Last Week Tonight had a lot to cover this week, addressing Trump’s horrendous attitude towards Puerto Rico (which he cannot pronounce), Rex Tillerson, and news sites accidentally drawing phallic illustrations.
John Oliver tackled the reveal of Harvey Weinstein’s multiple accounts of sexual harassment one year after Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape, which you can watch in the full episode. The host calls the response from Weinstein and his colleagues “infuriating” and comments on the producer’s “it was a different time” excuse. He says, “Your excuse isn’t an excuse. In fact, it isn’t even an excuse for that behavior in the ’60s! ‘Well, back then we had no idea women didn’t want to be forced to look at dicks. That wasn’t discovered by scientists until 1998!'”
Going through the details of the allegations that have followed, Oliver says, “Step aside Chocolat, you are no long the most horrifying picture that Weinstein has ever produced.”
The main story of the episode, however, was the Confederacy—specifically the purpose of Confederate statues and what place they have in our nation. While these statues have always been contested, that dialogue reached the national level after the white nationalist Charlottesville rally. Several states quietly removed Confederate statues after the incident, while others still stand with support from Americans claiming they’re a crucial part of our culture.
Oliver opens with the example of English television host Jimmy Savile, whose dedications and honors were removed after it became known he was a sexual offender with hundreds of victims. The moral there, if it wasn’t clear, is that you don’t keep monuments of bad people around.
Oliver goes through the many positions we often hear around this debate—it’s part of the history, the Confederacy wasn’t about slavery, it’s a symbol of heritage, etc. He begins by pointing out that the Confederacy was indeed about slavery, explicitly engrained in their Constitution, declarations, and speeches. (For a side that’s really concerned about preserving history, they don’t seem to follow very much of it.)
Like many others, the host also points out that these statues were erected decades after Lee’s surrender—with spikes during Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. They send out a pretty clear message. And for those who ask, “Where does it stop?” (like Trump)” the host exclaims, “Anytime someone asks, ‘Where does it stop?’ The answer is always ‘fucking somewhere!'”
In a telling moment, the segment goes through different attitudes that many descendants of the Confederacy hold towards their past. One extreme example is a proud Southerner who yells at a black man about how much slaves cost “back then” (00f) and another says he likes the “rebel” in his blood. We even learn a bit about how celebrities like Larry David, Anderson Cooper, and Ben Affleck reacted to learning about their Confederate, slave-owning roots.
We’re not responsible for what our ancestors do, Oliver says, but “we do have to reckon personally and as a country with what our heritage means. You can’t ignore it…you’ve got to actively, painfully come to grips with slavery and the lasting benefits and disadvantage it conferred in ways that, frankly, we haven’t yet.”
Always one for solutions, Oliver concludes with a few alternative monument suggestions. These include Robert Smalls for North Carolina, Bessie Coleman for Texas, Herman (an alligator giving the finger) for Florida, and the actual Stephen Colbert for South Carolina.
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