Television

John Oliver slams Trump over Charlottesville: Nothing ‘easier than disavowing Nazis’

John Oliver on the “Last Week Tonight” set.
Eric Liebowitz/HBO/File 2017
John Oliver on the “Last Week Tonight” set.

President Trump has drawn widespread criticism from Republicans and Democrats for his initial remarks on the violence in Charlottesville, Va. But few statements were as chilling as John Oliver’s on Sunday night.

The host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” started his opening segment with his usual quirky joking, but ended the eight-minute piece slamming Trump with a somber and, at times, quietly outraged tone.

“There is clearly no point in waiting for leadership from our president at moments like this, because it is just not coming,” Oliver said.

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The comedian was referring to Trump’s statements immediately following violence in which a man drove a car through a crowd of people, killing one woman and injuring at least 19 others. After the violence on Saturday, Trump said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.”

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Trump’s remarks brought on a wave of criticism, including from Republicans and Trump loyalists, for not clearly condemning white supremacists and other hate groups immediately afterwards.

“It simply doesn’t get easier than disavowing Nazis,” Oliver said on Sunday night. “It is almost impossible to screw it up, but that’s exactly what happened.”

The White House released a statement late Sunday afternoon saying that Trump condemns bigotry and hatred, and “of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and all extremist groups.”

Oliver, who appeared to tape Sunday’s show before the second statement was released, said that even if Trump did double back and strengthen his comments, it would be too late.

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“His first response is who he is,” Oliver said. “And the truly infuriating thing is how predictable this was. No one in their right mind ahead of Trump’s response yesterday thought, ‘OK, well, this is going to go well.’”

Oliver, of course, made a few jabs at Trump’s expense before his segment-ending monologue, noting that former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke told reporters that white nationalists were working to ‘‘fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.’’

“David Duke and the Nazis really seem to like Donald Trump,” Oliver said, adding, “Nazis are a lot like cats: If they like you, it’s probably because you’re feeding them.”

Oliver also analyzed Trump’s press conference on Saturday, in which the president had two extra chances to disavow the white supremacists, but instead ignored shouted questions from reporters.

“He had one last shot before the buzzer on the racism clock hit zero, and he threw an air ball so far away it landed in the Third Reich,” Oliver joked.

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Oliver also pointed out that neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer seemed to think highly of Trump’s initial remarks, as it wrote: “He didn’t attack us. . . No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”

Oliver then cut in, joking: “To which God immediately released a statement saying, ‘I unequivocally condemn the Nazis who invoked my name. Their beliefs and actions in no way reflect the glory of my creation,’” leading to cheers and applause from his audience.

He also pointed out that Trump staying silent and walking out of the room as reporters asked him about white nationalists supporting him was a statement in and of itself.

“If you had asked me, ‘Have you ever been aroused by the fairies in Zelda: Ocarina of Time?’ and I responded by slowly and silently walking away from you, you would know exactly what I was saying,” Oliver said.