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John Oliver wades into Trump's thoroughly un-drained swamp on Last Week Tonight

John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

One of the unique benefits of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight approach to the late-night political comedy scene is his willingness and ability to pick a single, illustrative issue and descend into it, all the way to the murky bottom. Sure, any old person with eyes, a social media presence, and a functioning central nervous system can point out how Donald Trump’s oft-shouted campaign slogan “drain the swamp” is verifiable, rabble-rousing, meaningless bullshit. (A fact that Oliver shows Trump himself admitting to a rally full of head nodding rubes, seemingly unconcerned that Trump was nakedly admitting the phrase was just empty, road-tested rhetoric.) But, on Sunday’s show, Oliver put on his scuba suit and shone his high-powered comedy flashlight into the teeming, industry-polluted waters to show just how much bullshit is actually in there.

Starting out with the easy stuff, Oliver bagan by listing off the swamp creatures Trump has let loose in the vital and delicate governmental ecosystem of industry regulation. You know, like the Wall Street insiders in charge of regulating the financial sector (former Goldman Sachs executives Steve Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, and “what get when Wallace Shawn is not stored at the proper temperature,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross). Or acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Nick Mulvaney, whose congressional career saw him receive massive financial support from the predatory payday loan (shark) industry, and who has—in a stunning twist not at all reeking of swamp sludge—been working with that industry to gut consumer protections for borrowers. There’s former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, currently the head of the fucking Environmental Protection Agency, whose job it is to curb the strip-mining, water-table-despoiling antics of the coal industry, among others. As Oliver puts it, Trump’s idea of swamp-drainage has involved a “laughable number of wealthy businessmen presiding over policies that could directly benefit themselves and their former employers.”


But, since Oliver isn’t just here to point fingers, but to delve deeper into why those pointed at are complete nightmares for the nation, he continued by showing how Trump’s swamp topping-up has potentially disastrous real-world consequences. Do you like all your limbs and/or your seafood without the piquant tang of industrial waste and crude oil? Well then don’t look to Scott Angelle, current head of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, who Oliver showed at an oil industry conference giving out his cell phone number to industry executives and urging them to call him directly rather than text him “because text is a public record.” (He’s also shown railing against renewable energy from “the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees,” even as Oliver pointed out that energy from trees is called wood, and we have understood it’s value for literally decades now.) Oliver went on to note that Angelle’s plan to gut safety regulations on offshore oil rigs looks to save those digits-having oil execs a cool billion dollars or so, a figure Oliver calls “the most shocking ten digit number since 571-585-3730,” the BSEE direct line Angelle so routinely gives out to his energy industry pals. Once more, that’s 571-585-3730. Ask for Swampy.

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Dennis Perkins

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