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John Oliver on Dems' impeachment debate: "Every asshole wins until, finally, they don't"

John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

Impeachment. It’s the heavily hashtagged Congressional process (see: #Impeach45; #ImpeachTrumpNow; or, for followers of Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, #ImpeachTheMotherfucker) that many other Democrats are approaching with all the gung-ho patriotism of Alexander Hamilton making an exhaustive pros and cons list about the potential ramifications of requisitioning musket balls and sneaky shoes in order to think about possibly one day stealing British cannonry. On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver examined the fact that there’s a president currently running down a checklist of every high crime and misdemeanor you need on your rap sheet to actually get impeached, and spent the bulk of the episode trying to explain why the Democrats in Congress haven’t yet, in fact, impeached the motherfucker.

As Oliver noted, there are plenty of reasons for Democrats to be wary of impeachment, even as he mocked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s invocation of the musical Bye Bye Birdie to really nail down her point that some people think that impeachment actually means an automatic removal from office. Oliver, among other complaints, noted that Grease is at least a better analogy, since that musical is about how “a rapey guy with weird hair treats women like shit and somehow gets everything he ever wanted.” Still, as Oliver showed with a clip of a surprised old lady being interviewed after hearing a public airing of the findings in the Mueller Report at an appearance by Rep. Justin Amash (the lone Republican willing agree that Donald Trump is a cartoonishly corrupt candidate for impeachment), a lot of people only listen to conservative news. (Sorry, “news.”) Meaning that winning over the hearts and minds of the American public is a risky move for Democrats seeking motherfucker impeachment.


And yet, as Oliver laid out with signature bob-and-weave satirical strategy, there are plenty of reasons why impeaching even a motherfucker like the one we’re stuck with now is a complex and fraught proposition. Not just because Trump’s pet news (sorry “news”) pals at Fox will continue to make nice old ladies think Donald Trump is a holy, blameless creature, but because transforming public opinion on the issue in advance of the vital-for-democracy 2020 elections could backfire, and the historical precedents for impeachment don’t provide the clear and decisive outcomes lovers of American democracy and the rule of law are pining for. “There’s so many ways that this could go wrong,” was Oliver’s initial assessment, a phrase that, coming from professional foreseers of terrible outcomes Oliver, is genuinely chilling.

That being said, Oliver gradually closed every other door and window for waffling Democrats until impeaching a motherfucker was the only possible route to take. Noting that Trump, in his bull-rush toward installing himself as America’s self-aggrandizingly traitorous Mob Boss In Chief, has trampled right over every politely constructed norm of presidential (or human) conduct, Oliver said that opening impeachment proceedings would at least shore up those defenses of the “basic fundamental principle that no one is above the law.” Certainly not an empirically racist reality show fraud who uses the highest position in the land to enrich himself and his brood of entitled nonentities. And especially when—in an interview televised just this week—he literally and on the record invited hostile foreign governments to chip in to help him win a second term. Saying that “the case for inaction here is starting to get pretty weak,” Oliver basically told the Democrats to show some collective spine, concluding with the aphorism, “Every motherfucker asshole succeeds until, finally, they don’t.”

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Dennis Perkins

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