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John Oliver's season finale mission—piss off Trump, fight white supremacy, and fill out the census

John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight routinely straddles the line between entertainment and often deliriously silly public service. So, with the country in chaos—impeachment, encroaching environmental disaster, a straight-up Nazi lizard-man writing policy—the fact that Sunday was Oliver’s season six finale saw Oliver and his crack staff of troublemakers and muckrakers deciding how best to send us off into the Oliver-less darkness for the next several months. A giant musical number taunting the coal company CEO who’s been using rich guy nuisance lawsuits to silence critics like Oliver? Naw, he did that last week. It’s a puzzler, which made Oliver’s relatively straightforward final main story of the season take a route other than lavishly overdone Broadway-style vengeance, in favor of some more of that public service—with just one last delicious soupçon of “fuck you, racist criminal” to Oliver (and democracy’s) nemesis, Donald Trump.

Taking on the upcoming census, Oliver noted that, by the time Last Week Tonight comes back in February, the decennial head count of every single person living in the United States will be underway. He also—with a look back at some weird-ass government ads encouraging participation in the every-ten-years event—examined how this particular administration (and the GOP in general) is somehow not that interested in everyone being counted. You know, some people, maybe even most people—but not everyone, if you catch Oliver’s meaning. (He means minorities.) Running down the ultimately unsuccessful attempt by Trump Secretary Of Commerce and overbaked Elmer Fudd to suppress participation in the census in minority communities across the country by adding an unconstitutional citizenship question, Oliver warned that the damage may already have been done.

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He also dug up a story of true Republican supervillainy you may have forgotten about, one with enough improbable twists for an actual supervillain. Said villain, now-deceased longtime GOP strategist Thomas Hofeller, whose convoluted but almost successful scheme to deliberately disenfranchise American minorities was 100 percent the plan Trump, Ross, and other GOP henchpeople only couldn’t enact because even the Trump-packed Supreme Court decided it was too transparently evil. The plan? Use bogus concerns about the Voting Rights Act (traditionally undermined by Republicans, since their shrinking power depends on people who rightly hate them not voting) to include a citizenship question (which is completely irrelevant to the census) in order to scare undocumented communities into being undercounted. The potential result? Dem-leaning minority communities are stripped of House seats, lose power, lose necessary funding, and are essentially erased. The twist? Hofeller’s estranged daughter, after his death, found secret hard drives outlining, Bond villain-style, the true scope and purpose of the GOP scam and made it public. Curses, foiled again.

As Oliver prepared to sign off for the year, he again noted that Trump and company have not only potentially deterred some minority communities through their ultimately exposed and shit-canned undemocratic villainy, but that they have also cut funding and preparation for the census. Sending viewers off with a final mission, Oliver simply urged everyone to fill out the damned thing. Doing so will, in addition to foiling the white supremacist GOP game plan to rig power in their favor for another 10 years, royally piss off a guy in Trump whose every word, action, and semi-literate tweet shows that “he thinks certain people don’t count.”

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About the author

Dennis Perkins

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