Brow Beat

For His Final Show of 2018, John Oliver Tracks the Rise of a Troubling Global Trend

Last Week Tonight is done for the year, and if you thought John Oliver would keep it light for his final show of 2018, you don’t know Last Week Tonight. The comedian used the time to fret about the rise of authoritarianism across the globe, explaining the qualities that help far-right leaders seize power. These include projecting strength, which explains Vladimir Putin’s glamour shots and Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov’s Instagram presence, and demonizing enemies, as Rodrigo Duterte has done in the Philippines with a drug war that has killed an estimated 12,000 people, many of them extrajudicially.


“Authoritarians need enemies, because one of their greatest appeals is making a complicated world simple,” noted Oliver, adding that he himself is not invincible to the charms of a charismatic leader. “If America were descend into civil war, and someone said ‘Hey, what if we just let Tom Hanks’ figure it out a not-insignificant part of me would go, ‘Yeah, that seems nice, all praise Daddy Hanks, long live the Gump, death to his enemies.’”

Those qualities, plus authoritarians’ tendency to dismantle institutions that could be a check on their power, might sound uncomfortably familiar. As Oliver points out, Donald Trump himself once retweeted a Benito Mussolini quote wrongfully attributed to him, wanted a military parade, and regularly vilifies the media. “The world is dabbling in something very dangerous right now,” said Oliver. “I know that America is a different country with a different history, and, thankfully, more resilient institutions, but that is no cause for complacency.”