Last Week Tonight’s Season Finale Shows You Three Ways to Spot Authoritarian Leaders

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“What the fuck is happening in the world and why?” This is the question that John Oliver attempts to help answer in the season finale of Last Week Tonight as the main segment addresses the global trend towards authoritarian leaders. The host does this by identifying three common traits that these leaders have that makes them appealing to people, not unlike the last season finale which zoomed in one Trump’s three worst tactics.

Using various examples, from Russia to Brazil to the Philippines, Oliver identifies the three traits as:

  • Projecting Strength: This includes “grand displays of force” like military marches, or workout videos. “Spectacles like those serve a purpose,” says Oliver, “as many authoritarians project strength out of a real concern that they may be seen as illegitimate in kind of the same way that a man who is insecure about his penis buys a motorcycle or takes up bodybuilding or invents the Tesla. How weird is your penis Elon?” The host also elaborates on a tendency among these leaders to draw a connection between individual and national strength.
  • Demonize Enemies: Leaders will “manufacture a group of evildoers” because “when people are frightened, they can be more susceptible to authoritarians.” This fear-mongering can direct a target towards refugees, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, etc.
  • Dismantling Institutions: Is the leader weakening checks? Threatening, imprisoning, or killing journalists?

Yes, Last Week Tonight knows what you’re thinking: Trump’s quite fond of starting fights, bragging about his own strength, attacking the press and manufacturing enemies, and expressing admiration for other authoritarian leaders. That’s why Oliver’s final words are about vigilance:

“The world is dabbling with something very dangerous right now and America needs to be careful. And I know democracy can be, often by design, frustrating. Checks and balances can be irritating and slow and might not deliver the outcome that you wanted but removing them opens the door to something much worse and that is true whether you live in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, Brazil or, yes, the United States.

And I know America is a different country with a different history and thankfully, more resilient institutions. But that is no cause for complacency because the truth is, the honest answer to “Could authoritarianism happen here?” is, and possibly always will be “No. I think. No. Ehhhhhh? Probably not.”

(image: screencap)

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