On Sunday's season finale of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver outlined the three tactics Donald Trump uses to protect himself from criticism and consequences — tactics which Oliver believes could have dangerous ramifications for the future of the United States if the are not recognized and addressed.
Oliver dedicated a significant portion of his show on Sunday to discussing the Trump presidency. He first emphasized how Trump is breaking presidential norms, which thereby impacts how he engages with the public and vice versa. Oliver then introduced what he believes constitute Trump's three typical engagement tactics: delegitimizing the media, whataboutism, and trolling. After introducing these tactics, Oliver stressed the risks they pose for the American public, saying,
The real damage isn't in how he says things, but from three key techniques he uses to insulate himself from criticism and consequences. And if we are not extremely careful, all three could have serious impacts that far outlast his presidency.
While summing up the first tactic, delegitimizing the media, Oliver noted that Trump has regularly engaged in criticism of the news media throughout his career. But his attacks on the press are especially dangerous now because he is "crying 'fake news' as President of the United States and he is openly proud of it ... "
Oliver then moved to explain Trump's second tactic, something he refers to a "whataboutism." Oliver noted that the term describes Trump's tendency to "change the subject to someone else's perceived wrongdoing." Oliver used Trump's reaction to the attack in Charlottesville, Virginia to explain this notion, saying the president repeatedly asked "what about" the alt-left in the wake of the tragedy, instead of condemning white nationalism.
Oliver added that the technique of whataboutism is actually an "old Soviet propaganda" tool," and noted that it is particularly dangerous because it "implies that all actions, regardless of context, share a moral equivalency, and, since no one is perfect, all criticism is hypocritical and everybody should do whatever they want ... it is a depressingly effective tool." Oliver also explained that the whataboutism technique is highly problematic because it does not do anything to actually address and fix problems — it just makes people angry, which is counter productive.
Finally, Oliver moved to the third tactic — trolling — something which Oliver described as making "willfully provocative" statements with no effect "other than to displease an enemy." Oliver cited Trump's antagonistic tweets toward North Korea's Kim Jong Un as an example of trolling behavior. He also claimed that Trump is the "first troll ever elected president."
The late night host pointed out that trolling, as well as whataboutism and delegitimizing the media, put the U.S. on a dangerous path because they promote harmful and counter-productive discourse. As Oliver put it: "If we keep going with this is level of discourse we are seriously and lastingly f***ed." Oliver also noted that the use of these tactics is precariously spreading beyond the Oval Office, citing Congressman Paul Gosar's response to the Charlottesville tragedy, in which Olivers says he was "copying Trump" in the way he used the three tactics to address the event.
Oliver noted that the notion that both Trump and other elected officials are resorting to these harmful tactics means it is more important than ever to be able to identify them, so the public can hold elected officials accountable for their actions. As Oliver put it:
It is so important to train ourselves to identify these techniques because their national endpoint is the erosion of our ability to decide what's, important, have an honest debate, and hold one another accountable. And that erosion can be so gradual that it's difficult to spot. It's like being murdered by a sloth ... it happens very slowly and you might not notice until it's too late.
Oliver wrapped up his segment by asserting that, while contemplating these three dangerous tactics is very bleak, people should take hope in the victories this year that have stemmed from resistance and holding officials accountable, such as courts blocking Trump's Muslim ban and the inability of Congressional Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare. However, Oliver cautioned against getting complacent, telling audiences that there is a great deal of time left in the Trump presidency and that people must remain steadfast in their work to hold him and his administration accountable for their actions.