One of the best moments in any nationally watched U.S. political discussion, debate or convention is actually the moment the Sunday following, when John Oliver dissects it and injects its pieces with his sharp witticisms/Briticisms. The 2016 election — or as Oliver called it last night on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, “a horrifying glimpse at Satan’s Pinterest board” — would be just a little more unbearable if Oliver weren’t so good at providing uproarious humor-via-commiseration. His takedown of the fact-aversion of the RNC was thorough and spot-on, and Oliver likewise didn’t trivialize the rocky beginning of the DNC, which happened right after Julian Assange’s (strategically timed) release of those emails revealing an incriminating bias against Bernie Sanders, and which saw Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepping down as the Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee.
But Oliver then noted that a “series of stirring speeches” got things back on track — referencing Michelle Obama’s masterful and arresting speech on the first night, Bill Clinton’s long rundown of his relationship with Hillary, Biden’s “soul-cycle”-esque speech, and Obama’s pointed mention of the incredulity of the rest of the world about Trump. He also, of course, got into the two most central speeches — those of the party’s presidential and vice presidential nominees, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. He mentioned detail orientation of Clinton’s speech (and didn’t fail to mention the balloons), and Kaine’s “impressively bad Trump impression.”
But he devoted much of the segment to discussing the speech that he calls the “emotional highlight” of the convention (which, if you think about both Obamas’ speeches, had many emotional highlights), and the speech whose responses (namely, the response of Donald Trump) dominated the news this weekend: that delivered by Khizr Khan, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant lawyer whose son died saving his fellow American soldiers in the war on Iraq.
Oliver featured the moment wherein Khan asked Trump directly (well, if not directly, via TV broadcast to millions) whether he’d even read the Constitution, withdrawing his own copy of the document, and offering to lend it to him. “Oh shit,” said Oliver. “That is an American founding document being inspirationally used as a middle finger.” He then cut to another key moment from that speech, in which Khan entreated Trump to go visit the graves of dead soldiers, and see how the people who’ve died for the country include all genders, religions and ethnicities. “You have sacrificed nothing, and no one,” Khan asserted.
“That engendered in me a level of emotion in me I did not think was possible after 16 months of this depressing campaign and 39 years on Earth as a British person,” Oliver responded. But Trump, of course, responded very differently. As NYT TV critic James Poniewozik noted on Twitter, Trump is not only Islamophobic, but also has employed as his campaign strategy, “always hit back.” And so Trump decided, in an interview on ABC News with George Stephanopoulos, not only to trivialize Khan’s speech, but also to suggest that his wife Ghazala — who stood beside him at the DNC but did not speak — perhaps wasn’t allowed to speak. Khizr Khan had responded that she had chosen not to speak of her son’s death because it pained her too much to do so.
I cannot walk into a room with pictures of Humayun. For all these years, I haven’t been able to clean the closet where his things are — I had to ask my daughter-in-law to do it. Walking onto the convention stage, with a huge picture of my son behind me, I could hardly control myself. What mother could? Donald Trump has children whom he loves. Does he really need to wonder why I did not speak?
Khizr Khan has since also spoken with CNN, emphasizing Trump’s seeming lack of empathy and how it makes him unfit to lead. He said, “The love and affection that we have received [since the speech] affirms that our grief — that our experience in this country has been correct and positive. The world is receiving us like we have never seen. They have seen the blackness of [Trump’s] character, of his soul.”
Returning to Oliver, the Last Week Tonight host suggested that Trump has, over the course of his campaign, said not one, but “thousands” of crazy and offensive things, equating this as a strategy akin to standing on a bed of nails. “If you step on a thousand nails, no single one stands out, and you’re fine,” Oliver said.
However, amidst everything Trump has said, Oliver exerted that Trump’s response to Khan in particular stands out. In the aforementioned interview, Stephanopoulos asked Trump to reply to Khan’s question of what sacrifices he’s made — to which Trump discussed creating jobs… through his many private (often outsourced) corporate endeavors. Those “are self-serving half-truths,” Oliver said, expressing the worry that “we may be on the brink of electing such a damaged, sociopathic narcissist that the simple Presidential duty of comforting the families of fallen soldiers may actually be beyond him.”
Watch Oliver’s video: