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With his show wrapping up for the season, John Oliver took a hard line against President Trump, warning viewers of the need to see through the president’s way of handling controversy.
In the Season 5 finale on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver acknowledged that although speaking about Trump yet again “feels exhausting,” it was crucial to understand “how our leaders engage with us, and in turn, how we engage with one another.”
Oliver started by reading from the transcript of one of Trump’s speeches, in which the president hopscotched through topics quickly and without any logical transitions.
“When you strip away his blindly confident entertaining delivery, it is staggering how incoherent he is,” Oliver said. “That is not a functional use of language — that is a drunk driver crashing a pickup truck of alphabet soup. An iPhone would be a more coherent president of the United States.”
Oliver then adopted a slightly more serious tone to deliver a three-pronged argument about how Trump insulates himself from criticism and consequence: “If we’re not extremely careful, all three could have serious impacts that far outlast his presidency.”
First, Oliver said, Trump tries to delegitimize the mainstream media, comparing the president to a baby.
“He has been attacking the press since his candidacy. And in a broader sense, he’s been waging a war on the very concept of truth ever since he first turned to his mom and said ‘Dada,’ and she said ‘No, I’m Mama,’ and he said ‘fake news’ and [expletive] his pants,” Oliver said to laughter. “The difference now is, he is crying ‘fake news’ as the president of the United States.”
Second, Oliver noted that Trump and his followers tend to lapse into something the comedian called “Whataboutism,” or “the practice of changing the subject to someone else’s perceived wrongdoing.”
Oliver pointed to when Trump was asked about not forcefully condemning the violence in Charlottesville, when the president responded, “What about the alt-left that came charging?”
Oliver called the tactic “dangerous.”
“It implies all actions, regardless of context, share a moral equivalency, and since nobody is perfect, all criticism is hypocritical and everybody should do whatever they want,” he said. “It is a depressingly effective tool.”
Oliver also chastised Fox News Channel hosts who often use the technique to change the subject when confronted with negative stories about the president.
“A defense attorney could not stand up in court and say, ‘Maybe my client did murder those people, but I ask you this: What about Jeffrey Dahmer? What about Al Capone? What about the guy from Silence of the Lambs? I rest my case here, people. I rest my case.’”
Oliver said the technique “doesn't solve a problem or win an argument; the point is just to muddy the waters.”
Third, Oliver said, Trump embraces being a “troll,” a slang term for someone who intentionally makes offensive or provocative online posts. He pointed to Trump’s tweets about figuratively punching CNN, claiming that Mika Brzezinski was “bleeding badly from a face-lift,” and even calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “short and fat.”
“Judging your political success on how bad you make other people feel makes just about as much sense as judging your success as a zookeeper by how many bears you [fornicate with],” Oliver said.
The comedian turned somber as he noted the importance of Americans recognizing these avoidance tactics.
“The problem is, if that becomes the level of discourse in this country, we are seriously and lastingly [screwed],” he said, adding that if it continues to spiral, the result would be “the erosion of our ability to decide what’s important, have an honest debate, and hold one another accountable.”
Oliver also briefly celebrated the Democratic victories in Tuesday’s municipal and gubernatorial elections, but urged his viewers not to become complacent.
“The Trump presidency is basically a marathon: It’s painful, it’s pointless, and the majority of you didn’t even agree to run it, you were just signed up by your dumbest friend,” he quipped. “There is a long way to go, and though you’re exhausted and your whole body is screaming at you to give up and your nipples are chafing for some reason, the stakes are too high for any of us to stop.”