John Oliver excoriated President Donald Trump for having declined to single out for condemnation a group of Nazis and white nationalists who staged a Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend in protest of a plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. One of their ranks deliberately drove his vehicle into a crowd protesting the Nazi rally, killing one and injuring 19 others.
“It was truly a weekend of horrifying images,” the late-night host said at the top of Last Week Tonight. “We saw Nazi flags and marchers carrying torches — tiki torches because nothing says ‘white nationalist’ quite like faux Polynesian kitsch.”
A protester being killed in the wake of neo-Nazis marching in the street of an American city is the kind of tragedy that calls for leadership from whoever is in the Oval Office, Oliver suggested, stating the obvious.
Unfortunately, the current occupant is Donald Trump.
After he had a few hours to think about how to respond, he came up with this:
We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence — on many sides, on many sides.
“On many sides!? This was a white nationalist rally!” Oliver raved. “You have to call that out by name!”
Trump having made his false equivalency, between Nazis and people who oppose Nazis, Trump jumped to his fave topic, absolving himself of any personal responsibility.
White nationalists, however, disagreed, crediting Trump with inspiring their actions. David Duke, for instance, who told reporters at the rally:
We are determined to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump. Because he said he’s going to take our country back. That’s what we gotta do.
David Duke and the Nazis really seem to like Donald Trump, Oliver observed, explaining, “Nazis are a lot like cats. If they like you, it’s probably because you are feeding them.”
Anyone in their right mind would immediately and repeatedly disavow any connection to the Nazis, and Trump was given ample opportunity to do so.
At end of his speech, reporters asked him to respond to the white nationals who say they support him and the feeling is mutual. Trump ignored the question.
And after signing the bill that originally had been the pretext for the presser, Trump again got asked if he would condemn the white supremacist group; he instead walked off stage.
“He had one last shot before the buzzer on the Racism Clock hit zero, and he threw an air ball so far it away it landed in the Third Reich,” Oliver snarked, getting big applause in the hall.
“A non answer in a moment like this, is an answer,” Oliver insisted. White nationalists agree with the HBO host, as evidenced by a neo-Nazi website statement about Trump’s remarks, read on CNN by Jake Tapper:
Trump comment were good. He said he loves us all. Also refused to answer a question about white nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn he just walked out of the room. Really really good. God bless him.
If Trump eventually gets around to condemning the white nationalists, it will be too late. “Because his first response is who he is,” Oliver suggested.
Trump’s reaction to the violence in Charlottesville was infuriatingly predictable, and yet, painful to watch, because it does not get easier than disavowing Nazis. “It’s as much of a presidential gimme a pardoning a f*!#ing turkey. It is almost impossible to screw it up. But that’s exactly what happened,” Oliver blasted.
No point waiting for leadership from our president at moments like this, because it is just not coming, Oliver said.
“Incredibly, in a country where previous presidents have actually had to defeat Nazis, we now have one who cannot even be bothered to f**king condemn them.”