Last week, John Oliver returned from a two-month hiatus to his perch as host of HBO’s late-night series Last Week Tonight with a blistering diatribe against President Trump—a man who’s managed to create his own echo chamber with his indiscriminate lying, obfuscation, and promotion of fake news (while decrying the mainstream media as such).
Oliver, who once called Trump a “Klan-backed misogynist internet troll” that responsible citizens must resist at all costs, dedicated the first portion of his Emmy-winning series Monday to how the former reality show host turned POTUS continues to crank open the Overton window, or the myriad ideas that the public find acceptable.
“We begin this evening with President Trump: two words that will always sound unnatural together, like ‘fuckable clown’ or ‘Wolf Blitzer,’” joked Oliver. “And the reason we have to start with him is Trump dominates the news cycle the way a fart dominates the interior of a Volkswagen Beetle: there is simply no escape from him.”
The segment homed in on Trump’s “pointless” campaign rally in Melbourne, Florida, that nonetheless received “round the clock” coverage on mainstream TV news networks. While Trump spent the majority of the ego strokefest spouting his usual talking points—bringing back manufacturing jobs, keeping America safe—there was one comment he made that drew plenty of raised eyebrows.
“We’ve got to keep our country safe,” said Trump. “You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” Trump said at the event. “Sweden? Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.” Yes, the president of the United States appeared to reference a terrorist attack that had occurred Friday night in Sweden. There was just one problem: there was no terrorist attack Friday night in Sweden.
“Well, it turns out there was no terror attack,” said Oliver. “And look, just a quick message to all other countries on earth: in the future, you are going to find yourselves wanting to ask what is your president talking about a great deal, and the answer is always going to be, we have no fucking idea.”
It took team Trump over 24 hours to cook up an excuse for the dangerous flub, which followed in the footsteps of his mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway inventing the “Bowling Green massacre” and his Press Secretary Sean Spicer dreaming up a terrorist attack conducted by radical Islamic terrorists in Atlanta, Georgia. This administration, in other words, has continuously made up terrorist attacks in order to sow fear and con the public into supporting the president’s controversial policies.
“Now, Trump has since admitted his comment was in reference to a story that was broadcast on Fox News the night before concerning immigrants and Sweden, so sifting through Trump’s brain to see why he said something is now like examining a shark’s stomach to see what it ate,” commented Oliver, although the segment wasn’t even focused on immigrants and Sweden, a country whose crime rate has steadily declined since 2005. Instead, Trump was referencing a throwaway comment by a far-right pundit on the program.
Sweden has, on a per capita basis, taken in more refugees than any other European country in the last few years. Approximately 163,000 refugees and migrants were granted entry in 2015, before the Swedish government took measures to lower the number to 29,000 in 2016. Since most of the immigrants hail from the Middle East, including war-torn Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, there have been plenty of stories circulating in the Swedish press about suspected crimes committed by refugees. But as Henrik Selin, a renowned political scientist and director of the Sweden Institute, told The New York Times, these stories were “highly exaggerated.” According to the Times, “Selin completed a study recently focusing on negative news reports about Sweden’s acceptance of refugees. It found numerous exaggerations and distortions, including false reports that Sharia law was predominant in parts of the country and that some immigrant-heavy neighborhoods were considered ‘no-go zones’ by the police.” The sensationalistic anti-immigrant stories, Selin said, “were highly exaggerated and not based in facts,” adding, “Some of the stories were very popular to spread in social media by people who have the same kind of agenda—that countries should not receive so many refugees.” This phenomenon is similar to the xenophobic narrative perpetuated by the alt-right platform Breitbart in the U.S. Meanwhile, Sweden’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Catarina Axelsson seemed baffled by Trump’s comments, stating, “We are trying to get clarity,” while Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom posted a message on Twitter that appeared to be directed at Trump, explaining how democracy “require us to respect science, facts and the media.”
“Here is where we’re at right now: Trump can dominate the news by merely referencing something that didn’t happen in Sweden, and that is a real shame, because this week has seen a great deal of fascinating stories go under-covered,” said Oliver on Last Week Tonight, before pointing to the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, whose perpetrators allegedly believed they were taking part in a TV prank show.
“That right there is the problem,” continued Oliver. “Here we are talking about Trump again, because you cannot avoid him. In the past week alone, Trump designated the media as enemies of the American people, had his EPA-hating nominee for head of the EPA [Scott Pruitt] confirmed, lost his nominee for labor secretary [Andy Puzder] and his national security advisor [Mike Flynn], and signed a bill undoing Barack Obama’s protections for the waterways from coal mining waste.” Not to mention President Trump’s completely unhinged press conference—one that anchors from nearly every major TV news network summed up with one word: wow. “Yes. Wow, indeed,” said Oliver. “A presidential press conference elicited the same reaction you get from people who just watched someone shoot fireworks out of his ass, which, when you think about it, is actually fitting because whenever Trump speaks, what is it essentially other than random sparks and flames sputtering noisily out of a damaged asshole?”
Oh, and the most recent terrorist attack in Sweden? It didn’t involve Muslims, but rather neo-Nazis targeting a refugee center.