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

On the eve of Trump's India visit, John Oliver offers insight into India's Trump

John Oliver
John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

Okay, maybe that comparison of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Donald Trump isn’t totally fair. For example, Modi rose to power thanks to a lot of hard work. On the other hand, as John Oliver laid out in signature breakneck comic style on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, the two heads of state have a disquieting amount in common. Apart from trump’s rambling but sincere appreciation for his Indian counterpart, there’s the “cult of personality” surrounding both, with Modi’s regular pep rallies thronged by people chanting his name while often wearing paper masks of his face. (The red baseball cap and racist novelty T-shirt of modern-day India.) Then there’s Modi’s penchant for abrupt and disastrous executive orders, like the time he unilaterally proclaimed 86 percent of India’s paper currency worthless and gave the country’s billion citizens four freaking hours to storm the banks to change them. Oliver noted that, should Trump ever try that with the $20 (you know, perhaps in a theoretical last ditch effort to keep a black woman off of it), the GOP Congress, Supreme Court, and MAGA minions would quickly fall in line “because that’s the fucking world we seem to live in now.”

But the most alarming parallels between Modi and Trump (who’s landing right about now on his first state visit to India) are, unsurprisingly, centered on racism, and how—in their minds—it’s super-cool and necessary. In his scathing report on Modi’s longtime and escalating war on India’s Muslim minority, Oliver showed a head of state using his charm on a vocal portion of society to wage an insidious effort to oust all members of a vilified “other” in order to, well, make India great again. There’s the bureaucratic villainy of a pair of legislative edicts—one stripping all Indians of citizenship, the other automatically allowing back all but Muslims—that obscures blatant bigotry under the cloak of national security. There’s Modi’s attempts to rewrite India’s history of secular equality as inspired by Gandhi and Nehru by flooding schools with racist propaganda tales and literally erasing Nehru from them. There’s the media-savvy Modi leaving the most rabidly racist rhetoric to his surrogates (like right-hand man/personal Stephen Miller Amit Shah) to whip up the crowds with comparisons of the country’s Muslims to “infiltrators” and “blood-sucking parasites.” There’s the construction of a massive complex of concentration camps for “undesirables.” There’s Modi’s association with a “hard-core paramilitary group” whose leaders have praised Hitler’s whole “purity of blood” thing. As Oliver counters, there’s really only one good thing you can say about Hitler, and that’s that he killed Hitler. (There’s a graphic element to the joke that Oliver would like very much if no one used out of context.)

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Still, according to Oliver there’s hope (at least in India), as the country is undergoing massive and sustained demonstrations against Modi’s policies and racist usurpation of everything his country was founded to represent. As one young Hindu put it (to the in-studio applause of Oliver’s audience), even though Modi’s Muslim ban isn’t targeted at him, it’s his responsibility to rise up to defend his fellow citizens and the principles of equality and religious and racial tolerance his country was supposedly created to foster. And now, with America dumping a big, steaming Trump right in the middle of this roiling mess, Oliver can only hope that Americans will take a page from India’s Modi-censored history and show up in the streets (Twitter doesn’t count) “in complete disgust” at what their leader is trying to do to their country.

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

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