Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Oliver shows the one thing Trump is actually good at—hurting vulnerable non-white people

John Oliver
John Oliver
Screenshot: Lasst Week Tonight

As Last Week Tonight host and sewage plant namesake John Oliver put it in his report on the asylum process in Donald Trump’s America, “focused, dedicated, and deeply resourceful” aren’t words you’d generally apply to anything Donald Trump has ever done. Sadly, as Oliver lays out in his typically searing 20-minute main story on Sunday, denying protection to non-white people fleeing persecution, violence, and hatred is the one thing that this administration really digs deep and gets to work on. Playing a clip of Trump putting on his middle school bully voice to mock asylum seekers in front of a jeering crowd of his similarly sneering supporters, Oliver showed how Trump paints everyone attempting to be one of those literal “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” as solely made up of the lying, face-tattooed gang monsters of white America’s racist Fox News fever dreams.

Oliver, after expelling a soul-centering “Okay . . .” before once more dissecting just how that sort of heartless, simple-minded bullshit is the provenance of authoritarian-minded bigots everywhere, then introduces Berta, a grandmother and asylum-seeker who came to America (at a port of entry, as she was supposed to by law) and presented herself and her 12-year-old granddaughter for asylum. You know, because gang members in her native Honduras were attempting to force the underage girl into marrying one of them. And while it’s easy to find actual human beings in mortal danger to refute Donald Trump’s racist campaign trail boogeymen, Oliver went on to show how this administration has gone uncharacteristically diligent in mining the already burdensome asylum and immigration system for methods of making the lives of terrified not-white people a literal hell on earth.

All couched in what Oliver concedes are placid-sounding bureaucrat-speak (Title 42, migrant protection protocols, safe third country agreements), these measures (all in the sweaty, racist hands of the current Executive Branch) have effectively shut off all asylum processes in the most egregiously evil ways possible. Is that hyperbole? Well, there’s the fact that White House in-house white supremacist Stephen Miller has attempted to invoke the public health measure Title 42 since before the pandemic, a “foreigners are dirty” propaganda technique used by white supremacists throughout history. Or that the already draconian immigration hearings process is now in the hands of government agents who Oliver shows routinely present fake or incomplete information to immigrants about court proceedings. Or that “safe third country agreements” mean that people fleeing life-threatening violence in, say, Honduras, are sent to ramshackle refugee camps in neighboring El Salvador, where gangs have developed a lucrative trade in kidnapping for ransom. (Murderers they may be, but Oliver notes that the kidnappers code word system for victims to tells subsequent kidnappers they’ve already been ransomed is actually more organized than the U.S. government’s refugee programs.)


Oliver points to other administration officials (Chad Wolf, Mark Morgan) shown blatantly lying about the government’s overt racism and cruelty, as well as showing a chilling clip of a child immigration advocate being physically ejected from the top secret floor of a Hampton Inn and Suites by unidentified security. Oliver applies HBO Legal’s disclaimer that the Hilton-owned chain was shocked—shocked, they say—to learn that they’d leased out an entire, sealed-off floor of one of their hotels to warehouse untold numbers of family-separated minors under the private-contracted, unsupervised watch of masked security guards who manhandle anyone attempting to give free legal aid to frightened immigrant children. Again, don’t tell the Hampton Inn and Suites or their parent company Hilton that John Oliver sent you should you call Hilton HQ or any of the other hotel chains currently or formerly aiding in hiding forcibly unaccompanied children in budget hotel rooms across the country.

What can we do, right? Well, as Oliver puts it in his closing statement, this time it’s pretty easy. Vote for Joe Biden. The Executive Branch can fuck this all up on the whims of a racist lunatic? Well, it can also reverse it at the order of a not-insane new President who has promised to do just that if elected. (In 8 days, people.) Oliver admitted that Joe Biden isn’t perfect. (For one thing—aviator glasses?) He noted that U.S. immigration policy has always been unfair, needlessly labyrinthine, and capriciously applied (unless, as he puts it, “you’re the parents of someone Donald Trump wishes would fuck him”), and that it’s incumbent upon all of us to hold an elected Biden to his promises of reform. So, you know, let’s fucking do that.

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

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