Last Week Tonight Criticizes Trump’s Response to Charlottesville and Looks Closer at North Korea


Last Week Tonight gets heavy this week with some of the most anxiety-inducing news we’ve had this month.

I’m a teacher at the college level. I plan out every class more or less, but sometimes when something big happens in the world, you have to toss out the lesson plan entirely and address current events. Sometimes the elephant in the room is too large to do anything else.

That’s what Last Week Tonight did this week. John Oliver often goes for topics that are relevant but haven’t been covered in-depth by the media yet. This week’s events were too big to ignore, and thus we got two segments this week: a shorter one on Charlottesville and a longer one on North Korea.

Oliver doesn’t pull any punches on the horrific events in Charlottesville or the president’s response to them (nor should he have to, really). He clarifies that these are the kind of events that call for strong leadership from our leaders, and we aren’t really getting that.

Oliver zeros in on Trump’s remarks which mentioned “hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides.” Oliver questions why this White Nationalist rally wasn’t called just that –

"There honestly aren’t many instances in modern American politics where you can honestly think, ‘That guy really should have mentioned the nazis,’ but this is emphatically one of them."

While Trump seems to have tried to absolve himself of responsibility, White Nationalists like David Duke have expressed their support for him and their belief that he has their best interests in mind. Weird, Oliver says, because “Nazis are like cats – if they like you, it’s usually because you’re feeding them.”

At the press conference, there were multiple specific questions from reporters that gave Trump the opportunity to speak more on the subject, but he didn’t address them. Oliver’s thoughts on this?

"He had one last shot before the buzzer on the racism clock hit zero, and he threw and air ball so far away it landed in the Third Reich."

Since this episode aired, Trump has made a statement more specifically denouncing the KKK, white supremacists, and other hate groups. But Oliver points out even before this that another response is really too little, too late – “his first response is who he is.”

The main story in this episode is North Korea, focusing on another source of major tension lately. The past week has been filled with escalating rhetoric between Trump and Kim Jong Un regarding the possibility of nuclear war.

This segment focuses on three questions: What is North Korea thinking, how did we get here, and what can we do about it now? As such, Oliver takes a closer look at North Korea in general.

North Korea a country that we don’t actually know a ton about since a lot of the information we get is state propaganda. Other stories reported in the US might not have the most solid of sources under them, even if they sound like they could be true.

Oliver gives us a taste of some of North Korea’s pop culture in the segment, including their abiding love for accordions and their version of Godzilla, Pulgasari.

These things end up giving us this strange, almost comedic idea of what’s going on over there. But Oliver points out that this is pretty frustrating for actual journalists working on it – the conditions in North Korea are not actually funny to the people who live there.

The conditions in the country, Oliver reasons, is that Kim Jong Un fears losing power. His actions are motivated by self-preservation. For example, while their economy is estimated to be smaller than Birmingham, Alabama’s, they have the 4th largest military in the world.

The justification is that this spending in an impoverished country is to keep out invaders. The main enemy? The United States. Americans seem to be vilified from all angles – their historical records, their pop culture, their math textbooks, even.

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The idea that they could create a weapon that would take out the US is a big source of national pride. See their propaganda video featuring video of New York being destroyed set to “We are the World.” It’s a confusing juxtaposition, to say the least.

Some have smuggled in American pop culture, particularly TV (NCIS!), to the North Koreans, which helps humanize Americans. This is dangerous for Kim Jong Un, Oliver explains, as it could undermine the carefully crafted narrative he has created about the US.

Oliver emphasizes the importance of handling the situation with North Korea carefully. Their close proximity to densely-populated Seoul is worrisome, and though the idea of just removing the dictator is appealing, that would leave a power vacuum with available nuclear weapons. Not ideal.

A pretty heavy episode ends with a little fun, thankfully, as Oliver appeals to the North Koreans with our favorite accordion player, Weird Al Yankovic. Ease your anxieties for a moment with his new song, “Please Don’t Nuke Us, North Korea”, won’t you?