John Oliver ended the fourth season of his Emmy Award–winning talk show Last Week Tonight on Sunday by devoting the entire episode to President Donald Trump. Or, to be more precise, analyzing Trump’s first year in the White House.
Oliver opened the show by declaring that Trump’s tweet Saturday about Kim Jong Un—in which he sarcastically mocked the North Korean leader—“the stupidest possible reason for all of us to die,” referring to potential nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea.
But this was just the latest example of how Trump’s comments have veered dangerously close to disaster.
Oliver surmised that the “real damage,” however, comes from the way the president uses three techniques “to insulate himself from criticism and consequence.” These techniques come at the peril of the American people, said Oliver. “If we are not extremely careful, all three could have impacts that far outlast his presidency,” the comedian warned.
So what are the three techniques Trump uses? Let’s break them down:
Delegitimizing the media
Trump’s war on the “fake news” media has only been emboldened since he took office. “He is openly proud of it,” said Oliver, to the point where he tried to take credit for creating the term “fake news.”
“He just took credit for inventing the term ‘fake news,’ which, for the record, he did not, meaning what he just said was fake fake-news news.”
The second dangerous way Trump deflects any potential criticism is by pivoting to the perceived wrongdoing of others, said Oliver.
“Trump does this all the time, most famously when he was asked why he hadn’t forcefully condemned the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville,” Oliver gave as an example, pointing to a news clip from August when, in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville protest, Trump said: “What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?”
Oliver explained: “A Nazi killing someone with a car is so heinous, any other issues that might be up for debate, under any other circumstances, kind of have to wait their turn.”
To illustrate his point, the comedian said: “If you’re wearing Crocs with socks...if you’re using those socked Crocs to kick Hitler in the balls, do you know what, I’m suddenly not so focused on the fucking footwear.”
“Now this technique of saying ‘what about?’ is actually an old Soviet propaganda tool,” Oliver continued. “The reason it is dangerous is because it implies that all actions, regardless of context, share a moral equivalency—and since nobody is perfect, all criticism is hypocritical and everybody should do whatever they want.”
Oliver said that this “depressingly effective” tool of whataboutism is used all the time on Fox News and showed a clip in which Fox News deflected from collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia to question the Democrats’ relationship with Russia.
“The problem with whataboutism is it doesn’t solve a problem or win an argument. The point is just to muddy the waters, which can make the other side mad.”
The third and final technique Trump has mastered is trolling, said Oliver.
“Trump may be the first-ever troll to be elected president,” Oliver explained. “As a troll, Trump often does things that have no effect other than to piss off his perceived enemies,” he added, pointing to the infamous tweet in which he posted a wrestling GIF of him attacking CNN.
Oliver even found a tweet from 2013 that Trump retweeted in which a fellow user called him the “most superior troll” on the social networking site. Trump called it “a great compliment.”
A great compliment it is not, according to Oliver: “Sometimes, when you do something that makes a lot of people mad, it’s because you’re a dick.”
Oliver did give Trump some credit because his “trolling is not without political value.” The president has successfully managed to annoy his enemies, which his supporters consider a strength of his character.
Oliver said that further proof that Trump is a troll is that when confronted about his trolling, he tries to backtrack. For example, when pressed by the media about his Twitter claim that President Barack Obama tapped his phone, he said, “I don’t stand by anything...you can take it the way you want.”
Oliver said that is “the most frighteningly nihilistic sentence a president can say.”
Concluding his analysis of Trump’s techniques, Oliver called on Americans to “train ourselves to identify” when they are used “because their natural endpoint is the erosion of our ability to decide what’s important, have an honest debate and hold one another accountable.”
And on that succinct and necessary segment: Take a bow, John Oliver, on another fantastic season of Last Week Tonight. Bring on Season 5.