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John Oliver Perfectly Dismantles Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, & the Republican Party’s Constant Denial of Our Racist Reality

In the latest episode of Last Week Tonight—the last before the show goes on hiatus for a while—John Oliver broke the format of the show a bit to actually line up with its name. Rather than focusing on a big systemic issue like “the corn tax or whatever the f*ck,” Oliver dedicated the entire show to the events of this last week, from the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin to the racist fearmongering at the Republican National Convention, and how the two are directly linked (through the big systemic issue that is institutional racism, of course).

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Oliver started with the RNC, which was, as he puts it, “four nights of a full-throated denial of objective reality.” Of all the lies Republicans pushed last week—from minimizing the damage still being caused by the coronavirus pandemic to the depiction of Joe Biden as a radical socialist—perhaps the biggest and most dangerous was their total denial that racism exists in the United States.

“Again and again, RNC speakers were at pains to reassure viewers that racism in America is mostly a relic of the past and whatever remains can be easily overcome,” Oliver said. They also tried to convince viewers (clearly meaning white viewers) that they could vote for Trump and not be racist—without ever once acknowledging that if that’s a message you have to work that hard to put out, maybe there’s some issue worth examining in your party and your choice of candidate.

Oliver focused heavily on the McCloskeys, the St. Louis couple who pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters walking by their home. During their appearance at the virtual RNC, the McCloskeys spoke from their mansion, repeating the false idea that Joe Biden and other Democrats want to “abolish the suburbs.” Patricia McCloskey warned her fellow fearful affluent whites that the Democrats’ policies “would bring crime, lawlessness, and low-quality apartments into now-thriving suburban neighborhoods.”

“Think about how incendiary that message is,” Oliver said. “Violence and criminals are coming to your community in the form of low-quality apartments, and you must defend yourself. Take it from us, the couple who pointed guns at Black Lives Matter protesters. And rhetoric like that, and the worldview it encompasses, has consequences.”

From there, Oliver transitioned to the second part of the episode: what’s been happening in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a white teenage “vigilante” shot three protesters, killing two of them, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

“I don’t know if he saw the McCloskeys speak the night before he drove to a city he didn’t live in to defend property he didn’t own,” said Oliver. “What I do know is that he was an avid Trump supporter, even sitting front row at a rally back in January, and Trump and his media ecosystem have been delivering essentially the same message as the McCloskeys for years now.”

Oliver pointed to Tucker Carlson’s despicable response to the murders that teen, Kyle Rittenhouse, has been charged with committing—how Carlson dismissed those actions as a “natural response” to legitimate protest. He spoke of the double standard in how both the media and the police responded to Blake and to Rittenhouse and noted you’d be hard-pressed to find a more clear visual illustration of the differences between being Black and white in America.

And yet in the very same week that all this is happening, the RNC spent four nights declaring loudly that racism in America doesn’t exist. Not only that, but the persistent message being sent out by Republicans is that it is white people who need to be afraid right now.

It’s an outrageous, infuriating sentiment. White Republicans spent the RNC fearmongering about Democrats integrating the suburbs while a Black man was shot seven times by a police officer in the middle of the street in broad daylight. Tucker Carlson was praising Kyle Rittenhouse for murdering protesters in a county whose sheriff has previously stated that he was in favor of the incarceration of basically all Black people as a means of public safety.

Just this weekend, we saw Donald Trump unleash a tweetstorm in which he justified and essentially praised the pro-Trump counterprotest in Portland, Oregon, which left one person dead. He painted that counterprotest as a necessary response to “leftist violence”—by which he’s referring to Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the high-profile deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and so many others.

And that is the Republican M.O. Ignore and minimize the systemic racist violence committed against BIPOC in America; portray the response to that violence as a threat to white people’s safety and general way of life; justify the violent reaction to that response by any means necessary. It’s a cycle of oppression that’s been continuing nonstop basically since the first European colonizers landed in this country, but which is currently in overdrive leading up to the November election.

I’ll admit it took a while to get used to the new Last Week Tonight in its audienceless “white void” but week after week, the show has consistently risen to the challenge of meeting our current reality head-on. This week’s episode might be one of its best ever.

(image: screengrab)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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