For seven seasons now on Last Week Tonight (and The Daily Show and The Bugle before then), John Oliver has channeled his anger at injustices large and small through an inimitably cheeky comic persona that’s equal parts “What the fuck can you do?” and “Stop being a jerk and fucking do something.” But 2020, having laid this weekend’s turd of an Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court nomination on top of the crap sundae that’s been a year of COVID, Trump, McConnell, and the recent death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, saw Oliver returning from a month’s hiatus in no mood to lighten our mood.
Sure, Oliver did make one of his signature analogous asides, calling GOP Senator and smirking specter of the death of democracy Mitch McConnell the most disgraceful thing to emerge from the state of Kentucky since the KFC menu. (Even Patton Oswalt never came up with “a warm slurry” to describe the chicken chain’s marquee concoction.) But Oliver was otherwise uninvested in making anybody feel better about the utter shitshow we’re in, the way Republicans and the entire table-tiled American political structure put us here, and the prospects for us to burrow through to anything like functional, representative democracy again. At the end of his searing, 21-minute excoriation of McConnell, Trump, Barrett, the Electoral College, and “center-right” Democrats who think things would be fine if we just took over the Senate and White House and went back to the way things were, Oliver issued a chillingly somber eulogy to decades of achingly incremental progress. “We are at the end of a generational battle,” said Oliver, staring down the camera, “and the heartbreaking thing is, we lost. And that hurts.”
Yup. Ultra-conservative Barrett will—barring an Aaron Sorkin reality re-write—wind up undermining civil rights, women’s rights, health care, reproductive rights, voting rights, environmental protections, immigrant rights, and LGBTQ rights for as long as the now 48-year-old judge lives. Trump’s losing big in every poll, but Oliver showed one of the many clips of Trump straight-up Bond-style explaining his supervillain scheme to contest, overrule, and undermine the results of the November 3 election. Not that he has to, really, as Oliver also went all-in on the white supremacist safeguard of the Electoral College and the deliberate disenfranchisement of majority non-white U.S. citizens in Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, which not only assures less populous states on the pale end of the color spectrum have disproportionate sway, but literally make Black votes worth 25 percent less than whites. Oliver jokes-not-jokes that at least Black Americans can be grateful that that’s more than the three-fifths compromise once institutionally allotted their personhood (and that Hispanic American voters’ votes are worth even less, proportionately).
Oliver had some solutions. Shit-can Republicans from the presidency, Senate, and anywhere else the increasingly desperate right-wing minority is abandoning all pretense of honoring the concept of American democracy in order to cling to power. Statehood for D.C. and P.R. Abolish the Electoral College and the filibuster (both of which Oliver’s made strong cases for elsewhere.) Adding to the Supreme Court is risky, but, according to Oliver, might be the only way to get anything meaningful done. That said, term limits for those justices is certainly doable, so that—and just spitballing here—a shriveling conservative minority with no scruples whatsoever could steal three Supreme Court seats, thus ensuring their pinched, historically unpopular hate-and-greed positions hold Court in defiance of the actual will of the actual people.
Signing off, Oliver wasn’t playing, calling out Republican shamelessness (“First of all, fuck you, Kevin,” Oliver spat at GOP Senator Kevin McCarthy for whining about Democrats rigging an already rigged system), before restating, plainly, that these’s a whole lot of work to be done in an America whose carefully disguised innate bigotry has—thanks to Trump, McConnell, and their accomplices—been stripped bare. Daunting as hell, but at least leaving anyone still invested in any semblance of justice, fairness, and plain human decency a clear look at the sneering face of American institutional oppression. Summing up a system meticulously constructed to protect the rule of the prejudiced, the opportunistically power-hungry, and the very, very white, Oliver noted, “That is not a mandate, and it’s not democracy. It’s a fucking travesty.”
For up-to-date information about voting, voter registration, and how your voting rights are under attack on all sides by a Republican Party openly plotting to steal the upcoming election from you, check out Vote.org and FairFight.com.