Will the appeal of Donald Trump to America’s racist idiot demographic fade at all in the coming days? Probably not. There’s likely nothing anyone can do that will turn Trump’s fawning yokel acolytes against him at this point, given that his greatest strength is that he revels in his immunity to logic and reason. But still, somebody needed to do something. Given Trump’s rise as a legitimate threat to both the GOP and the country at large, somebody in our popular culture needed to stop laughing, stand up, and hit Trump hard. On Sunday night, John Oliver did just that. And not only did he land a whole series of impactful blows against the Republican frontrunner ahead of Super Tuesday, he left little doubt that he’s the true heir to the throne abdicated by his former boss, Jon Stewart.
If you haven’t yet seen Oliver’s blistering attack on Trump — which came in the form of a 21-minute segment on this week’s episode of his HBO show, Last Week Tonight — stop what you’re doing and watch it immediately. As usual, Oliver masterfully combines acerbic humor with in-depth, fact-based analysis, hitting on a dizzying array of topics within a single, larger subject. Oliver and his team dig deep, engaging in actual journalism and either uncovering or simply highlighting truths that prove the point they’re making — in this case, that Donald Trump’s entire persona is nonsense and he’s nothing more than a bullshit artist and lousy businessman who gets by entirely on his “brand.” Granted, most of us already know this, but what Oliver accomplishes which very few others have been able to is to knock Trump down to size and keep him there.
Oliver dismantles the Trump “magic” piece by piece, responding to each and every reason Republican voters have stated for supporting Trump’s candidacy with proof that they couldn’t be more wrong about him. From the claims that he’s tough, tells it like it is, and isn’t beholden to anyone financially, to the general sophistry about his vast wealth and business acumen, Oliver refutes it all. But much more than that, through self-deprecation and solid argumentation, Oliver admits that Trump’s mystique is intangible and maybe bulletproof to hard facts. And that’s why the entire segment builds to a crescendo in which John Oliver takes on Trump’s very name. He concedes that “Trump” has spent decades being a powerful brand because it’s a purposely powerful-sounding name. As it turns out, though, “Trump” isn’t Donald’s actual family name. According to a historian, the name used to be “Drumpf.”
Oliver takes full advantage of this, pushing the hashtag #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain and buying the website “DonaldJDrumpf.com” and using it to sell Trump-style hats with the “new name” and to offer a “Drumpfinator” Chrome extension that changes Trump’s name to Drumpf every time it appears online. As Oliver says, if you imagine Trump not as Trump but as Donald Drumpf, “a litigious serial liar with a string of broken business ventures and the support of a former Klan leader who he can’t decide whether or not to condemn, would you think he would make a good president or is the spell now somewhat broken?” Again, who knows whether the attack will have any real lasting impact, but it’s brilliant in the way it reduces Trump to the antithesis of how he’s always portrayed himself publicly. Also, you already know full well that Trump — or Donald Drumpf — will respond by either a) going off on Oliver on Twitter, or b) threatening to sue Oliver and HBO, thereby looking every bit like the thin-skinned fool Oliver made him out to be.
What’s important about all of this is that it’s so, well, important. Since the early retirement of Jon Stewart, we’ve lamented the lack of someone of his cultural and moral authority in a position to issue the kind of impassioned takedowns he did so regularly. With the rise of Trump, we’ve missed Stewart more than ever and have realized just how essential his place was in our media landscape. John Oliver has always been a worthy successor to his former boss, but with Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, Oliver cemented his place as our culture’s new Jon Stewart. Oliver combined his willingness to “go long” in terms of extended, in-depth segments on his show, with a target that absolutely cried out for Stewart’s brand of take-no-prisoners outrage. John Oliver proved that he’s as vital to the political and cultural discourse as the man who once hired him. By giving us Donald Drumpf, Oliver showed that he’s the hero we need.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.