. Or that one. Keep still damn it.

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      Got to coalesce people around values and priorities, not just around the tactical issues of the day.

      At every time that people get annoyed enough about some action/inaction NAT is taking to actually surface, grab them and sign them up to Labour, the Greens, etc.

  4. Carol 4

    On first read I liked the Ames piece and the comparisons with the attacks on AE’s unsuccessful action against the Hobbit.

    But, on (semi-) reflection, I think I’m not totally sold on the argument. It seems lacking in depth…. maybe? I’m a little tired after a day’s work. I can’t quite identify why I’m not happy with the comparisons, but I have some glimmers of ideas:

    Firstly, I don’t agree with over-generalisations about whole generations. I’ve seen plenty of gen x,y,z… whatever… participating in political actions: eg the fairness at work rallies on Oct 20th. And there’s Babyboomers, who I work with and who are in the union, but didn’t go to the rally.

    Also many people who have bought the neoliberal lines on most things, still can join in some things that look a little like collective actions, and for things they believe in…. like consumerism … lining up for the latest IPAD, or the rallies for PJ and the Hobbit and against the unions. The difference is in not putting themselves on the line to challenge the status quo, or those with most economic or policitical power. It’s more about being on the side of the cool people, and the celebrities, maybe?

    That’s as far as my thoughts have got… but …. maybe I’ll work it out tomorrow???? Or maybe someone else can help me?

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      Like middle management types who believe that because they are on $65,000 or $75,000 p.a., the 90 day right to fire law will never affect them or a family member. And that middle manager might be 31 years old or 51 years old.

      I don’t think that the matter is just about looking cool (or not), although that will influence some. It may however be about recognising and accepting oneself as being “working class” when you have fashioned a self image that you (must somehow) be above that.

      After all, how can one be ‘working class’ and concerned with the stresses and strains of ‘the working class’ when one has a university education and wears a nice YSL shirt and italian tie to work.

      • M 4.1.1

        ‘After all, how can one be ‘working class’ and concerned with the stresses and strains of ‘the working class’ when one has a university education and wears a nice YSL shirt and italian tie to work.’

        Absolutely, until one day their names are selected for a redundancy list and they’re scratching to make ends meet, and, if they’re the wrong side of forty, not pretty enough or whatever the requirement is for that day then no 65k or 75k job for them.

        • Lazy Susan 4.1.1.1

          I think that the erosion of real wages and conditions of the middle class has been as equally extreme as that of the working class. People in white collar jobs such as banking, insurance, local government, media etc. have been going backwards for the last 20 odd years. They’ve bought into the aspirational notion that someday they could get the top job and get the big money – just work hard and keep their noses clean. They’ve used debt to get the nice house, car and other trappings; to keep themselves one rung up from the working class and have felt reasonably OK about their lot

          The GFC in 2008 was the start of “the great de-leveraging” of the global debt mountain that has been building up since the end of the 2nd World War. Governments have intervened to temporarily stall this but they are only delaying the inevitable. As property prices and the banking system collapse the middle classes are being hit hard. This is already happening in the US and will happen here. The great middle class dream is being shattered and they are becoming angry – the question is who that anger is directed towards? In the USA it appears, unfortunately, that people are turning against each other rather than working together against the elites. I understand Ames point and have sympathy with it. Better though for the left to try and educate and win over their fellow citizens rather than simply turn their anger back on them. This, I think, is what the “Rally to Restore Sanity” was trying to achieve.

    • Bill 4.2

      All Ames is really saying is that in the same way that some punks bought their ‘punk’ from E.M.I. and wound up as accountants, so Hanks bought a slick Washington PR package expecting deliverance and wound up as disillusioned.

      Hanks bought into a middle class, even messianic version of the left and ‘mainstream’ activism (‘the brand’ as Ames calls it)…the Obama, the democrats, the reformism as an end in itself etc… And she’s discovered that that’s all a crock. But instead of seeking more effective strategies to further ideas or ideals she believes in, she is allowing her cynicism to confuse ‘the personal is political’ to mean that the political is entirely embodied within the personal (rather than interpreting the phrase as intended which was simply to point out that people can’t develop movements that will see an end of racism/sexism etc if they act in racist/sexist ways.)

      In effect, you might say she is foregoing politics in preference for pointless righteousness.

      As for the Rally For Sanity. Fucking inane. Ames does make the point that it simply doesn’t have a point. And a jester leading a spectacle of liberal fools would in my mind be a reasonable take on it. ( Unless there were specific issues that I just didn’t hear about?)

      As for criticising aspects of the union campaign. Why not? Positive criticism is a very good avenue for learning.

      For a well thought out criticism of liberalism, I’d recommend this excerpt from Chris Hedges’ book Death of the Liberal Class and if you have the bandwidth, this interview and follow up debate on the same

  5. This is what sticks in my craw about this whole fiasco – New Zealand business can fuck royally to the tune of billions of dollars time after time after time after time after time… And it might rate a mention or two from Russell Brown or Danyl. One small, under-resourced union fighting the good fight for its members makes some mistakes? WHOA! HOLD THE FRONT PAGE FOR A WEEK! No piece of scathing satire is bad enough for the union – they must be crushed beneath the torrent of judgemental scorn of clever middle class wordsmiths.

    I didn’t reply to Sanctuary at the time but I’ll make my point here: attacking free market ideology and crony capitalism have pretty much been the defining themes of my blog for the last couple years. They’re subjects I now hesitate to write about because I write about them so much and I don’t want just keep repeating myself. The unions? I guess I mention them like, once every three months. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve satirised them.

    Robert MacNamara said (of the US invasion of Iraq, I paraphrase slightly) that if the US could not convince allies with similar interests and similar values to their own that their cause was right then they should re-examine their own assumptions. If the union movement cannot convince someone as astute and sympathetic to their cause as Russell Brown then it needs to re-examine its assumptions, not throw a temper tantrum and accuse him of class treason, or any of the other nonsense that’s been thrown his way in the last week.

    • IrishBill 5.1

      I made a similar point about how AE needed to reach out to potentially sympathetic supporters in my post of October the 2nd.

      However in retrospect I don’t think anybody needs to convince Russell of anything and I certainly don’t see him as the left man on the clapham omnibus as you seem to. I also think it’s significant he’s chairing a “panel discussion” at the SPADA conference which looks like it’s going to be nothing more than a bitchfest about the union.

      You’ve got a fair point about your blog though, it’s a favourite of mine and I don’t think you could be considered anti-union at all.

      • pollywog 5.1.1

        I don’t think anybody needs to convince Russell of anything and I certainly don’t see him as the left man on the clapham omnibus as you seem to.I also think it’s significant he’s chairing a “panel discussion” at the SPADA conference

        translation : the guy is full of himself, ain’t worth shit to the left and is basically looking to feather his own nest by sucking up to ‘the man’…

        ahhh…good ‘ol Russell “wheres the free beers” Brown.

        gotta love his hustle.

        🙂

  6. A 6

    If anything, the Ames article seems to orbit around the issue without ever stating it clearly.

    Here it is: the leftish commitment to countercultural individualism, identity politics and the politics of personal authenticity (otherwise known as not being defined by “the man”) is not only compatible with neoliberalism, it is neoliberalism.

    That, in a nutshell, is why the left never seems to gain any traction. It’s adopted the core of its opponents’ ideology and expends all its energy in self deception and conspiracy theories trying to hide that fact from itself.

    When you think about it, it is quite funny.

    Pretty obvious that it will require a whole lot more than a media makeover to fix the problems exposed by the Hobbit fiasco.

    • Carol 6.1

      That, in a nutshell, is why the left never seems to gain any traction. It’s adopted the core of its opponents’ ideology and expends all its energy in self deception and conspiracy theories trying to hide that fact from itself.

      Actually, it happened the other way around. That is what has made it so difficult for the left. In the 60s, idenitity politics, countercultural ideals etc., were drawn into a movements built on class politics (especially in the UK, Euope, NZ & Aussie) and civil rights (in the US). They became part of a broad political agenda working for class equality and social justice, based in neo-Marxist theories.

      Then in the 70s, in the forging of neoliberalism, the leaders of the neoliberal revolution found it useful to adopt a version of identity politics and counter-culture ideals. This is because it made a fairly easy fit with economic neoliberalism, by re-casting the counter-culture values in totally individualistic terms of social liberalism. It meant that it was relatively easy to win over those who had made identity issues and counter-culture values part of their ideals and everyday lives. This involved a shift from those values as part of collective activism to a totally individualistic focus on them: i.e taking the wider political collective activism out of the “personal is political”.

      Both Naomi Klein and David Harvey have written about this appropriation by neoliberalism of an individualistic form of identity politics and counterculture values.

      • A 6.1.1

        “Actually, it happened the other way around”.

        That’s part of the mythmaking I was talking about. There is no distinction other than a rhetorical one between “authentic counterculture” and “co-opted counterculture”. They are the same. The counterculture and its authenticity inspired revolt against the evils of conformity and the mass society is the spirit of capitalism in a purer form. After all, the intensity of status competition and the resulting consumption is much greater than anything the old patrician forms of status competition could manage.

        Just look at the amount people spend on organic vegetables. And many of these people claim to oppose capitalism at the same time they pay 50 bucks for “alternative” tea.

        Worthless, self-deceived hypocrites the lot of them.

        • Colonial Viper 6.1.1.1

          If you are advocating increasing this maybe you should read your Keynes…

          Capitalism provides us with cheap shite corporate mass sourced tea imported from the lowest cost foreign countries using low wage labour working with no minimum employment and work/chemical safety standards.

          Surely its not hypocritical to oppose this?

          Same with organic vegetables. It could be argued quite easily that pre-mass market food manufacture *all* vegetables were organic, and that is something to aspire to. Although of course growing your own in the backyard would be better than buying organic versions at your local M&S.

          • Vicky32 6.1.1.1.1

            “Although of course growing your own in the backyard would be better than buying organic versions at your local M&S.”
            Absolutely, if it’s at all possible! (That’s what my parents did, but they owned their own house, and my father was particularly gifted in that area.)
            However, although I would like to buy organic and Fairtrade, I simply can’t afford it. Doing the right thing becomes a middle class luxury, which is bad.
            Deb

    • Draco T Bastard 6.2

      Here it is: the leftish commitment to countercultural individualism, identity politics and the politics of personal authenticity (otherwise known as not being defined by “the man”) is not only compatible with neoliberalism, it is neoliberalism.

      The cult of individualism and difference forgetting that we can’t live without society and that all the basics that everyone needs are exactly the same. Fighting between groups within the society will destroy the society making most worse off rather than making them all better off.

      There is, of course, one group that will “win” and that’s the group that’s quite happy to fuel the stupidity and that’s the psychopathic capitalist group. As people fight for their individual rights these people will take the wealth that would allow them to actually be themselves within a caring society.

      • Bill 6.2.1

        “Fighting between groups within the society will destroy the society making most worse off..”

        By ‘fighting’, I guess you are referring to a competition of ideas where one idea is found to be right (either because it is genuinely better or because it has more leverage) and the others are discarded?

        Whatever happened to curiosity; to the ability to explore a situation or problem without trying to force it to a preconceived conclusion?

        Society and cultures needs to change to avoid stagnation (obviously), but using competing ideas as the vehicle for change always delivers limits (ie the parameters of the dominant idea) rather than expansive and fluid solutions.

        The trick would be to develop strategies that do not lead to the crystallisation inherent to new orthodoxies; strategies that encourage fluidity and avoid any concentration of power in the hands of those who advocate any particular action or perspective (the priest, politician, business ‘man’, shaman, professional…).

        Thankfully but contentiously, we have the strategy at our disposal if we choose to use it.

        Democracy that is not subject to the various asymmetries inherent to, and that flow from hierarchy is sitting right there for us to develop and hone. Unfortunately, such a move would have to take place in spite of the pseudo democracy we labour beneath at the moment. And as such would be perceived as a direct challenge to it and therefore run the risk of being contaminated by an urge, encouraged by ingrained habit born of current orthodoxies, to compete for ascendency.

        And this is perhaps where the ‘personal is political’ comes into play again?

  7. deemac 7

    Jon Stewart is not a politician, he’s a satirist. He does it damn well. It’s not his job to lead the left/liberals. Seems pretty unreasonable to put such a demand on him.

    • Pascal's bookie 7.1

      And their target isn’t politicians, it’s the media.

    • And Ames’ piece overlooks the role that satire has played in building awareness at the frailty of the elites amongst countless populations, and produced some of the world’s greatest writers, particularly from Europe.

      And it gets the argument arse-backwards.

      The populace has a tolerance for “serious” discussion (the quotation marks recognise I’m including talkback in that description) only for so long as it reinforces what they already think. Any attempt to convince them of an alternate point of view tends to be dismissed as a boring diatribe.

      One of the most effective ways of bringing about a re-evaluation of comfortably-held beliefs is through satire. The audience essentially thinks “Ha! That’s ridiculous. But hold on… I kinda think that… and people are laughing at it and thus, by extension, at me. And since I can see the joke, maybe they have a point…”

      Ames is right that no one wants to be mocked. So if you believe Donald Rumsfeld about the war, and Rumsfeld is constantly (and accurately) mocked, by extension you feel you’re being mocked, and you’ll at least take the trouble to examine whether you can defend Rumsfeld when your workmates repeat the latest “Daily Show” gag about him.

      Having helped weaken the blind adherence to dogma that stands in the way of change, deemac is right – Stewart has done as much as could be expected of him.

      The fact that the left is presently incapable of producing an effective, inspirational leadership to take advantage of that isn’t Stewart’s fault. And as long as it can’t, the disillusioned won’t put anything on the line because they’re not being asked to in a way which makes them respond.

  8. IrishBill 8

    Just got around to reading the Ames piece. It’s a nice piece of rhetoric but I’m not sure I agree with it, if anything the rally strikes me as an event that could be built on. As for the Hobbit? Frankly I’ll be happy if I never hear the word “hobbit” again.

  9. john 9

    Some observations about Mark Ames article and the Historical Depression now affecting the US.
    Politics
    1. Real Politics died in the US decades ago why? The Republicans and Democrats are the two heads of a one party state. Real alternatives such as Ralph Nader never get a look in.
    2. The media is corporate controlled and purveys the corporate view on all aspects of society.
    3. In my opinion,others may disagree, John Stewart is a corporate controlled clown who in reality trivialises serious issues ,which if treated properly would be very unpc and uncool.
    4. Part of this death of real politics is the manipulative emphasis on image and brand rather than real issues. Refer John Key here he’s very careful to keep his smiling unsullied by real issues image going at all times and people buy it! Even though he’s heading one of the most extreme right wing governments since the 90s.
    5. The US is a police state, they arrest people for the most trivial things like protesting.Organising alternatives is dangerous to life and limb,(Look at JFK and his brother Robert, Martin Luther King)(Anyway grassroots doesn’t have the cash the corporate parties have!)most don’t think the dumbed down American populace are worth it! Like Socialism is Communism! Iraq was behind 911! And the Christian extremists who think the World was made 6000 years ago! Why put your life on the line for people so alienated from each other they have guns at home?
    6. So real politics died a long time ago so why could or should that lady treat it other than a brand of consumer choice?

    NeoLiberalism
    1. This ideology has made a declining situation infinitely worse:
    2. Close to 50,000 factories off-shored to Asia principally China
    3. A tax regime which favours the already rich so much wealth is crazily skewed in the US.
    4 The common good plundered by privatization adnauseum,meaning wealth continues upwards relentlessly.
    5. An attitude of extreme individualism without comprehension of working and surviving together.
    6. Unions are busted by off-shoring and extreme prejudice from employers.

    One could go on and on, yet this government sends Paula to learn corporate responsibility from them! It’s the Corporate/Goverment fascist state that’s killing America! They’re both in and out of bed together like a Brian Rix Farce!

    • john 9.1

      Ralph Nader who could have offered a fresh new alternative for Americans comments here on American’s “Corporate Serfdom” Refer link:
      http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article26719.htm

    • john 9.2

      Hi this is a comment to Mark Ames’ piece in exiledonline. It’s by an American living in Czechoslovakia . This is humour so don’t take it too seriously!

      “Aren’t Americans just idiots in general? Don’t take offense to this Exile readers as most of you are smart enough to understand and enjoy the cynicism and criticism that is expressed here. But honestly, how many Americans do you meet that are coherent of what is going on at the most fucked up levels of government and the damage its done to society?

      I’ve been living in Europe for five years now, so I have a more positively skewed view of Americans who at least want to see the world a bit, but most of them are pretty ignorant of what’s going on.

      Here in the Godforsaken hipster capital that is Prague I see so many carbon copy young Americans trying to manufacture an original experience and persona while still clinging onto their hamburger and french fry eating, ipod wearing ways that its taught me something. Americans are too fearful to stand up to their inner fears and try to make change, even when they travel thousands of miles to get away. Or in this example, go to a rally to express a desire to make change.

      They walk right up to the precipice, take a look at the unknown void below, and then they turn around and run back to the warm embrace of a paternalistic system which makes their fears go away at the cost of any sort of liberty or justice.

      Its simply not programmed into most Americans to look deeply into a situation and take action. They can always rationalize government and corporate theft by telling themselves that they’ve still got enough to be comfortable. They feign political activism to address that subconscious gnawing inside of them which knows their system is fucked, but they do just enough to quiet it and never silence it.

      And these are the GOOD Americans who are at least halfway intelligent and active. The majority of Americans are obese assholes that live in backwards suburbs amongst strip malls, tract housing, office buildings, and a KFC/Taco Bell.

      Their understanding of the world revolves around whats on TV, how their football team is doing, which microwave meal to zap up for dinner, washing their truck, spending time with their fat family and friends, and listening to hate speech at Church every Sunday.

      To think that these people choose the world’s most important politicians is frightening due to their shocking ignorance. They have no experience with the outside world, so they take what the TV/Pastor tells them as truth. They don’t know any Muslims, they don’t know any gays, they don’t know where Iraq is or care about why we have been fighting an ongoing war there for eight years.

      Its basically a bunch of dumb, ignorant, boring drones that have had so much shit programmed into their head that they don’t know nor care about anything aside from their small cheap pleasures such as Sunday night 2 for $20 at Applebee’s, the new flatscreen coming out at Best Buy, beers with their fat violent friends during the football game, and trying to get ahead at their shitty insignificant job.

      These people are so fucked up and stupid that they’ll do whatever their Church tells them to do. They abhor fags, they love guns, and they hate Muslims– so the Republican Party and Tea Party get their vote, and they’ll stomp heads to make sure that what want is enforced.

      Modern Day America is the story of a sad, wasted existence. On one side you have the people who sort of get it but don’t have the balls to do anything about it and on the other side you have the fat, stupid, ignorant, assholes that have the righteous conviction to fuck shit up for everyone else.

      In the crevices between the wavering masses lie the people that get it: one side that tries to spur others to action, and the other side that says fuck it all and gets the hell out. I’m proud to say that I’m of the second group. Life’s too short to have to wait for ignorant people to combine balls with knowledge and do what needs to be done to make real changes. I’ll be drinking a cheap Czech beer at the corner bar if things ever come together.”

  10. Jon Stewart was amazing his speech at the end was mindblowing.

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