John Oliver on rise of authoritarianism: 'America needs to be careful'

On Last Week Tonight, the comic warned about the global rise of authoritarian leaders and how people must remain vigilant

John Oliver has delivered a warning about America’s future after detailing the rise of global authoritarianism.

On his HBO show Last Week Tonight, the British comic started by running through the many leaders around the world who have risen while exhibiting problematic qualities.

“While no two authoritarian leaders are the same, the global trend toward them is alarming especially because, in many cases, people are actively choosing them,” he said.

Oliver then listed the qualities that they tend to have in common. They try to project strength with grand displays of force, in the “same way that a man who is insecure about his penis buys a motorcycle, takes up bodybuilding or invents the Tesla”.

They also demonise “enemies”, such as refugees or gay people.

“Authoritarians need enemies because one of their greatest appeals is making a complicated world simple,” he said. “If you’re under attack or you’ve been made to feel that way, it’s nice to have a charismatic individual say fuck the rules, fuck the system, I’ve got this.”

Then they try to dismantle institutions so they can “weaken any check on them”.

Oliver continued: “If you’re wondering who would ever want a leader who does that then the answer is: lots of people,” he said.

While listing leaders around the world, he then moved on to Donald Trump.

“He loves appearing strong – he actually wanted a military parade and when it comes to demonising enemies, he’s gleefully gone after immigrants and other marginalised groups as well as picking aggressively optional battles with Canada, the NFL, Mark Cuban, the FBI, Robert De Niro, the 2017 Emmy awards, Puerto Rico, the postal service, an upscale farm-to-table restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, the NSA, LeVar Ball, the city of Chicago, the mayor of London, the CEO of Merck, Nordstrom and Chrissy fucking Teigen,” he said.

Oliver played back footage of Trump before he was elected, aggressively posturing to an audience. “His entire tone on the campaign trail was of an unapologetic strongman,” he said.

Trump also joked about killing journalists because the audience responded with laughter and support. “Trump will do anything if he gets a good cheer,” Oliver said.

He continued: “The real worry here isn’t just that Trump sounds like an authoritarian, it’s that many people in this country like the way that sounds.”

He said that Trump has “done terrible things as president” as a way of “testing the system” and so far, mostly, has come up against structural opposition.

“People do need to remain vigilant because while we talk about institutions remaining strong, what that actually means is that people are working very hard to protect them and to use them to contain this president’s worst impulses,” he said.

Oliver continued: “The world is dabbling with something very dangerous right now and America needs to be careful.”

Guardian staff

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