On Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver spoke about Steve Bannon, President Trump's former advisor and unofficial conduit to the "alt-right." Bannon left his post from the White House earlier in the week, and many who saw him as one of the more noxious influences on Trump cheered the development. However, Oliver argued that as bad as Bannon may be, his exit doesn't necessarily mean that the White House is now free of bigotry.
"The truly depressing thing about Bannon's departure is just how utterly unsatisfying it actually is," Oliver said at the start of the show. "Because yes, one panderer to white nationalists has left the White House. The problem is, the one he was working for is still very much there."
Oliver highlighted remarks that Trump made about the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia the week before, in which a white nationalist killed Heather Heyer, a counter-protester. After initially saying that there was violence "on many sides" of the protest and refusing to denounce the neo-Nazis in attendance, Trump said days later that there were "very fine people" marching amongst the white supremacists who launched the rally. As Oliver pointed out, that was a shockingly charitable view to take of folks who were walking amongst Nazi flags and people chanting "Jews will not replace us!"
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are, by definition, not a very nice person," Oliver said. "If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say, 'I guess Malala sucks now. I mean, I'm confused — I don't know why she's there — but she definitely sucks.' That's the only conclusion you can draw."
Oliver is making an important point. Bannon has said incredibly offensive things, and during his time as the chief of Breitbart, published many reprehensible articles. Because of his history, many on the left have come to view him as the evil mastermind whispering in Trump's hear — the puppetmaster behind the puppet.
And yet Trump's nonchalant attitude towards white supremacy was on display well before he teamed up with Bannon. During the campaign, Trump was endorsed by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, prompting CNN's Jake Tapper to ask him if he'd disavow Duke and declare that he doesn't want the support of white supremacists. But Trump refused to do so three times, instead claiming that "I don't know anything about David Duke."
"I don't know what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacist," Trump said. "I don't know. I don't know, did he endorse me, or what's going on?"
Disavowing white supremacy is just about one of the easiest right moves a politician can make. But Trump wouldn't do it — and this was six months before Bannon even joined the campaign.