Brow Beat

John Oliver Examines How We’re Failing Two Groups of American Workers During the Pandemic

Slate is making its coronavirus coverage free for all readers. Subscribe to support our journalism. Start your free trial.

After taking a break last week to focus on Trump’s new favorite news network, John Oliver once again returned to the topic on everyone’s mind. On Sunday, he examined the particular challenges the coronavirus has created for two groups of Americans—the unemployed and essential workers—and how the government and private companies are failing to protect them during the pandemic. These range from an EMT who says he needs health insurance, not pizza donations, to a recently laid-off woman who calls the underfunded Department of Labor 50 times a day and still can’t even speak to anyone about financial assistance.

Larry Kudlow, director of the United States National Economic Council, downplayed those challenges while talking to Politico, telling Ben White that “it couldn’t be easier” to request financial assistance, since his artist wife did so by filling out a one-page form at their local bank. This led Oliver to Judith Pond Kudlow’s paintings, many of which center on what appear to be her husband’s empty shirts and neckties. “I don’t mean to make any sweeping judgment about their marriage,” said Oliver. “These aren’t so much portraits of Larry Kudlow as they are the absence of Larry Kudlow. They showcase the beauty of where Larry Kudlow isn’t.” He’s so taken with them that he promises to make a $20,000 donation to a local food bank if he can get his hands on one. The economy may have ground to a halt, but Last Week Tonight’s stunt purchases, at least, soldier on.