Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 4, Episode 30 - Presidency of Donald Trump - full transcript

John Oliver recaps the first year of the Trump presidency and gives a warning about the three techniques he uses to undercut criticisms without addressing the related issues.

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Season IV
Episode 30

Welcome to Last Week Tonight.

I'm John Oliver.
Thank you for joining us,

we have time for a lightning-quick
recap of the week,

from Republicans continuing
to roll out their tax reform plan

with the grace of a horse
falling down a spiral staircase,

to the New York Times reporting
Louis CK's gross sexual misconduct.

Which is indefensible,
and resulted in the cancellation

of his new film
"Exhibit A If This Ever Goes To Trial."

As for the president,
he's been overseas all week,

which should've been relaxing for us,
until this happened last night.

President Trump openly mocked
the leader of North Korea.

"Why would Kim Jong Un
insult me by calling me old,"

"when I would never call him
short and fat ?"

This would be the stupidest
reason for all of us to die.

If the entire country simultaneously
tripped while putting on its underwear

and fell face-forward into the toilet,
got stuck and drowned,

it would be less stupid than if that
tweet caused a nuclear apocalypse.

Rather than focus
on the events of this week,

we thought we'd actually take
a broader look at the topic

that has dominated this past year:
the presidency of Donald Trump,

the man voted "least edible" by
Cannibal Magazine six years in row.

I know that the prospect of talking
about Trump again feels exhausting.

Every room in America should have
a sign on the wall that counts

the number of minutes since
someone brought up his name.

Trump's presidency is like
one of his handshakes.

It pulls you in
whether you like it or not.

He has had so many terrible moments,
you probably forget many.

Remember he told French president's
wife she was in "good shape" ?

Or when his golf resort was touted
on the State Department website ?

Or when he shoved
the prime minister of Montenegro

out of the way at a NATO event ?

Look how proud of himself he is !

You should at least have to know
that Montenegro is a country

before making a move that says:
"suck it, Montenegro !"

Also quieter,
no less alarming moments,

like when he explained how hard
he's been fighting

to bring "clean coal" back, without
appearing to understand what that is.

It's just been announced
that a second, brand-new coal mine

where they're going to take out clean
coal, meaning they're taking out coal.

They're gonna clean it...
Is opening in Pennsylvania.

Is it possible that Trump is versed in,
and is referring to,

flue-gas desulfurization,
fluidized-bed combustion

and selective catalytic reduction ?

It's possible. But let's agree
it's more likely that he thinks

you just take a bunch of coal and
scrub-a-dub it with a big old sponge.

I'm saying the president

doesn't understand
what he's talking about.

You know what that means ?

We got him !

I've got him.
I did not get him ?

I thought we got him.
I thought we got him that time.

All right, that's fair.
You think I don't hate myself too ?

The point is, tonight,

let's pull back from the daily
Trump-induced chaos

and take a look at the norms
his presidency has violated.

Not the obvious ones,
like he never released his tax returns

or that his own daughter and
son-in-law work in the White House,

I am using the word "work"
so generously

that I should be able to deduct it as
a charitable donation on my taxes.

Instead of putting assets in a blind
trust to reduce conflicts of interest,

he showed America he has
many large stacks of paper,

presumably containing the sentence

"I can't believe I'm getting away
with this" printed 750 000 times.

No. We're going to talk about Trump's
assault on something more basic:

the norms governing
how our leaders engage with us,

and how in turn, that affects the way
we engage with one another.

It's why the notion of "getting him"
can feel so hopelessly futile.

It doesn't help that, often, what Trump
says is complete nonsense.

We read transcripts
of Trump's speeches

and it's something that everyone
should do once in a while.

When you strip away his blindly
confident, entertaining delivery

and just read his words, it is
staggering how incoherent he is.

Here is a word-for-word reading
of a speech about Iran nuclear deal.

Look at the nuclear deal,
the thing that bothers me...

Would've been easy, not
as important as these lives are.

Nuclear is powerful, my uncle explained
that to me years ago, the power

35 years ago, he would explain
of what's going to happen

and he was right...

When you look
at the four prisoners,

it used to be three, now it's four
but when it was three and even now,

it's all in the messenger.

They haven't figured the women are
smarter right now than the men,

so, you know, it's gonna
take them about another 150 years.

Persians, great negotiators,
Iranians also,

so, and they just killed,
they just killed us.

Holy shit. That is not
a functional use of language.

That is a drunk driver crashing
a pickup truck full of alphabet soup.

Trump's actual speech patterns
sound like when you write a long text

by choosing only the predictive text
your iPhone suggests for you.

We wrote a message like that,
starting with the words "the nuclear",

and here is what we got.

Nuclear test program was
not opposed by other person

who knows what they want and
delay is not being done

by other country, it's
not the only way to make sure

world can do more things and
things like that and gentlemen

and the others who have
been told to leave them alone

with their children
who are sad.

That makes exactly as much,
and potentially more sense,

than Trump's speech
about the Iran nuclear deal,

meaning an iPhone would be a more
coherent president of the US !

With Trump, we are familiar enough
with his speech patterns

that you get the basic gist
of what he's trying to say.

The real damage
isn't in how he says things,

but from three key techniques he uses
to insulate himself from criticism.

And if we are not extremely
careful, all three could have impacts

that far outlast his presidency, and
let's start with the first one:

delegitimizing the media.

Trump has been attacking the press
since he declared his candidacy,

he's been waging war
on the concept of truth

ever since he first turned
to his mom and said "Dada",

she said: "no, I'm Mama", and he
said: "fake news !" and shit his pants.

He's crying fake news
as president of the United States

and he is openly proud of it
to the point that he recently tried

to take ownership
of the term itself.

The media is, really the word,

I think one of the greatest of all
terms I've come up with is "fake".

Other people have used it, perhaps,
but I've never noticed it.

He just took credit for inventing
the term "fake news", which he did not.

Meaning what he just said
was technically fake "fake news" news.

You could imagine him saying: "I'm
not the first to criticize the press."

What about Hillary Clinton,
Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders ?

That brings us to Trump's
second technique,

something called "whataboutism".

It's changing the subject to someone
else's perceived wrongdoing.

Trump does this all the time,
most famously when he was asked

why he hadn't condemned the
Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville

and this was his response.

What about the alt-left that came
charging at the alt-right ?

Do they have any guilt ?

What about the fact that they came
charging with clubs in their hands ?

Do they have any problem ?

Actually, no. Because a Nazi killing
someone with a car is so heinous

and the other issues that might be up
for debate have to wait their turn.

You can be wearing Crocs with socks,

but if you're using those socked Crocs
to kick Hitler in the balls,

I'm suddenly not so fucking
focused on the footwear.

Now this technique
of saying "what about ?"

is actually an old
Soviet propaganda tool,

and it is dangerous because it implies
that actions, regardless of context,

share a moral equivalency
and since nobody is perfect,

criticism is hypocritical and everybody
should do whatever they want.

It is a effective tool, which is why,

on Trump's favorite network,
you hear it all the time.

Mainstream media focused on Trump
campaign and collusions with Russia.

But what about the Democrats'
possible ties to Moscow ?

General Michael Flynn investigated
for his private meeting with Russia,

but what about Hillary Clinton ?

The media wants to call into question
the credibility of this administration.

What about Benghazi, the lies
the Obama administration told us ?

What about the fact that Ben Rhodes
bragged about lying to the media

about the Iran deal ?

What about that Jonathan Gruber
said the American people were stupid ?

Okay, stop ! None of the errors
those people may have made in the past

excuse the Trump
administration's actions.

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 or the guy
from "The Silence Of The Lambs" ?

I rest my case here, people.
I rest my case.

The problem with whataboutism is

it doesn't actually solve
a problem or win an argument.

The point is to muddy the waters,
which can make the other side mad.

That brings us to Trump's third
technique: trolling.

Trolling itself
has been around for years,

it's basically 80 percent
of what happens on the internet.

It's when a YouTube commenter says
something willfully provocative,

like saying I've "aged like
an apple core in a dumpster"

or that I "look like
a fucking pickle with glasses".

It doesn't matter
whether they mean any of that,

the point is just to get a reaction
and to hurt my feelings,

which by the way:
it absolutely does.

Trump may well be the first-ever
troll to be elected president.

I said "elected". Remember,
10th president Sprinkles Fuzzwizard ?

He assumed office after
William Henry Harrison died.

If you're thinking Sprinkles Fuzzwizard
was not America's 10th president.

Really ? Who was
America's 10th president ?

Exactly. Let's assume I'm right.
The point is, as a troll,

Trump often does things
that have no effect,

other than to piss off
his perceived enemies.

Like when he tweeted this wrestling
gif of himself bodyslamming CNN,

or attacked Mika Brzezinski by saying
she was bleeding from a face lift,

or called a leader with nuclear
weapons short and fat.

Trump even once retweeted a claim
that he was the most superior troll

on the whole of Twitter,
calling it "a great compliment !"

Which it is not. When you do something
that makes a lot of people mad,

it's because, and bear with me here,
you're a dick.

If you sneak into someone's house
and urinate in every heating vent

you're not an epic troll sticking it
to the snowflake cucks.

You're just some fucking asshole.

Trump's trolling is not actually
without political value.

Despite Trump's few real
policy accomplishments to date,

he has achieved one thing,
making his enemies unhappy.

For many Trump supporters,
that counts as a major victory.

Listen to how "Fox and Friends" reacted
after Trump freaked people out

by standing with military leaders,

suggesting that it was
the "calm before the storm".

- I think he's trolling the media.
- He is totally trolling the media.

Even the smile and the wink ?

The forgotten men and women
who voted for Trump,

want that town to freak out,
those reporters going:

"What do you mean ?"
It's beautiful to watch.

Is it ? Why ?
Who benefits from mass confusion

about whether or not
we're about to go to war ?

Are there unemployed
factory workers in the Midwest going:

"The plant closed down,
I lost my healthcare,"

"but a Washington Post
reporter is scared of dying."

"So things are looking up. MAGA !"

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 fuck.

That is not your job !

I guess it's impressive
in its own way,

but it's not what
you're supposed to be doing.

The surest proof of trolling often
comes when a troll is confronted.

That's when they have
to put up or shut up.

You heard cases
where people tracked down

the source of something awful
that was posted online,

only to find some sullen 15-year-old
who just shrugs and goes:

"I dunno why I wrote that.
Stop asking me so many questions."

That is our president now.
I'll show you.

Trump said that Obama
surveilled him in Trump Tower, tweeting:

"How low has President Obama
gone to tap-p-p my phones" ?

Watch what happened
when he was asked to justify that.

You saw what happened
with surveillance.

- That was inappropriate.
- What does that mean, sir ?

- You can figure that out yourself.
- You called him "sick and bad".

You can figure it out yourself.
He was very nice to me with words,

but after that,
there has been no relationship.

- You stand by that claim ?
- I don't stand by anything.

Take it the way you want.

So let's walk through
what just happened there:

on Internet he claimed his predecessor
committed a serious crime.

But in person, he is backing down,

first saying Obama was "very
nice to me with words",

then that
"I don't stand by anything."

Which is one of the most nihilistic
sentences a president can say.

I would honestly rather hear that
from a clown holding a knife

than a president, because
at least when a clown says that

you think: "That kind of makes sense.
Please make it quick."

It gets worse,
that interview kept going

and Trump was given the opportunity
to set the record straight

for the "fake news" media,
but he flat-out refused.

I wanted to find out, though.
You're the president of the US.

- You said he was "sick and bad".
- You can take it any way you want.

But I'm asking you. Because you don't
want it to be fake news.

- You don't have to ask me.
- Why not ?

I have my own opinions.
You can have your own opinions.

I want to know your opinions.
You're the president.

Thank you.
Thank you very much.

Okay, so there is a lot
that is infuriating about that clip,

but Trump going back to his desk
and pretending to work hard

is a funny thing to do.

Like your dog avoiding questions
by pretending to do his taxes.

You never do this ! Why would
you need to do it now ?

While there is nothing new
about these techniques,

they are coming out of the Oval Office,
which not only legitimizes them,

it risks them spreading
and that, sadly, is happening.

Congressman Paul Gosar
used all three techniques.

He suggested the march
in Charlottesville may have been

a false flag operation created by
the left, a pretty troll-y behavior.

When confronted,
he deployed the other two tools.

- It's all been debunked.
- Absolutely not debunked whatsoever.

Your conspiracy theory
has been debunked.

It has not been debunked.
Look at what CNN has talked about

with what's going on with the Clinton
administration with the dossier.

Hardly an aspect in regards
to debunked. You're fake news.

Everything you've said has been
debunked, why are you continuing ?

Fake news.

So he's just copying Trump.

If there is one thing
worse than something terrible,

it's a cover band
of that terrible thing.

If Trump is Nickelback,
that man is Bicklenack.

Not as good at it as the original, and a
horrible sign the disease is spreading.

If that becomes the level of discourse,
we are seriously and lastingly fucked.

This week, we saw some of these
techniques pushed to the limit

by the scandal involving
Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore,

who denied allegations of sexual
misconduct with a 14-year-old

when he was 32
and called them "fake news".

Watch Sean Hannity use whataboutism
to derail a discussion about it.

This 14-year-old girl purportedly,
according to the Washington Post,

told two of her girlfriends
what happened in real time.

You think Bill Clinton,
in retrospect, was a predator ?

But that is not
what this discussion is about.

Might as well have said:
"here's a tough question:"

"if you had to guess,
how many lobsters are there ?"

"Like, total. In the world"

Is that worth discussing ? Sure !
But first let's finish talking about

the senate candidate who may've
made sexual advances on a child.

Whether Clinton engaged
in predatory behavior

is a legitimate question,

but it shouldn't really inform
what we do about Roy Moore.

Even if you believe the Democrats
are guilty of a double standard,

the solution is not to have
no standard whatsoever.

That is why it's so important
to train to identify these techniques,

because their natural endpoint
is the erosion of our ability to decide

what's important, have an honest debate
and hold one another accountable.

That erosion can be so gradual
that it's difficult to spot.

It's like being murdered by a sloth:
it happens very slowly

and you might not notice
until it's too late.

This is all very bleak.
I cannot pretend that it isn't.

Which is why it is important to take
hope from this year's small victories.

Like the Muslim ban being blocked,
after massive public protests.

Or the attempts
to repeal Obamacare stalling,

thanks in part to people
pressuring their lawmakers.

In Virginia, voters rejected
Ed Gillespie for governor,

after he ran a Trump-style
dogwhistle campaign.

It's nice to know that,

if you use Trump's tactics in
a Virginia gubernatorial election,

you do not get to be gubernator.

Further down the ballot there,
Tuesday also marked the defeat

of Bob Marshall, who earlier this year
proposed a so-called bathroom bill.

He lost to Danica Roem,
who will now be

Virginia's first openly
transgender legislator.

And the tone that she has taken
is already markedly different.

Danica, you were running against
Robert Marshall, a 13-term incumbent.

He's also a man who referred to
himself as Virginia's chief homophobe.

He refused to debate you.
Anything you want to say to him ?

Come January, delegate Marshall
will be one of my constituents.

I'm not gonna disrespect
my own constituents.

That is incredibly refreshing.
Just think about that.

She beat a man
who openly disrespected her,

but she chose "not" to respond,
by tweeting:

"I'll fight for Bob's right
to use any bathroom he wants,"

"but it's too late: he already
shit the bed on election day, sad !"

It's nice not to have that.

Tuesday's results
should not make you complacent.

They are no guarantee that the
midterms will turn out at all well.

You should take these moments of
encouragement to help you keep going.

Trump presidency is 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.

We're not even at mile 6 right now
or possibly even mile three,

so there is a long way to go.

Though you're exhausted, and your body
is screaming for you to give up

and your nipples are chafing,
stakes are too high for us to stop.

I'm saying that as we're about
to stop doing shows for the year.

We won't be going away entirely.
You may remember, earlier this year,

we used our catheter cowboy
to get information to the president

in the ad breaks of "Fox & Friends".

Trump is still watching that show.
We know this because the Times wrote

a generally negative piece about
its enormous influence on him,

and called it the "most
powerful TV show in America."

A sentiment that the hosts
were very excited about.

The program you're watching
is, according to "The New York Times",

the most powerful TV show
in America.

Do you know why ?
Because we have the best viewers.

No. No, you don't.
You absolutely don't.

Don't misunderstand.

I'm not saying
that we have the best viewers.

No, I'm not saying that.
No, I'm explicitly not saying that.

You guys are fine.

The best audience belongs to Ellen.
Because this is how they greet her.

Here she is now, Ellen DeGeneres.

None of you fuckers
did that when I came out.

None of you did it.

Just 45 minutes after that information
was on Fox, Trump tweeted:

"The failing 'New York Times'
said about 'Fox & Friends',"

"the most powerful TV show
in America."

Information goes right from
that show into his brain,

which is terrible.

We would genuinely be better off
if Trump was getting daily briefings

from an actual fox and his friends,
a hedgehog and a weasel

with its head stuck in a tin can.

But if Trump is going to
keep watching that show,

we'll sneak information
through our catheter cowboy.

A number of commercials are going
to be airing on Fox News

over the next few months,
here is the first one.

Attention, patients.

I'm a professional cowboy,
I use catheters:

I don't like pain when I cath,
and the term "clean coal" doesn't refer

to the physical act of cleaning coal,
that would be impossible.

Coal is coal.

"Clean coal" is a marketing term
the coal industry came up with

for carbon capture and sequestration,

an expensive process that's
shown limited results, at best.

Also, Frederick Douglass is dead.
More tomorrow, bye bye !

That's good information for him.
That will be on Fox in the DC area.

Keep an eye out for more, that
cowboy has got a bunch up his sleeve.

The U.S. Virgin Islands has a governor,
not a president.

Here's a fun fact: there's actually
no federal law against this

thanks to something called
the First Amendment.

Just because Jared Kushner is smarter
than you doesn't mean he's smart.

The Navy Seals aren't seals.
I know. I was disappointed too.

There are many non-gold décor
schemes that are very appealing.

During an eclipse, don't do this.

Buddy, this can't be that hard.

Nazis bad.
One fish, two fish, red fish,

arm of the executive branch that should
operate free from interference

so as to avoid politically
motivated prosecution.

Donald ? Donald.
I don't think he's getting any of this.

That's all for now, Donald,
see you tomorrow.

If you're not enjoying this,
there's no shame in quitting.

Before we go,
as this is our last episode of the year,

we wanted to thank you for watching,
we have had a lot of fun.

We didn't just cover Trump,
we transformed this desk into a bistro

for our piece
on the French election.

I met the Dalai Lama
and gave him a calculator watch.

We introduced you
to the Bolivian traffic zebras,

and you used our green screen version
to put it in "Mad Max: Fury Road",

"Basic Instinct", filling
the White House press room with them.

Thank you so much
for taking part in that.

We also had Weird Al
sing a song about North Korea.

We had penguins, alligator statues,
lobster supreme court justices,

we bought five wax presidents
and put one of them

in a movie
with Laura fucking Linney.

We stole Alex Jones's business model
and sold million-dollar taint wipes.

We out-mugged Ajit Pai with
this glorious monstrosity right here,

and most importantly, we exposed
the Olsen twin for the fraud she is,

one person moving very quickly
to trick the human eye.

We actually invited "them"
to be on the show tonight,

to prove me wrong, but apparently,
"they" couldn't make it.

And as far as I'm concerned, that is
tantamount to an admission of guilt,

so I'm going to make it official.

We got her !
The truth feels so good !

There's a few people that would love
to come out and say goodbye to you.

They're all here: the Cowboy !
The Zebra ! Mr. Nutterbutter !

And Doctor Throup is here
with an incredible offer for you !

You can get 90 percent off the moisture
armored tactical assault wipe !

90 percent off ! So that is
just $100 000 ! That's all !

It's one hell of a deal !
And remember:

they're only to be
applied in this area, right here.

- Apply with vigor and confidence.
- Thank you so much, doctor !

Please, call me "doctor" !

Good point. The penguins
are here, ladies and gentlemen !

Thank you so much for watching
and thank you to all our staff.

We'll be back in February.
See you next year, good night.

The penguins !

Sir, the world is in trouble.

We need you. The fate
of humanity itself is at stake.

Will you help us, Mr. President ?

I knew we could count on you.
But I'm afraid this isn't a one-man job.

We need all of you.

Mr. President.

Mr. President.

Mr. President.

Mr. President.

let's go wax these bastards.

Coming 2018.