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John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver continued his weekly public service of processing seven days’ worth of hateful, dispiriting bullshit into a half-hour of expertly modulated, laugh-punctuated comic outrage, as he took a look at the United States’ long and morally queasy relationship with the oil-rich dictatorship of Saudi Arabia. Long lubricating the rough edges of any moral qualms U.S. presidents have had with its human rights abuses and foreign policy atrocities against its neighbors with barrels of shiny, shiny oil, Saudi Arabia’s latest apparent state-sanctioned murder of Washington Post reporter, Saudi critic, and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi has seen that sticky relationship put to the test. Well not really, as Oliver showed how current U.S. leader Donald Trump has made the formerly uneasy relationship with the Saudi government more of a happy, rich boy bromance between Trump and current de facto Saudi leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

As Oliver puts it, the two do have a lot in common, from how they’re both the product of inherited wealth, to how they crave media attention while simultaneously demonizing actual journalists, to how they share a sense of home decor akin to “Elvis tries to remember what Versailles looks like, but can’t.” With Mohammed bin Salman’s signature “Davos In The Desert” investor conference as the next step in the supposed progressive leader’s charm offensive against the world’s richest scheduled to take place later this month, Oliver noted how major players in the tech, financial, and media worlds have pulled out of participating in the wake of Khashoggi’s apparent grisly death at the hands of Saudi agents in Turkey. So far, so good, except a couple of major players still plan to make excuses and continue their chummy and lucrative relationship with the prince, apparently thinking that one journalist (literally butchered with a specially-brought bone saw, according to Turkish officials) isn’t too much of a price to pay. One is one of the most powerful, media-savvy, and camera-hungry men in the world—and the other is Donald Trump.


Oliver noted how American rassling juggernaut World Wrestling Entertainment recently held its Royal Rumble pay-per-view event in the city of Jeddah as part of a rich partnership with Saudi Arabia, with another glittering, propaganda-laden major event on the way in November, both featuring WWE superstar and movie star who’s not quite The Rock, John Cena. “You can’t see these human rights abuses right here,” said Oliver, appropriating Cena’s catchphrase to indicate how the WWE, like Trump, isn’t going to let a little reporter-slaughter get in the way of some sweet, sweet cash. And, since WWE executive Linda McMahon is a member of the Trump administration, it’s worth noting that it’s not just John Cena signing off of Saudi atrocities like its continued war on civilians in Yemen, it’s that other self-aggrandizing (although significantly less charismatic) blowhard, Donald Trump. Showing Trump dodging questions about Khashoggi’s murder during an on-camera presser in the Oval Office, Oliver rightly called Trump’s waffling performance a real-time cost-benefit analysis of human lives vs. money, a chilling encapsulation of U.S. foreign policy with regard to the questionable kingdom made by a person whose violent disdain of the press and bottomless worship of wealth make the outcome that moral wrestling match a WWE-style foregone conclusion.

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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